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A SHORT HISTORY

For a generation, like weather cocks,

their skeletons swung near the highway.

James Price and Thomas Brown had robbed the Mail.

Years turned. The Gowy flooded and the heath

flowered. Travellers noted the bones

hanging in chains by the Warrington road.

Justices ordered the gibbet removed,

the remains disposed of. In Price’s skull,

while Napoleon was crossing the Alps

or Telford building bridges or Hegel

defining Historical Necessity

or Goya painting Wellington’s portrait,

a robin made its nest.

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EZRA POUND IN VENICE

‘But the worst mistake I made was that stupid suburban prejudice of anti-semitism.’ Ezra Pound

 

Sitting in a traghetto, Olga Rudge

from Ohio and Ezra Pound from

Idaho – together fifty years,

from concert violinist to poet’s helpmate,

poet maker to fascist propagandist,

he, typically, with stick, wide brimmed hat,

floppy collar, she, wearing woollen gloves,

left hand clutching a large, canvas bag, right hand

a carefully folded scarf, dressed, like any

elderly woman, for a chilly day –

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WISHES

For Evelyn b. 13.1.10

 

Born to good music by strong women,

Ella’s ‘isle of joy’, Nina’s ’it’s a new dawn’ –

how you nestle in your parents’ untrammelled

love, how you suck with unrelenting hunger!

 

Born into a world of rubble, with children

buried alive, a world of chicanery

and hatreds – you have entered a difficult,

place, little Evie, somewhere remarkable,

full of tears and amazing kindnesses!

 

Born into a world of snow,

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FAR ABOVE RUBIES

The silence woke her. Beyond the locked door

by now her maids should be chattering

in that harsh tongue. She went to the window.

Even the gulls on the battlements were mute.

And no guards on the ramparts, nobody

in the bailey. The straits were the colour

of the emerald at her neck – her father’s

wedding gift. A barque moved edgily

through the sands. Its pennants spoke of home.

The island’s coast was clear in the sun.

She imagined the light summer wind

stirring its fecund,

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OH YES THERE IS!

You are Princess Ayesha, the principal girl,

in the youth group’s pantomime at St Barnabas,

West Street, Crewe. Disguised as a boy, you are searching

for Aladdin – your true, lost love – in the canvas

forest and the bazaar, among the painted caves

and the amphora. Heavily Max Factored, dressed

in torn shirt and ripped shorts – having crossed the desert,

outwitted each one of the forty thieves, bested

Abanazar, bamboozled the Genie and charmed

Widow Twankey to be downstage centre –

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A POLITICAL EDUCATION

The hostel women came one summer evening

after tea. The noise brought Judith and me

from hiding-from-the-Germans, our game

in the bushy borders of the gardens

in our block of flats off Finchley Road.

A crowd of women, with some small children –

a few men were outside on the pavement –

were at the back of the building where we were

forbidden to go and the bins were kept.

A row of aspen saplings, planted

alongside the back fence,

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53 WILLIAM STREET

Our DNA is filled with wondrous

commonplaces, luminous platitudes:

refugees from pogroms in the Ukraine,

refugees from the Famine in Connaught.

*

This was the house my mother’s family moved to

from 7 Moses Street, off Sefton Park Road,

Liverpool, three years before she was born;

Ma, Da, her two small sisters, her two teenage

step brothers; a rented end of terrace –

with gas, running water, outside privy –

in a cobbled cul-de-sac, where bread

still warm was delivered in the Co-op’s

horse drawn van,

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THE BOX BROWNIE

The photo of Stephen Baum and me aged 4

falls out of the back of a book. Each of us

is holding a part of a redundant

Kodak Brownie and laughing in ecstasy.

The battered camera is Stephen’s.

The sun is shining, and we are on the lawn

in front of the flats where we lived. It was spring

or summer ’47. Our mothers

would take us to the entrance of the yard

of the dairy on Child’s Hill so we could watch

the horses and hear the waters rushing

through wooden slats,

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CENSUS

At midnight on Sunday the 3rd of April

1881 the Bar lightship’s

paddle steamer tender, ‘Vigilant’,

is moored at Woodside Stage, Birkenhead.

Of the eight crew three were born in Wales,

two in Liverpool, one in Ireland,

one in Sweden and one on a ‘Yorkshire Farm’.

In immaculate copperplate, the First Mate,

my great grandfather, completes the form.

 

Meanwhile at 52 Harlow Street,

a street that slopes down to Harrington Dock,

where the Elder Dempster line was based

that sailed to Freetown,

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THE VICISSITUDES OF HISTORY

Her maiden surname was Eisenberg, ‘iron

mountain’, one that had been chosen for them

from the Imperial list. I was often

uneasy, unsure in her presence.

She hardly ever smiled. I realise now

because I looked so like her son, my father.

She died, from kidney failure, when I was nine.

 

On the mantelpiece in our dining room

is a pair of figurines – faux Meissen –

brought in her parents’ wooden suitcase, wrapped

in linen, journeying from Leopoldstat,

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