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ASYLUM SEEKER

i.m. Samuel Selzer

 

He was never sure if it had been a joke

when the police arrested him for being,

he learned later, Jack the Ripper,

even though the last murder had been

a dozen years before, and he himself

had been eight and far away – or just

a lesson for yet another alien

wandering Whitechapel as if he had

a right to be lost in a pea souper.

 

Fresh from the Hamburg boat docked at Tilbury,

with no understanding of English

or the Roman alphabet, astray

from his equally ignorant, naive

travelling companions – oldest sons

escaping the twenty year conscription

into the Tzar’s army, all believing

they had arrived at last in Manhattan –

he was ‘sprung’ from his cell in the early hours

by the Jewish Board of Guardians.

 

A wry, resilient man, weathering

bankruptcy, his son’s death, his wife’s,

he always told the tale with humour –

another greener mislaid in the fog.

‘In Kiev if a policeman walks towards you,’

he told me, ‘you step in the gutter!

Better a night in the Leman Street lock-up

at eighteen than a lifetime of fear!’

 

 

 

 

 

© Copyright David Selzer
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2 Responses
  • Hugh Powell
    June 28, 2019

    Another excellent accumulation of the personal and the historic – the poem expands from its simple dedication – almost unnoticed until you re-read it – to the foggy streets of London, Europe and Russia. So many doors the piece opens the imagination on. Thank you!

  • Dave Williams
    July 12, 2019

    Love this – atmospheric, and captures the time beautifully
    The line about an alien wandering Whitechapel is brilliant, evoking images of fog, grime and danger on the streets. A wonderfully atmospheric effort!

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