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LOOKING FOR PUFFINS: SOUTH STACK REVISITED – A POEM FOR OUR DAUGHTER

South Stack, Ynys Môn, ©Sylvia Selzer 2009

 

Of course, by the time it’s my turn at the ’scope

the bugger’s turned its back. ‘It is a puffin,’

reassures the RSPB girl – and,

since she’s pretty and young, I believe

that what I see is not one of the teeming,

noisy, noisome, nesting guillemots,

razorbills or gulls. A hat trick: ageism,

sexism, anthropomorphism – plus

being churlish as a bear rather than

valiant as a lion.

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ONLY ONE IN STEP

 

 

 

 

Plato's Allegory of the Cave

 

 

 

 

 

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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.

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MARJORIE BEEBE’S BOTTOM

For Ian Craine

 

‘Marjorie Beebe is the greatest comic possibility that ever worked in my studio. I think she is destined to become the finest comedienne the screen has ever seen.’  Mack Sennett

 

Marjorie Beebe in 'The Farmer's Daughter' 1928

 

Her bottom was a serious matter:

the butt, as it were, of numerous pratfalls

in many Mack Sennett two reelers – like

The Chumps, Campus Crushes and The Cowcatcher’s

Daughter

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TRIGGER AT THE ADELPHI, LIVERPOOL, MARCH, 1954

For Alex Cox

 

This is the year Dien Bien Phu falls,

Algeria rises, segregation is

ruled illegal in the USA,

the first kidney is transplanted and UK

wartime food rationing finally ends.

 

Lime Street was filled with thousands of boys and girls,

gathered to greet the singing, celluloid,

Born Again cowpoke, Roy Rogers (erstwhile

Leonard Slye), and his entourage – combining

a promo tour with a Billy Graham

crusade.

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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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SAPPHIRE

We came here first maybe fifty years ago –

Porth Trecastell aka Cable Bay

(on Ynys Môn aka Anglesey) –

a small Iron Age hill fort on one headland,

a Neolithic grave on the other,

and a telephone cable to Ireland

in between. This bank holiday the bay

is busy – paddlers, bathers, canoeists.

 

In the gated burial chamber –

Barclodiad y Gawres, which translates,

‘the full apron of the giantess’ –

its prehistoric graffiti secured

against vandals,

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PRIMATES

The Cape Point funicular stops. A baboon

is squatting on the track, suckling its young.

Cameras click. We wait. Mother and child lope off

into the fynbos and the proteas.

We trundle down to the visitors’ centre.

 

On a path by the electrified fence

beneath the restaurant terrace, a baboon stalks.

Much further below and beyond is False Bay.

A distant whale breaches, and another –

then a destroyer passes, sailing

from Simons Town for the Southern Ocean.

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ON FIRST READING ‘THE GULAG ARCHIPELAGO’

It was time to revise our atlases.

Europe was a river of broken ice,

Russia a mouth widening to a

frozen sea. GULAG was permanent winter.

Innocent, we had traced railways to

romantic ends. The atlas of knowledge showed

obscured crimes, its charts the colours and scale

of blizzards. A new world had been shaping.

Multitudes were shunted across nations.

A chronicle of whispers is the pure

saga, epic of the supreme fiction,

where history is lost, where ten million

lives are broken like glass.

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A POET IN WARTIME

Nuns clambered on the headland. Like scarabs,

they traversed the sage slope of limestone

to the hermit’s shrine. Marine creatures, landlocked,

awaited the sea’s coming. The poet

descended by funicular to the bay’s

elegant crescent of hotels. Mists

trailed the foothills of distant peaks. In saloons

of bevelled mirrors, his comrades sang

marching songs. A love poem formed like breath.

 

He crunched on innumerable pebbles.

Waves gasped and sighed, smoothing the wooden groynes.

Two aircraft,

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ANTIQUITY

Ancient Greeks preferred it to chronicles

for poetry is the art of maybe,

the alchemy which turns fact into song.

 

‘Antiochus honours the saviours of men,

the immortals, Asclepius of

the gentle hands, Hygeia, Panakeia.’

On the margins of barbarity

and wilderness,  a Greek army doctor

commissioned a recondite altar – found

some seventeen hundred years later

when Chester’s Market Hall, its pediment

topped with cornucopia, was flattened.

 

Centuries before the Twentieth

was stationed here,

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