Issue 26: Gavin Selerie

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.