Archive for 2009


South Stack, Ynys Môn, ©Sylvia Selzer 2009


Of course, by the time it’s my turn at the ’scope

the bugger’s turned its back. ‘It is a puffin,’

reassures the RSPB girl – and,

since she’s pretty and young, I believe

that what I see is not one of the teeming,

noisy, noisome, nesting guillemots,

razorbills or gulls. A hat trick: ageism,

sexism, anthropomorphism – plus

being churlish as a bear rather than

valiant as a lion. Intriguing opposites. Grrr!

We came here last when she was five or six.

Decades on, she stands with her lover

at a turn in the steps –  both happy,

both blooming with her longed-for future,

and wrestling with the breeze for your camera.

Some gulls have eschewed the crowded cliffs

to nest in the lighthouse’s disused kitchen garden.

We lean on the wall like pig farmers.

There is a dead chick amongst the gooseberries.

A living one stands, yes, surprised, startled but resolute

though even here winds roar like lions or bears.

I hold my breath…1,2,3…for us all.


Note: this piece has been subsequently published in ‘A Jar of Sticklebacks’ –







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Behind the lintel of the Lion Gate,

swallows had built their nest. Two Mirage jets,

burning Nato dollars, buzzed the valley.

A sweatstained, overweight American

squatted in the shade of the ashlar ramparts,

fanning himself with a bush hat. “Hey, which

pile of stones is this?” A veteran’s pension

kept him in exile. His mom and dad

had once stood arm-in-arm with that eager,

cropped marine recruit, who was altogether now

someone else. Thanksgiving and each birthday,

he would call collect. “This is the country

to screw up with your folks!”… He lies in the bunker,

smoking a joint. The black sergeant plays Hendrix

on his new Hitachi. From six miles

up the valley, NVA artillery

blow their minds… Parts of his skull were wired

like a broken vase. On the tourist bus,

his compatriots avoided him.

He smelt of despair, was a friend, a son,

brother missing in firefields of tattered

flags. Survivor’s guilt confounds. How he longed

to talk of Khe Sanh, how often spoke of

America! Swallows dipped above him,

under the gate. He did not look at them.


Note: this piece has been subsequently published in ‘A Jar of Sticklebacks’ –




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Before Churchill took the railings, evacuees

from Liverpool were lined up by the park

one September Sunday afternoon.

Local residents queued to take their pick.

Innocent days! My widowed Granny

and two spinster aunties – ex-Scousers

(though Toxteth Park not Scottie Road),

the sisters Great War collateral damage –

lined up to do their duty. They couldn’t cope.

The one they chose used the ‘f word’

and wet the bed. They gave her back

– and mentioned her, and what she might

have been, until they died.



Note: the piece has been subsequently published in ‘A Jar of Sticklebacks’ –







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Chester, View from a Balloon, John McGahey, 1855


Rome’s legionnaires quarried its sandstone cliffs

and Ptolemy put the Dee on the map.

William the Conqueror, in winter,

force-marched his army over the Pennines

to reach the river and waste the town – the last

to submit.  For eighteen years, Prince Gryfyd

ap Cynan, shut in the keep, heard only

the river’s voice, dyfrdwy, dyfrdwy.

Parliament’s forces sent fire rafts downstream

to purge besieged citizens. On its banks,

King Billy’s infantry was camped

while, in the silting estuary, his fleet

provisioned for Ireland.


The winter I had scarlet fever

my mother read me Coral Island.

While I was deliriously admirable –

with Ralph, Jack, Peterkin – Mao’s Red Army

crossed the Yalu. One person’s commonplace

is another’s Road to Damascus.

When the Apprentice Boys shut fast the gate,

they had the Pope’s blessing.


Standing on the leads of Phoenix Tower

(eponymously, King Charles’), he saw

his cavalry routed on the heath, scattered

through its gorsey hollows and narrow lanes.

Watching Twelfth Night,  Charles crossed out the title

on his programme and wrote, ‘Malvolio –

Tragedy’. He was a connoisseur of

defeats. ‘I’ll be revenged.’


On a Whit Monday, long before bandstand,

suspension bridge and pleasure steamers,

two watermen rowed an outing of girls.

When one of the men threw an apple,

they jostled to catch it. Shrill scrambling

upturned the boat and drowned them, lasses and men…

A school acquaintance, bright, admired, sculling

late on a December afternoon,

somehow – where the river curves like a sickle

round meadowland – upset the skiff and drowned

beneath that ‘wisard stream’.


Even here are Principles and the Sword.

Two Christian martyrs share one monument

on Richmond (then Gallows) Hill: George Marsh,

John Plessington, Protestant, Catholic –

distanced by three monarchs, a civil war,

a regicide and a little doctrine –

each burnt by the others’ brothers in Christ.

When Bobby Sands had starved himself to death,

some houses flew black flags.


In the ten minutes or so it took me,

one bleakly raw February-fill-the-Dyke day,

to cross the ‘twenties suspension bridge,

pass the Norman salmon leap and weir,

return across the 14th century

three arch sandstone bridge to where I started,

by the bandstand with cast iron tracery,

the rising river – awhirl with the debris

of factories,  mountains, centuries

– had covered the towpath.




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All summer a spider, mottled like a cheetah, 

managed a web by our kitchen door.


Tap the net

and it would do its eight shoe scuttle. 


It went finally:

but the engineering survived –

intricate, pliable, foolproof –

through seasons of drizzle and bluster.


On an April day, a pallid sun

backlit trapped raindrops,

shimmering prisms.

We paused on the step, delighted.


The power of things to strive to be themselves

is absolutely self-regarding,

and unstoppable.



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