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THE VICISSITUDES OF HISTORY

Her maiden surname was Eisenberg, ‘iron

mountain’, one that had been chosen for them

from the Imperial list. I was often

uneasy, unsure in her presence.

She hardly ever smiled. I realise now

because I looked so like her son, my father.

She died, from kidney failure, when I was nine.

 

On the mantelpiece in our dining room

is a pair of figurines – faux Meissen –

brought in her parents’ wooden suitcase, wrapped

in linen, journeying from Leopoldstat,

Vienna, to Whitechapel, London.

 

She had a hat shop in Hendon. Sometimes,

when my mother helped out, I was allowed

to look into the deep drawers where the hats,

like exotic plants, lay on tissue paper –

but when the shop was full of customers

I stayed in the workroom. There were lengths of felt,

rolls of ribbon, a barred sash window

and a double burner that smelled of gas.

The two shop girls would make a fuss of me.

 

Each figurine has a young man and woman

dressed and posed as if just emerging

from Marie Antoinette’s rustic retreat

at Versailles, and mirrored in the matching

figurine. Before my time the head

of one of the swains has been glued back on

and the maids have lost a hand apiece

but their expressions of bucolic delight

have remain undiminished whatever

the vicissitudes of history.

 

While Grandpa did his ARP duty

back east at the Fire Station in Cable Street,

Nanny went to the spiritualist church

in Hendon. The Medium passed messages:

her soldier son was in pain no more;

she would see and hold him once again

forever in the light beyond. The matter

was off limits in the one bedroom flat.

 

She made cream cheese in a muslin bag

she hung from the cold tap in the kitchen

to make it set. The whey would drip through the night,

minute by minute, hour after hour.

When she made apple strudel the flat

was aromatic with cinnamon.

 

 

 

© Copyright David Selzer
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