THE FROGMORE POETRY PRIZE 2012

Derek Sellen

A PHOTO OF YOU IN GHENT
for Elaine Sweeney

                             I

You’re in a vast paved square, dressed in black,
and have laid your white stick down for this photo,
surrounded by architecture, a core of masonry
surviving centuries of European war.
Among the geometric lines of mortared slabs,
the architraves and buttresses, the massive tower,
the stepped gables and the absence of greenery,
you are the only living thing, as if it all belongs to you.

The camera’s at an angle, so the ground tilts,
like the world of the partially sighted in which you live,
braving the kerbs, the steps, the pavement cyclists,
the unexpected pushchair or the trailing case on wheels.
You wear a long skirt to hide the bruising,
sleeves to the wrist, but smile boldly for the lens.
There is space around you in this image, nothing
to snag or bind you. In Ghent, the undefeated city.

                             II

In Ghent, the defeated city, wearing nooses,
the aldermen were marched through the streets
from town hall to palace. Where on that route
do you stand in this photo? – no rope around you,
though you are tied in ways the picture doesn’t show
to timetables of pills and insulin and sugar-lows.
A flagstone’s occupant, your figure intersects
with a parade of yoked rebels that pass as ghosts.

Your sympathy would be with them, against all
emperors and far authorities. Your march
was down Whitehall, your voice was in a fury
as war began, your hero was your dad, a Labour man.
The day that this records, we only thought of apple cake
and rides on the canal, van Eyck in the cathedral,
but heard a rustle of revolution in Flemish songs
that in your Irish blood you understood, you noose-bearer.


Note: In this poem I have seen Ghent as both ‘undefeated’, a survivor,
and ‘defeated’ in the revolt of 1539 against Spain and Spanish taxes,
which was puished by a forced parade of stripped and noosed aldermen.
Since then, the citizens of Ghent have been known as Stroppendragers
(noose-bearers), a name that has become an emblem of defiance and
independence.
The tendency to bruise easily, visual impairment and low blood sugars
are effects of diabetes.


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