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!’