Archive for January, 2010



Once, when she was very small, a dream woke me.

Dawn, iron cages, a tiger and the eager,

little zoo keeper reaching out to pat it…

She slept soundly, her menagerie too:

balding princess, purblind bear, Mummy –

though not Daddy now nor, in the garden, Fido.

Oozing kapok, hair eroded by

loving, his one eye tarnished but keen like

small expectations, he kept faith by the swing.

Love’s unreason maintained such shabbiness –

and left him out all night. Barefooted,

I fetched him in by the handle. How love’s

confusion aches the heart!




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Chirk Castle from the North, Peter Tillemans, 1725

Chirk Castle from the North, Peter Tillemans, 1725

As we walk up the steep driveway, stopping

for breath at the curve where the castle

comes into sight – raised to block the routes

through the Dee Valley and Glyn Ceiriog

to starve the Welsh – a beribboned Rolls

descends, bride waving, followed, on foot,

by the wedding party in straggles –

black suits and brown shoes, wispy wedding hats –

treading the incline with tipsy effort.

‘The radio and the telephone

And the movies that we know

May just be passing fancies,

And in time may go!’

George Gershwin, born Jacob Gershovitz,

the second son of Russian immigrants,

ex song plugger in Tin Pan Alley

at Remick’s on West 28th Street,

in his thirtieth year visits Europe,

renews acquaintance with Alban Berg,

Ravel, Poulenc,  Milhaud, Prokokiev

and William Walton, hears Rhapsody in Blue

and Concerto in F performed in Paris.

From the grassed walk above the Ha-ha,

we can see the main gates, unused now,

the lane to the station, the Cadbury

and MDF factories, the market town

of Chirk itself and, beyond, the panorama –

from Bickerton Hills to The Long Mynd –

as we follow the trail of illicit confetti

to the Doric Temple aka summerhouse.

‘But, oh my dear,

Our love is here to stay.

Together we’re

Going a long, long way.’

The 8th Lord Howard De Walden – Tommy

to friends and family, Eton and Sandhurst,

Boer War and Great War, race horse owner,

playwright, theatre impresario –

turned its 14th century chapel

into a concert hall and invited George.

The westering sun shines upon us, dreaming

in the Temple, your head upon my shoulder.

A flock of starlings swarms suddenly

above the town – waltzing, deceiving like

a net, substantial, delicate – and is gone.

‘In time the Rockies may crumble,

Gibraltar may tumble,

There’re only made of clay,

But our love is here to stay.’

There is no public record of what he played

or when or how he got here. I like to think

he chose the stopping train from Paddington,

to work on An American in Paris,

and that Tommy met him personally

at Chirk Station, drove him up the hill,

in his Hispano-Suiza, through the baroque

wrought iron gates replete with wolves’ and eagles’ heads –

and as they, genius and renaissance man,

chatted about the history of the place,

along the chestnut lined drive among

the grazing sheep, George thought of Brooklyn’s

geometric streets and of Manhattan’s roar.

Remick's Music Store, 1914

Remick's Music Store, 1914



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




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Majdanek 1945 Polish civilians and Russian soldiers

Majdanek 1945 Polish civilians and Russian soldiers

During the interval, after act three

of Glinka’s opera, ‘Ivan Susannin’ –

pre-revolution, ‘A Life for the Tzar’ –

Stalin would leave his box at the Bolshoi.

In the fourth act, Ivan, the peasant, lures

the Polish Army out of Smolensk

and into a profound, winter forest.

They are lost. In the last act, they kill him.

Deep in the Katyn woods near Smolensk, pines

darkened the clearing where thousands, thousands

of Polish officers turned to earth.

So many crimes unpunished, dead unnamed.

‘O, Polnische Kamerad, wo sind

der Juden?’ ‘Majdanek, Chelmno, Oswiecim.’

An epoch has the tyrants it preserves,

even for an eggshell.




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Three roma children

on New Year’s Day kindle a

fire from last year’s leaves.


After rain, a girl

struts her stuff flamenco style:

no one notices.


Four chestnut horses

flick their tails in the shade of

a horse chestnut tree.


Crocodiles, Pharaohs,

Romans, French, Turks, British gone:

only tourists, sand.


There is only one

theme: in death’s contemplation,

life’s celebration.




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Pegram's Point, Cape Province, SA

Pegram's Point, Cape Province, SA © Sylvia Selzer 2009

At her back, the South Atlantic’s rolling seas,

those ice blue waters, break, skittering

on the silver sands. Burgeoning with child,

she smiles for the camera, as always

optimistically. Mussels encrust the rock

she leans on, kelp bobs like seals on the foam

and Southern Right Whales blow almost out of sight.

Due west, across the unbroken miles,

is Buenos Aires and the teeming hectares

of the Americas. We turn inland. An ostrich

high steps through proteas and heathers,

a tortoise navigates the undergrowth.

Some flowers bloom only after fire. Good choice

to be here on this cape of storms and wrecks.

She carries so many of our pasts –

refugees and indigenes, blacksmiths

and architects, poets and sea captains…

That first image of the future, of something

commonplace, something extraordinary,

will surface without summons, rise instantly,

engulf her forever.




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