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The Saturday poem: Compartment


By Richard Price

When the girls all shook a coke to pass around
I saw my daughter find a lifelong friend
for half an hour – all, surely, Katie's age.

Hopeful look, touch of hand; rare common ground.
"It's your turn – twist the lid, or just pretend!"
(The pangs of ifs no smile can quite assuage.)

Kate took the tensioned bomb. She held
then gripped – began to crush the fizzing flask
as if destruction were the game,
as if all belong
through glee, through wrong
indulgent blame.

The girls all cooed a rising No-oh-oh!, repelled
cartoonishly en masse; Katie should bask
in their generosity, become, in their gangish pantomime,
their celebrity, their beloved dame.

The bottle burst just before they left.
It speckled brownish paste on every blouse,
a school crime, I guess. They laughed, all the same.

• From Small World (Carcanet, £9.95). To order a copy for £7.96 with free UK p&p call Guardian book service on 0330 333 6846 or go to guardian.co.uk/bookshop

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