Poem a Day 2014 – Annie Oakley and the Kaiser

Annie Oakley

Annie Oakley could shoot the ash off of a cigarette held in a person’s mouth. She used to do this as a stage trick, asking for an audience volunteer. Apparently, the usual ‘volunteer’ was her husband – maybe her professional indemnity insurance only covered the killing of family members.  She toured Europe in 1890/91, performing the trick to packed houses. According to Wikipedia:

“… she performed for Queen Victoria of the United Kingdom, King Umberto I of Italy, President Marie François Sadi Carnot of France and other crowned heads of state. Oakley had such good aim that, at his request, she knocked the ashes off a cigarette held by the newly crowned German Kaiser Wilhelm II …. After the outbreak of World War I, however, Oakley sent a letter to the Kaiser requesting a second shot. The Kaiser did not respond”.

 It has often been surmised that history might have been very different if her aim had not been so good.


Annie Oakley and the Kaiser

Images fired across her brain

as she sighted along the barrel

beading on the cigarette in his mouth


twenty million ash filled mouths

screamed for mercy

from the glowing tip


gore coloured mud

ran like liquid sewage

through limb strewn trenches


gas gagging men drowned

in mustard coloured clouds

lungs mouldering to mush


She tightened right

a slight elevation and shift

brought his left temple in line


The front row spectators

wiped flecks of brain

from their lapels


The crowd lining

the Kaiser’s funeral route

felt a curious serenity.


© Mike Hopkins 2014

6 thoughts on “Poem a Day 2014 – Annie Oakley and the Kaiser

  1. What a great start Mike! Rich visual imagery and language, assonance and alliteration bouncing all over the place! I particularly love ‘lungs mouldering to mush’ and
    ‘twenty million ash filled mouths / screamed for mercy / from the glowing tip’. Wow, powerful stuff!

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