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SAME OLD, SAME OLD

Impelled by Wall Street and the Pentagon,

and the vanity of Presidents,

the astronauts had seemed to sail beyond

experience – but we TV millions watched

live ‘Old Glory’ stiffen above us;

heard Nixon speak; saw Aldrin at attention.

Meanwhile, oblivious, the Vietcong

were waiting patiently in their tunnels.

 

***

 

The day of the moon landing we walked up

Bidston Hill to the Observatory,

where my great grandfather – who had captained

coffin ships to Boston – in his old age

studied the tides. Our little girl played on slabs

of ice-smoothed sandstone, and recited

‘The moon has a face like the clock in the hall’.

Birkenhead below lay sharply in sunlight –

maritime, sooty, long in decline.

 

***

 

Above the scrofulous cities of the earth

the contraptions spin like discarded coins.

We are trashing the universe, and time

is no shorter than it ever was for us

of the broken countries, which corrupt,

like mouths of rotten teeth, all they encroach.

 

 

Note: ‘SAME OLD, SAME OLD’ is a re-working of ‘NEW HEROES’ written in August and September 1969 – first published in Phoenix (Winter 1972) and re-published in Elsewhere (1973).

© Copyright David Selzer
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4 Responses
  • Clive Watkins
    July 20, 2019

    As you already know, David, I recently came across what is I think the earliest published version of this poem in the copy of Phoenix 9 I came across in The Poetry Bookshop in Hay on Wye at the end of June. It was shelved with Michael Longley’s books because it contains a holograph of one of his early poems, ‘The Freemartin’ (later included in his collection, No Continuing City). I was very pleased to buy it as it brought back so many important memories of my university years in Liverpool in the mid-Sixties. I have to say, at first view I regret the dropping of ‘brilliant’ before ‘contraptions’. I shall enjoy making a closer comparison of the two versions, however.

  • David Selzer
    July 20, 2019

    As you may imagine, Clive, I spent a long time hesitating about the word ‘brilliant’, not least because I was very pleased with the pun when I wrote NEW HEROES in ’69 – of which SAME OLD, SAME OLD is a reworking. I removed the word to ensure the pace and tone of the last verse is as relentless as possible. ‘…discarded coins…’ maintains an aspect of brilliance.

    I look forward to your comparing the two versions in greater detail. Below is a copy of the original poem to enable other readers to join in the discussion.

    NEW HEROES

    Cotton wool moon in a flimsy sky
    and Armstrong, Aldrin, Collins
    impelled
    by Wall Street and the Pentagon
    impelled
    beyond experience
    where is brightest, darkest
    and nothing seems to happen.

    On Monday, July 21st.,
    my wife, our child and I
    climbed out of town
    through trees’ green shadows,
    to rain-pocked, frost-cracked, wind-worn rock;
    and the Observatory
    where my great-grandfather,
    who sailed a coffin ship to Boston,
    watched the stars in his middle age.

    ‘Old Glory’ stiffens above us all. When Nixon spoke,
    we T.V. millions saw
    Aldrin at attention in his lumpy suit
    a quarter million miles away. New argosies,
    new heroes, church-going, athletic,
    dull as machines that level
    error and style,
    leave only the passive
    as humanly possible –
    being poor, persecuted, dead –
    but still no one is equal not even in suffering.
    Above the scrofulous cities of the earth,
    the brilliant contraptions spin like discarded coins.
    We are dirtying the universe like flies.

    Our condition is trite, appalling.
    Dancing on warm and antique rock,
    our little girl sang.
    ‘Moon has the face
    like a clock on the wall’,
    and the town – sooty,
    commercial, Victorian –
    lay sharply in sunlight. Change
    is silting of incident, present
    eroding into future which is always here
    and unimaginable. Past is sure, tantalising.
    a grievous taste.

    Masks of monstrous crêpe soles left
    on a cindery world
    for a million years
    should no more wrench
    our numbed, excitable selves
    than Zyclon B
    or Newcomen’s Engine,
    and time is no shorter than it ever was
    for us of the broken countries
    which sour, like mouths of rotten teeth,
    all they encroach.

    ©David Selzer 1969

  • Ashen
    July 20, 2019

    Fascinating to read the present as well as the earlier version, which has more images, though you added the Vietcong in their tunnels in the present poem, where I like the contrasting lines about you great-grandfather who once captained coffin ships to Boston, and your little girl singing about the moon with the face like a clock…
    I like both poems.

  • David Selzer
    July 21, 2019

    NEW HEROES like SAME OLD, SAME OLD was, in effect, a blog. I had originally intended to post the former yesterday, but, on reflection, to have done so would have been precious if not pretentious. Sylvia Selzer suggested that I, in effect’ update the ‘blog’. I like the image of the Vietcong, not least because the Vietnam War put an end to the Apollo missions, the last being in December 1972. I’m glad you like both poems, Ashen – so do I!

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