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THE PRICE OF FISH AND THE VALUE OF NOTHING

When I was a boy I was often taken

to the aquarium on the promenade

by the Palace Pier, Brighton – a resort

and commuter town on England’s south east coast.

It was an hour’s train journey from London

on the Pullman Brighton Belle – with its curtains

and its table lamps – restored to pre-war pomp.

My favourite tank was devoted to sea fish

found in the English Channel – teeming still

from wartime’s cessation of fishing.

There were skate and flounder, dogfish and sole,

mullet and turbot, stingray and dab.

The Channel’s bluey grey waters pushed and pulled

the pebbly beach a bucket and spade away.

 

***

 

Our coastal waters have become the scoundrels’

last refuge, and the continent of Europe

has been cut off from us by a fog,

a miasma of xenophobia

and racism, hatred and envy,

lying and denial masquerading

as patriotism, truth and fact.

Being here at this moment is like

living among a hidden enemy,

aliens disguised as human beings,

a fifth column of racists and xenophobes,

latter-day Platonists obsessed with

abstractions and capital letters.

 

***

 

Piers – their width and length, their cast iron

stanchions and curlicues, the size and range

of their entertainment pavilions, the chance

of swaggering above the briny – were

a hallmark of the best resorts. Brighton

had two – Palace and West, the latter

my favourite as a boy with its small funfair,

green painted wrought iron slot machines,

and glass screens to keep the weather off.

Bankruptcy, neglect, storms, and arson,

over the last fifty years, have left four columns

and the skeletal remains of the tea room.

No one in authority appears

responsible for these vestiges –

which are like some permanent wreckage

of war, a parable of our civic life.

 

 

 

© Copyright David Selzer
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7 Responses
  • Elise Oliver
    January 29, 2021

    Really enjoyed this poem on so many levels. Your reference to the Brighton Belle triggered childhood memories. As an eight-year-old, I thought it was the ultimate embodiment of sophistication. I also remember my father taking some time to persuade me that the Pavilion was not really the Taj Mahal and that I hadn’t actually been on a tour of the British Empire on the Royal Train. Moreover, I was goggle-eyed at so many pebbles, although they proved to be somewhat uncomfortable on the bum and feet.

    As you say, no one in authority will admit responsibility for the rotting wreckage of society and the ‘miasma of xenophobia’ will continue to engender mutual distrust – yesterday it was ownership of the fish, today it’s a vaccine stampede. What will fan the flames tomorrow? The power of collaboration has been truly subverted in the school playground of politics.

  • Nilanjana Bose
    January 30, 2021

    There’s a pandemic of xenophobia right around the world and it’s more transmissible and lethal than Covid. Enjoyed reading, thank you.

  • Catherine Reynolds
    February 1, 2021

    We’ve seen an end to the diversity of fish stocks and a political disregard for diversity in civil society. Your poem makes manifest the changes in our society and our built environment. A combination of miasma and neglect. We are richer and yet poorer, more technological and yet less knowing, more populist and less communitarian. All this, as you observe, is ‘a parable of our civic life’.

  • John Huddart
    February 5, 2021

    That Brighton’s piers should so perfectly sum up our condition – a marvelous conception!

    I did not know you were a southern boy!

  • David Selzer
    February 6, 2021

    For my first five years – and then intermittently until I was ten.

  • Jeff Teasdale
    February 6, 2021

    Again, David, very evocative of one’s own seaside childhood….. NOT treading on a huge jellyfish at New Brighton (no pier at this Brighton, but an unrivalled view to Liverpool), red mud oozing between toes in Morecambe, both my granddads in their best suits on Blackpool beach, and on finding a huge tooth on the beach in Douglas IoM. From the museum director…”Well, the bad news is that it isn’t a dinosaur as you thought, but a horse, but the good news is that you brought it in here and you won’t ever forget this moment” and 65 years later, I haven’t.

    And then the sinister undertones of places and people who have changed us for the worse, and we can’t think of them in the same way again. This part of the poem does shine a beam on that and articulates our unease.

  • Mary Clark
    February 26, 2021

    What happened to all that civic-minded activity of our youth? We thought we had made headway and even long-lasting programs. Perhaps we wore out under the continuous onslaught of greed and lack of empathy? I remember the bright piers and clean beaches and dreams of adventure in foreign lands. Even then some knew to keep under the radar. Now we all do. (I know, too melancholy!)

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