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Poetry – Page 53 – David Selzer – page 53
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AFTER THE RIOTS

A skyline as idiosyncratic

as Manhattan’s,  Chicago’s – its totems

of wealth, faith and dominion – belies

the city’s cruelty: fortunes from famine,

despotism, slavery; licensing

of squalor, bigotry and despair.

In the park where the Orange Lodge drummed out

The Twelfth, a rape was immediate headlines –

white girl, black youths. In Toxteth – its decayed

squares and terraces built on molasses

and cotton, some street signs repainted green,

gold, red, the colours of Rastafari –

was daubed,

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THE LAST REFUGE

‘Two bald men fighting over a comb…’ José Luis Borges

Almost always, winds blew – over heath and sheep.

Seas swelled southward – to ice, minerals.

Mapped, the islands seemed like green spume: a tattered

standard blown west. That bleak solitude

was Arthur Ransome country – The Camp,

Tumbledown Mountain – naive, single minded,

like the Falkland Flightless Steamer duck…

Larger than Greenland, smaller than India,

Argentina did not exist.

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ONLY ONE IN STEP

Plato's Allegory of the Cave

Plato's Allegory of the Cave


Plato’s Allegory of the Cave is

somehow very ‘Thirties: lots of chaps in

the dark behind high walls; much shadow-play

with unidentifiable voices;

belated, blinding suddenness of light.

The decade’s putative worthies (who all,

by the way, seem to have been chaps) go forth

unknowingly in parallel: e.g.

Hitler in Berchtesgarten, Wittgenstein

(Adolf’s erstwhile peer from Linz) in Cambridge.

Did Wittgenstein walk with Blunt, Philby,

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THE DISGUISED REPUBLIC

For Mark Chapman, PPC

So well is our real government concealed, that if you tell a cabman to drive to ‘Downing Street’ he most likely will never have heard of it…It is only a ‘disguised republic’, which is suited to such a being as the Englishman in such a century as the nineteenth.

THE ENGLISH CONSTITUTION, Walter Bagehot, 1867.

HM’s Garden Parties turn the Bagehot trick,

showing GB as it really, really is:

the Law, the Cloth, clerks,

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OH YES THERE IS!

Queen Scheherazade telling her stories to King Shahryar

Queen Scheherazade telling her stories to King Shahryar


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,

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THE PRICE

Just beyond the lamp’s beam, where coal and dark

were one, was fire, flood, blast and rockfall.

Shoring bulged, split. Rock jerked through. Earth returned.

Exploited roofs fell, distantly like sighs.

How men loved life to work that labyrinth

crowded with frustrated lives! There were

children in the collapsed seams. There was dust

in ears, nostril, mouth, pores – ubiquitous

as death, death’s colour – and in the palm, a chance

shaving from the crushed forests, the suppressed

centuries, drawing blood.

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THE GREATEST OF THESE

All day I was accosted by the same

black wino who called me, “Sir”, who had not,

he said, worked for three years, had an illness

(unspecified) and never knew me though

we met outside the Tribune Tower, the

Art Institute, a camera shop on

Wabash, Berghof’s, and then under the El

at State and Jackson! Finally, as I

took my first Wild Turkey of the evening

while I stood at my hotel window, there

he was on the far side of Harrison,

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PARTING THE WAYS

Earthmovers roared, made a whirling progress

six days a week: a four-lane highway

to bypass our provincial town. Gone were

Traveller’s Joy, Heartsease, Love-in-Idleness.

Our wood and its narrow roadway – a lovers’

thoroughfare – severed. Only clay was left

from world’s edge to world’s end: a no-man’s-land,

a dried-up riverbed. One Sunday,

our daughter crossed the silent excavation

and, from the opposite bank, called out:

‘It’s just like the Red Sea!’ And she waved.

We acknowledged the future lovingly.

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A LIFE

Esther Philips, oldest of thirteen, came

from Liverpool, had tea with Buffalo

Bill and, having siblings and her mother,

a drunkard, to care for, refused an offer

to join a chorus line. When I knew her, she

had no teeth, wore the same two black dresses

and munched Quaker Oats between meals. She cried

when I played ‘La Fille Aux Cheveux De Lin’

on the upright in the back room. She outlived

two husbands and four of seven children –

and died saying that she knew how Jesus felt.

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