Archive for February, 2017

MEMENTO VIVERE

i.m. Ian Jones

 

There is no right age to die – or way to mourn.

As I thought of him, the small bush I could see

from the desk I wrote at – a plant whose name

we had forgotten, lost – was burgeoning:

its leaves greening, swelling, as spring, despite

that day’s north westerly, took hold. In time –

which he no longer had or had in

profligate abundance – an array

of delicate pink and white flowers would bloom.

 

I thought of his talents, his unassuming

skills – mammon’s measurements – and what makes us

human:  his smile, chuckle, patience, gentle

irony, and his kindness. That chance

perennial would be a remembrance.

 

It flowered with an abundance of petals

in early summer. Within weeks the flowers

began to die, singly, and then in bunches.

The leaves withered and fell. He would have grinned

hugely at such bathos.

 

 

 

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WAITING BY THE RIVER

We were waiting in the car – in a car park

by a river in spate – for mummy, daddy

and grandma to return. Storm driven rain

was tattooing on the roof but we

were snug playing I spy. ‘What next?’ you said.

‘How about singing me a song?’ I said.

You said, ‘I don’t know what to sing,’ I said,

‘So, let that be the first line of your song.’

 

We spoke of rhymes and repetitions.

And she made her song by the rushing waters,

sang it clearly, roundly as small angels may.

 

I don’t know what to sing.

I don’t know what to sing.

I can’t think of anything.

I can’t think of anything.

 

The songs have gone away.

The songs have gone away.

There are no songs to play.

There are no songs to play.

 

 

©Evelyn Chapman and David Selzer 2016

 

 

 

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A LETTER TO ARTHUR RANSOME

‘The island had come to seem one of those places seen from the train that belong to a life in which we shall never take part.’

Swallows and Amazons, Arthur Ransome

 

Encouraged and supported by my doughty,

doting mother and her two sisters – all

elementary school girls – at nine I passed

the entrance exam for a local, day

boys’ preparatory school. We called the teachers

‘Sir’, irrespective of gender, and ‘Ma’

behind their backs if they were female.

 

Mine was Ma Riddell and the first task she set

that September was to write a letter

to Arthur Ransome, telling him how much

we had enjoyed ‘Swallows and Amazons’,

which the class had read the previous year.

The Head Master would choose which letter to send.

 

I was too conscious of my new school cap

and blazer, of being by chance somewhere

I should want to be, ashamed of where I lived

and being found out, to say I had not

read the book, knew nothing about the author.

 

Of course, my letter was chosen, much

to Ma Riddell’s chagrin – not a word

but an expression, facial and tonal,

I knew. “Time you did joined-up writing, Selzer!”

Ah, pedagogy as command rather than

tuition! I said nothing, of course – nor

at home. I assumed the three sisters knew

what they were saving up and paying for.

 

I read all of the novels. An only,

fatherless child, I longed for the idea

of siblings, did not snigger at Titty’s name,

fell in love with the stern kindness of Susan.

I cannot remember what I wrote or whether

he replied. Much later I learned he was

supposedly an MI5 agent,

was definitely married to Trotsky’s

secretary. They lived in Westmoreland,

childless, above the lakes he fictionalised.

He was a Guardian writer, left wing

and affable – a father figure.

 

 

 

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THE CONSOLATION OF PHILOSOPHY

‘Senator Boethius is the last of the Romans whom Cato or Tully could have acknowledged as their countryman.’

Decline And Fall Of The Roman Empire, Edward Gibbon

 

Dante and Beatrice saw Boethius –

the sixth century consul, chamberlain,

intellectual and family man –

in Paradise: one of the twelve shining lights

in the sun’s heavenly firmament,

along with Solomon and Aquinas.

 

Imprisoned in a tower for alleged treason

and under sentence of execution,

he wrote De Consolatione

Philosophiae, a dialogue

between himself and Lady Philosophy,

reflecting – he in prose, she in poetry –

on wealth’s and fame’s transitory nature,

on virtue transcending fortune: almost

glib, smug if it had been written in freedom.

His paragon, Plato, would have inspired him,

and Socrates busy in prison.

Did he act it out in his loneliness?

 

His assassins – who killed him, according to

conflicting accounts, with axe, sword, club, garrotte –

did not record his last words. He was murdered

on orders of Theodoric, his erstwhile

friend, king of the Goths and Italy.

He was venerated as a catholic

martyr, allegedly walking headless

in death, and a catholic theologian,

his revered writing influencing

Augustine, for instance, as well as Dante,

masters and servants of allegory.

He was without any superstitions

or Christian beliefs, and zealous

for the public good so might have found such

hagiolatry amusing – or merely

a sign of their dark times.

 

 

 

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SOMETHING OF SPRING

The leafless apple trees in the old orchard

are rimed with lichen. Some are festooned

with mistletoe. Late February’s sun

lights each dark twig and branch – each evergreen leaf

and silver berry. In the distant woods,

rooks call, nest-building. Unrelenting winter,

that besieges all, is beginning

to recede. Soon, curled, fleshy leaves will come

and, eventually, fragile white blossoms.

Apples will grow. The mistle thrush will do

what it does. The mistletoe will spread.

And such relentless fecundity

endlessly surprises.

 

 

 

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