Issue 24: Aidan Semmens


Cleopatra on the Aldermaston March

Who, or what, is Sylvia? That is the question exercising Cleopatra as she joins the protesters. Sylvia is the small girl perched on the shoulders of a young man in the crowd, wielding a witty sign of the troublesome times. Later she will write a book about onions and settle down to a life in the country. The queen of Egypt, after a series of comic and romantic episodes involving Mussolini and King Alfred, is murdered like Marat in her bath of milk. In this version there is no asp and Alfred burns no cakes.

Our man in Bucharest meets a salesman from Detroit

Fresh from completing his depiction of the Battle of Jutland, Paolo Uccello embarks on a promotional tour of North America: his perspective is sought on the place of the Twin Towers in Lenape history, while his colour palette and use of shadow on the Gettysburg Address is much admired. Paolo Uccello is a global ambassador for Imperial Chemical Industries.

The Elector of the Rhineland determines not to mention James Joyce

Rosamunde, princess of Cyprus, conjured into being by Helmina von Chézy, transfigured by Franz Schubert into B minor and B flat major, is discovered in her library contemplating a discoloured print of Rembrandt’s imagining of Aristotle contemplating the bust of Homer, which will appear on the cover and in the pages of a novel by one Joseph Heller. If only Odysseus had known where his wanderings would lead, the trouble it would cause – can you imagine his difficulty? Rosamunde is not to be confused with any Shakespearean heroine, or the great-aunt of your correspondent. Their names and characters are not the same.

The legs that launched a thousand flights

So rapt are they in their game, Louis Bleriot and Che Guevara are unaware of the forest sounds, the rhythmic beat of rain on the tent, the dimming of the day as night descends. In the candlelight the sweat glistens on their knotted brows. Sprawled in her canvas chair, Betty Grable affects disinterest, though the prize at stake is nothing less than her hand in matrimony. As Bleriot at last achieves his final triumphant bluff, passing off his pair of sixes as a royal flush, she stretches out the famous legs still further, closes her eyes as if to sleep.

Jeremy Bentham in the Big Brother house

While playing table-tennis with Emma Goldman he is struck by the thought that with her smile, her lithe movement, her philosophy of atheism and personal freedom she has the potential in so many ways to contribute to the gaiety of nations and the total sum of happiness. In the control room, the producer is struck by the thought that each time Bentham stretches for a difficult forehand, viewers are afforded a glimpse of his left nipple.

Aidan Semmens's fifth book of poetry, There Will Be Singing, is published by Shearsman Books July 2020; like all the previous four, it contains some work that first appeared in Blackbox Manifold.

Copyright © 2020 by Aidan Semmens, 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.