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THE NATURE OF MEN

The organ grinder sets up his pitch at dawn

opposite the Hotel Belvedere Du Mer,

and waits. His monkey, in a sullied red cap

with tarnished bells, scrabbles, beside the corniche,

among the beds of white oleander.

 

The hotel doorman sends a page boy across

with a message and a coin. He watches –

shielding his eyes from the sea’s dazzle –

as the boy speaks to the organ grinder,

who completely ignores him. He returns,

with the coin, embarrassed and affronted.

 

The doorman watches the organ grinder,

who continues to stare, as he has since dawn,

at the drawn blinds and the shut windows

of the hotel’s Seraglio Suite,

where the Prince is dying…

 

We should assume

that all the characters in this story

have names that were bestowed at birth or

in captivity – or have been acquired –

though we will not learn their names. We might

also have assumed thus far in the story

that all the characters are male –

but the page boy is the doorman’s

pre-pubescent daughter with hair cut short,

and the monkey is the matriarch

of a small colony of capuchins

the organ grinder keeps in a deserted

mosque near the docks…

 

There is traffic now

on the corniche, and hurrying workers

along the promenade, briefly curious

about the silent organ grinder,

and his monkey busy among the flowers.

 

A cab stops at the hotel. The doorman descends

to greet the Prince’s prodigal daughter,

whom, we may assume, both has a name

and is the gender she chooses to be.

A low sided wagon passes, carrying

a tethered, blinkered, braying donkey.

 

Suddenly the blinds are raised in the suite,

and a nun opens the long windows wide –

to let the Prince’s soul return to his

vine-covered estates beyond the mountains,

or banish the lingering smell of death,

and replace death’s rattle with the sea’s soft roar.

 

The grinder begins to turn the organ’s wheel,

and along the corniche and through the town’s

boulevards and alleyways the plangent

music plays of Desedemona’s

final aria from Verdi’s ‘Otello’:

‘Hail Mary, full of grace, chosen among wives

and virgins…’ From among the oleanders

the matriarchal monkey emerges,

removes her worn cap and bells, and capers.

 

 

 

© Copyright David Selzer
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2 Responses
  • John Huddart
    September 30, 2021

    That is amazing. One of your finest poems. Rich, detailed, mysterious, allusive. Read it forever. It will play in your head like beautifully crafted cinema. What else can I say!?

  • Ian Craine
    October 1, 2021

    David, I was about to write ‘what a particularly brilliant poem this is’. John, you have anticipated me (we two have also met many years ago at Chester Theatre Club) and I agree with everything you have written, and you have expressed it better than I think I would have done.

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