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THE VIEW FROM THE BASTION

With her new camera, a  Christmas present,

and with the intuitive surety,

at not quite nine, of how to make a picture,

she makes a sunlit panorama of Pest

from the Fisherman’s Bastion in Buda –

a Magyar edifice of walls and towers

built in the nineteen hundreds to celebrate

the permanence of the Habsburg Empire.

In a wall’s shadow she shows me the screen,

and what she has angled by chance. I note

the parliament building, the Great Synagogue,

the space where Imry Nagy’s statue was.

 

Beside a bronze equestrian statue

of Stephen the First, between the Bastion

and St Matthias Church, a white tailed eagle

and its handler (dressed for Ruritania)

wait for selfies with passing tourists.

She catches one such from the rear – a man

diminished by the bird perched on his shoulder.

 

 

 

© Copyright David Selzer
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3 Responses
  • Sarah Selzer
    January 31, 2020

    So true! Lovely piece. She is a natural with the camera as we’ve all discovered in the year since – and she isn’t showing any sign of ditching it, despite her love of the selfie opportunities presented by our smartphones!

  • Mark Chapman
    January 31, 2020

    It was such a cold crisp day, and Evie was so studious with the camera. A perfect day to practice, captured perfectly in this lovely poem.

  • Clive Watkins
    February 3, 2020

    Poetically, what interests me here is the balancing of different kinds of celebratory or commemorative images in the ‘sunlit panorama’, images which in fact mark absences: for example, the ‘Fisherman’s Bastion in Buda … built in the nineteen hundreds to celebrate/the permanence of the Habsburg Empire’, an Empire we know ended with World War I; the Great Synagogue, marking within the poem the absence of the Jews murdered in the Holocaust; and the statue of Imry Nagy, itself missing but set up to mark the leader of the Hungarian Revolt in 1956, executed by the Soviets in 1958. Against these stands the image captured by the little girl of the white-tailed eagle and its handler, who offers himself and his bird as participants in another kind of public staging: a selfie. On several levels, it is appropriate that he is in costume – this is a dramatic impersonation – and that he is ‘dressed for Ruritania’, which plays to fictions, some of them mocking, about the eastern marches of Europe, fictions that are cinematic and, in origin, literary. It is also fitting that the real eagle, an actual bird, upstages the uses to which emperors have put such creatures. That the photographer is an innocent child, that the framing of the shot is (almost) an accident, that selfies might be thought of as more fleeting than the imperial and civic emblems among which they are taken, which are themselves, of course, ironic testament to the fragility of the very institutions they commemorate (the title includes and therefore highlights the word ‘bastion’, a robust defensive structure): all these features add to the resonance and depth of the poem. Finally, all this is conveyed through the voice of a knowing and observant adult, who sees, no doubt, more than the child does. Bravo!

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