November 1918

The war done, another rages, here
as if in somebody else’s skin.
Not ghostly green or any colour
across the field
it enters to fill and split: lungs, ribs, throat.
There is wrath between selves, nations
but this flies indiscriminate. On an ordinary day
a walker drops to the pavement or a rider
topples from a horse.

And who’ll notice
when a foe comes silent and sightless
through the air?

In a rented house on Stephen’s Green
the spirit refuses questions
while the great clock in the hall is stopped.
Georgie, now known as George
and six months pregnant, tosses and turns upstairs,
gasping for breath. Her form hovers
between states as Maud—owner on the doorstep—
is turned away
lest a tracker raise a second angry wind.

Freed from Holloway, disguised as a Red Cross nurse
and without a passport, ‘Moura’ has crossed the sea
to get home. What’s possession
in a building or the head, says he
caught between you’s in a line of trouble.
She’s the countess in a violet cloak with silver clasp
dragging on a last cigarette
and she’s the voice of the crowd, shrill and bitter
shrugging off the victor.
There’s more to do than sit and sew, sifting sheets
when everything is remembered.

One will accuse the other, as a pet hare
munches grass and leaves in the garden
and a tag records a pippin
grown onto rootstock with luminous skin.
A moody sky threatens to force the branches back
and drench the path leading down.

Beyond the railings a barrel organ cranks its tune
over again and a tram-car swerves and hisses
to a halt. Clang and throb before that
of swans and ducks. A sheath of air spirals
from the lake: figures lean away
as hands join. What we did is always
with us, a stain of beauty in common cloth
and no third person can judge. You may think to go
unseen in a covert with bird notes attuned
to your song, but from paths open to all
a dog’s fangs will nose you out.

The water is a tin flash, the bridge is a grooved bone,
the drowned poem stares up.

Laughing atoms show we’re not made up
of what was claimed, the latest news must give.
A black town is sometimes red in the dusk
and the deuce take any rule forbids
this eviction staged as a lantern show.

Two years since a potshot through a club window
and some kindness from one ready to kill.

A square captured leads to the same
in riposte, as prisoners trudge
beneath a four-corner sky. Your field of fire
is a groined ceiling, laid in style
across the river, a shout with an endless pause
by polished stone. Is this just
the bagman’s folly, doing Alexander again
in a slimy trench? To go willy-nilly
from one hole to another
getting a yard where you wanted a mile
and acting false to break out truth.

If that’s a script of uncertain credit
it’s not all fireworks
when a country treads on another’s behind.

This makes a plot roll
in blocks of sevens, each dot
the call to another life. She who shuddered
at soldiers gored by the war bull
would now run rifles through gorse. She who charts
the course of things from centuries back
must shut out the irrelevant. Lungs and funnels
dictate in a castle cell or warmer bedroom.

When you think it’s past, it starts again:
a bursting head, aching legs, a fire of cold shivers.
He can’t throw his arms around her but must
move to a room in the club. A brass plate
won’t announce as white blood cells churn.

Across town a dancer falls to the boards
stiff, coffins are stacked 18-high, streets are sprayed
with Jeyes fluid.

Flipped, exhausted, the patient sits up
in a shawl and blanket to pick at fish and cream
got with a doctor’s permit. Somehow after the end
there’s relief—and sleep without drugs—
though all’s unfair in the year of can’t even.

Afraid of a stranger, afraid of a friend,
you hardly trust yourself.
This window is a jackal’s eye
piercing private space, this chimney is a chute
dropping soot in the bed.
A gentle hand touching your shoulder
won’t erase the corolla that flashed from your skull.
In a crimp of time, past a row of houses
one on a coal black horse twists
to show his ashen face
as by an arch
his accomplice whispers a metallic song.

Wrongly called, our Spanish Lady
has the odds and evens of it,
twenty to nothing and nineteen to one—
she’ll dance you down a corridor,
whirl through any door.
In a marble entrance and then under rickety stairs
she’ll claim a kiss, she’s got so much to share.

Lurching in grooves to get to another place
there’s little to put you safe, the sequel winds
through episodes that promise a close
and just wander, a loss in each sense of Z.

All the Helens that go projected
in a voltascope
won’t make this mate disappear, she stares
and holds a candle
that might be a fiddle or guitar by the bone-fire.
Maybe this mends our errors, maybe
it’s a silk veil, but the floating form pushes one year
into the next and we move on.

A poet dips in the tub to know, finds a coil of figures
to shape vision, and still at the nub
has to deal with I-come you-go, the splodges
in cream sheets that live to fill a book.

 

 

 


[Gavin Selerie was born in London, where he still lives. Books include Azimuth (1984), Roxy (1996), Le Fanu’s Ghost (2006) and Hariot Double (2016)—all long sequences with linked units. Music’s Duel: New and Selected Poems 1972-2008 was published in 2009 and Collected Sonnets in 2019 (both from Shearsman). Selerie has collaborated extensively with poet and graphic artist Alan Halsey, most notably in Days of ’49 (1999). His work has appeared in anthologies such as The New British Poetry (1988), Other: British & Irish Poetry since 1970 (1999) and The Reality Street Book of Sonnets (2008). He is currently working on a pandemic sequence with a long historical reach, from which the present text is taken. A book length interview, Into the Labyrinth, is available online (Argotist Ebooks). Critical work includes studies of Charles Olson and Edward Dorn. Collected Sonnets was reviewed in Blackbox Manifold issue 25 .]

Copyright © 2021 by Gavin Selerie, all rights reserved. This text may be used and shared in accordance with the fair-use provisions of Copyright law. Archiving, redistribution, or republication of this text on other terms, in any medium, requires the notification of the journal and consent of the author.