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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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SAUDADE

'Saudade', Almeida Junior, 1899

'Saudade', Almeida Junior, 1899


 

We sheltered in the lee of the lighthouse

at what was once the end of the world,

the caliphate, for half a millennium.

Lovers still, we watched the squall move eastwards,

obscure the Sagres promontory –

whose fort’s white walls hold the Navigator’s

stone anemometer: shaped like a compass rose,

big as a bull ring, grooved like a millstone.

His caravels outflanked Islam, rounded,

at last,

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THE CLASSICAL TRADITION

'Lion', Babel, circa 583 BC

'Lion', Babel, circa 583 BC


 

‘Arma virumque cano’ was birched

into pimply boys who ruled their thin red lines

at every degree. Till the sun set

on heart-shaped continents, DCs in the bush

carried Caesar in their khaki shorts. Gaul or

Matabele, order was where empire

prevailed. Rule of law is a state of mind.

Ovid exiled himself. Virgil wrote

two lines a day in his villa near Naples.

On unmapped plains,

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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!


 

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FIDO

fido

Once, when she was very small, a dream woke me.

Dawn, iron cages, a tiger and the eager,

little zoo keeper reaching out to pat it…

She slept soundly, her menagerie too:

balding princess, purblind bear, Mummy –

though not Daddy now nor, in the garden, Fido.

Oozing kapok, hair eroded by

loving, his one eye tarnished but keen like

small expectations, he kept faith by the swing.

Love’s unreason maintained such shabbiness –

and left him out all night.

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GEORGE GERSHWIN AT CHIRK CASTLE

Chirk Castle from the North, Peter Tillemans, 1725

Chirk Castle from the North, Peter Tillemans, 1725


As we walk up the steep driveway, stopping

for breath at the curve where the castle

comes into sight – raised to block the routes

through the Dee Valley and Glyn Ceiriog

to starve the Welsh – a beribboned Rolls

descends, bride waving, followed, on foot,

by the wedding party in straggles –

black suits and brown shoes, wispy wedding hats –

treading the incline with tipsy effort.

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WITNESS THIS ARMY

Majdanek 1945 Polish civilians and Russian soldiers

Majdanek 1945 Polish civilians and Russian soldiers

During the interval, after act three

of Glinka’s opera, ‘Ivan Susannin’ –

pre-revolution, ‘A Life for the Tzar’ –

Stalin would leave his box at the Bolshoi.

In the fourth act, Ivan, the peasant, lures

the Polish Army out of Smolensk

and into a profound, winter forest.

They are lost. In the last act, they kill him.

Deep in the Katyn woods near Smolensk, pines

darkened the clearing where thousands,

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PREPOSITIONS

ON THE PONTE SAN ANGELO

Three roma children

on New Year’s Day kindle a

fire from last year’s leaves.

IN SEVILLE

After rain, a girl

struts her stuff flamenco style:

no one notices.

BY THE A3

Four chestnut horses

flick their tails in the shade of

a horse chestnut tree.

AT KOM OMBO

Crocodiles, Pharaohs,

Romans, French, Turks, British gone:

only tourists,

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GOOD HOPE

Pegram's Point, Cape Province, SA

Pegram's Point, Cape Province, SA © Sylvia Selzer 2009

At her back, the South Atlantic’s rolling seas,

those ice blue waters, break, skittering

on the silver sands. Burgeoning with child,

she smiles for the camera, as always

optimistically. Mussels encrust the rock

she leans on, kelp bobs like seals on the foam

and Southern Right Whales blow almost out of sight.

Due west, across the unbroken miles,

is Buenos Aires and the teeming hectares

of the Americas.

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