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REGATTA, MENAI STRAITS

On the coast road across the straits the blue flash

of an ambulance appears, then disappears

behind a stand of trees and a barn.

 

The mainland late morning is so pellucid

one might almost count the dry stones in the walls

that mark the fields, climb past the sparse woods

and delineate the cropped moorlands

from the mountain tops. A cannon thud

starts the regatta of red sailed dinghies.

They scud and tack on the silvery straits,

their spinnakers burgeoning vainly.

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GRASSALKOVICH PARK, BRATISLAVA

Yesterday was New Year’s Eve and the fountain

was drained to prevent too much merriment.

So the bronze, nude young ladies disport themselves

in dry, cold air. The equestrian statue

of Maria Theresa, mother

of sixteen, and the last of the Holy

Roman Empresses appears unamused,

though whether by the municipality’s

actions or the girls’ appears unclear.

Last month’s heavy snow remains in small,

sheltered drifts behind occasional trees.

What was an Hungarian aristocrat’s

formal palace garden in the French style

has become –

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CHANGING THE GUARD

The guard detachment for the presidential

palace – an NCO and four privates –

arrives in a taxi cab at ten a.m.

in front of our boutique hotel (with its own

micro brewery). They march – in somewhat

Ruritanian uniforms, rifles

shouldered – beside the high, concrete-faced wall

of what is now a public park and once

was the palace’s formal gardens before

the maps were redrawn. Some time later

we watch the high stepping sentry-go

through the ornate iron gates –

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THE RABBI AND THE EMPEROR

In the summer of 1913, the last

Habsburg Emperor made a state visit

to Pressburg – later, after The Treaty

of Versailles, renamed Bratislava.

One photograph shows his open carriage

stopped in front of the Pressburg Yeshiva,

whose students came from every part

of the Empire. Franz Josef leans forward

to speak to Rabbi Akiva Sofer,

whose great grandfather founded the school –

two dynasties talking briefly together.

 

During the rule of the Communist Party

most of the erstwhile Jewish quarter was razed

to build a four lane bridge across the Danube.

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THE SKATER

Fearless, determined, yet circumspect, she briefly

glides, skims, and then glissades among strangers

on the ice rink in Archbishop Square.

The tannoy is broadcasting Christmas songs.

The skater coasts to ‘Chestnuts Roasting

On An Open Fire’ – music and words

by two American Jews and sung

by a man of colour from Alabama.

Before the Archbishop’s Palace – in whose

Hall of Mirrors, after Austerlitz,

Napoleon’s proxies sorted Europe,

with glitter ball diplomacy, for good –

she coasts,

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A VIEW FROM THE CASTLE

It is not the winter-grey Danube flowing –

hundreds of feet below – fast to Budapest,

nor the suspension bridge – with its high rise

circular restaurant – commemorating

the failed uprising against the Nazis,

nor the outline of the Vienna Alps

fifty miles away, nor the wind turbines

covering the plain between, but the concrete

Soviet era apartment blocks

now painted white and some in pastel shades

that first catch the eye from this stronghold

on a rocky hill far above the town

on the second day of 2018.

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WATER SELLERS, BROOKLYN BRIDGE

It was 82 and humid the Sunday

before 9/11 when we walked

onto the crowded bridge from Brooklyn Heights.

Two teenage Latino-looking girls –

unsmiling, unsure, uneasy – were standing

by an insulated cart – no doubt

pushed up the walkway by some enterprising

dad or brother – filled with plastic bottles

of glistening water. The sellotaped price

was two dollars – but trade was measured

despite the weather. A guarded city

even in diversity? I thought of Hart Crane’s

‘Migrations that must need void memory,

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WINTER

Footballers in the park grow younger, play

longer into December nights. In my garden,

leaves decompose. Fogs rise to the window.

I see my father’s features in the glass.

 

Gulls are grave, funereal in their white

seriousness. Bad weather visitors,

fickle as spume-flecks, they flitter from grass

into heavy skies, craftsmen in gravity.

 

Winter is too human for comfort.

Natural we should shudder as darkness

drifts in sooner. Ice seasons carry home

truths on incisive air.

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BY ANY OTHER NAME

 For Sandra Lewis

 

We were unsure where to put the Christmas Rose,

aka hellebore niger, you brought us

this December gone. We chose, pro tem, the room

where I write, with its two long windows.

The light the north facing one lets in

is unambiguous. The other accepts

occasional sun from late mornings

to early evenings. I write in a corner

by a wall of books. With its much travelled

piano,

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BREAK AN EGG!

I am reminded of Professor Wallofski’s

Omelette, Prince of Demark, and the rotten egg

the curate ate, watching this particular

‘peasant rogue…tear a passion to tatters’

as if each word were merely a bagatelle

on a stage the size of a tennis court.

‘Oh, what a noble mind…’ But, yoking apart,

who would wander those chill corridors,

discouraged by the guttering torches

in their sconces, where duty and hatred,

love and negligence throng in the smoky

shadows only words discombobulate –

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