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It is wooden, a gent’s, with ‘Elder Dempster’

machined then varnished into one of

the shoulders. It belonged to the shipping line

which plied between Liverpool and Lagos,

via Freetown and Accra. It was purloined,

accidentally or otherwise,

by my father or mother, possibly

the latter on her last trip home, with me

in her womb, to ensure a safer birth

in temperate climes –  U-Boats permitting.


He died of septicaemia three months

after I was born – from an ill judged

operation. ‘If I had been there…’

– she was a nurse – ‘…if I had been there…’

became the refrain of her widowhood,

with its depression and eventual

alcohol. When I was small she told me,

over and over, tales of that journey –

the traders from Accra rowing alongside,

the thunderstorms breaking over the mountains

of Sierra Leone, the ship’s captain

taking the vessel out of the convoy,

heading for the Sargasso Sea then north east

for home, always in plain sight but no booty

for a U-Boat captain also heading home.


For Aristotle, tokens of whatever

kind were a poor means by which to move

the action on. Life, however, though not

often, sometimes trumps art. This wooden

token of a skeleton tells a story.




© Copyright David Selzer
2 Responses
  • Ian Craine
    March 22, 2014

    A moving and resonant story is told here.

  • John Huddart
    March 25, 2014

    Beautifully crafted, bringing Aristotle in to balance and demonstrate the significance of the coat hanger, is a loving, masterful detail. A story that is both a tale and a real part of your life, that is bound to be retold, each time freshening the significance. And a story of war and conflict – the greater tragedy lurking on the edge, impinging on the personal – and an ironic death that is felt to be preventable, while being impossible to stop. A man sending his family to safety, succumbs to the fate he fears. They would have also written about that, those ancient Greeks.

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