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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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