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On a strip of unfenced scrubland – adorned

with scattered wild roses white and pink –

between the main road and our apartment,

a Roma family had pitched a low tent

of sun-bleached canvas, beneath two stunted

umbrella pines, set up a cooking pot

and tied their horse to a tree with a long tether

so it could graze on whatever was there.

There were three of them: a middle aged couple,

and an old woman – the women in black,

the man as tall, lean and brown as the horse.

Each morning the two women, the younger

carrying a striped, faded folding chair,

would walk down the hill to the small town’s

supermarket, where the elder would sit

until siesta, hand outstretched, silent.

The couple would make favours to sell

from chamomile, pimpernel, lavender.


One early evening as we watched ‘Who wants

to be a millionaire’ to improve

our limited knowledge of the language –

questions and answers being sub-titled –

we began to hear from somewhere outside,

despite the air con and the tv,

a voice in extremis. We pressed ‘Mute’,

turned off the a/c and opened the window.

We could see three seated figures illumined

by the cooking fire.  One of the women,

we guessed the younger, appeared to be

haranguing the other in a strident,

unceasing monotone. We saw no one

in the windows of the walled villas

on the opposite side of the road

and ‘Who wants…’ continued loudly throughout

the apartments. We had understood nothing.


Next morning, the routine was as usual:

the horse cropping, the favours, the begging.

None of their temporary neighbours

seemed to be concerned about whatever

farce or tragedy they had not observed

or curious in any way about

this threesome and their horse. Nobody

appeared to have been outraged. No one

was holding a placard demanding

whatever someone in our smug nation

would have demanded. Perhaps only those

for whom impoverishment

and tyranny have not yet become

abstractions can tolerate charity

among wild rose bushes.




© Copyright David Selzer
2 Responses
  • Ashen Venema
    September 29, 2017

    I can see the Roma family between umbrella pines.
    Love the contradiction, and the last verse …

    … Perhaps only those
    for whom impoverishment
    and tyranny have not yet become
    abstractions can tolerate charity
    among wild rose bushes.

  • Alan Horne
    October 30, 2017

    I’m still chewing over this one, David. Partly because of the scene-setting, which really stuck in my mind. But it also made me think of people you see sometimes, conducting a furious argument on their mobile phone, disregarding the others around them. I always thought they must be a bit disinhibited, and maybe they are. But your poem made me think that perhaps they just have nowhere else to conduct the argument. In the houses that my parents grew up in, any argument was readily audible to all the neighbours. We now live in a house where you’d be hard put to yell loudly enough for the next-doors to hear. That’s progress!

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