Archive for July, 2009


The silence woke her. Beyond the locked door

by now her maids should be chattering

in that harsh tongue. She went to the window.

Even the gulls on the battlements were mute.

And no guards on the ramparts, nobody

in the bailey. The straits were the colour

of the emerald at her neck – her father’s

wedding gift. A barque moved edgily

through the sands. Its pennants spoke of home.

The island’s coast was clear in the sun.

She imagined the light summer wind

stirring its fecund, strategic fields.

Her door was unlocked, opened and flung wide.

The Prince held a red cloth. “Cover your eyes.”

As she tied the cloth in place, he said,

“‘Who can find a virtuous woman?”

He put his hand in the small of her back,

steering her from her chamber into his,

impelling her to the window. She felt

the gentle air from the valley, inhaled

the woods and the river. He pulled the cloth

hard from her head.  Eyes shocked wide in death,

her lover hung from a gibbet. She watched

the body move this way, that way; listened

to the rope creak; turned to her husband.

“Until I die, I shall count the years

I will have loved him as a benison.”



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








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Dee Estuary from Gayton Sands. © Sylvia Selzer 2009.

Larks and herons rise from the same shared ground –

a salt-marsh sprinkled with scurvy grass

like early snow. A navigable channel

is impossibly distant, far-off as

childhood’s spring tides. Silt obscured endeavour.

Sailors and milkmaids and priests lie low

as the worked-out coal seams. Glaciers made this –

ice miles, thick as centuries, combing valleys,

teasing out hills, a slow explosion

of seas. I imagine, back in Europe’s

reticular forests, a homely,

mackerel sky caught in another’s vision –

ancient weathers, sand settling in a pool,

pebbles jarred momentarily, the shape

and sense of time.


Towing the continent,

hulks sailed west. Only fulmars passed. The past

stretches like a landscape from this instant,

encompassing it. The oneness of things,

their disparateness I taste like blood:

the jest at the heart – being here and now

who could so easily have been elsewhere

or no one. Oblivious of ironies,

soarers and coasters cohabit. The ice

was deep as mountains. I am shrouded in

imagining’s ponderous white oceans.




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All of the names of the dead are Celtic

or English. Most of them died – in the prison

near the river –  from typhoid rather than wounds.

Nobody set out to be cruel – farmers’

sons killing farmers’ sons. Their graveyard

above the bluffs was grassed, an obelisk built,

their names cast in bronze, bolted to limestone.

From the highway, there is no signage.

Eagles winter on the  bluffs. America’s heart

is green and fecund: a confluence –

Illinois, Missouri, Mississippi.




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The Dodo, Ustad Mansur, Agra, 1610

The Dodo, Ustad Mansur, Agra, 1610




For Sarah:  always a conservationist, latterly a twitcher.


In Umbria – the cuore verde of pristine, wooded hills,

Orvieto’s honey-pale wines,

the paintings of Perugino and Pisano,

the Tiber’s milky jade,

tartufo nero

they stew thrush.



At least once in our suburban garden,

house sparrow, green finch, ring-necked dove, wren,

jay, wood pigeon, robin, starling,  swift,  jackdaw, blue tit,

magpie,  blackbird, sparrowhawk, chaffinch, swallow,

gold crest, bull  finch, great tit, hen harrier, mistle thrush

have, variously, courted, mated, nested, birthed, ate, shat,  killed,

bobbed, waddled, hopped, walked, pecked, fluttered, shrieked,

whistled, warbled, squawked and died.



But, above all, sang – that esoteric music,

rich and varied as their plumage:

untutored, uncultivated, unstinting.



Though only crows circle St. Francis’ basilica,

in Cheshire ostriches are farmed.

How accidents of diet, doctrine, sentiment and flag

determine extinction!




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Blondin carrying his manager, Harry Colcord, on a tightrope.

Blondin carrying his manager, Harry Colcord, on a tightrope.

Witness The Great Wallenda, an aging

high wire artiste, who, for his final act,

required technology’s summation –

tv, automobiles, bottles of plasma;

crossed a canyon on cable thin as a wrist;

walked on wire a quarter of a mile

above the earth. He stood, twice, on his head

and the crowds of thousands gasped, then cheered,

the noise muffled in that oh! profound gorge.




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