By AIDAN SEMMENS.
The girl with kaleidoscope eyes.
THE WHISTLE BLAST echoes from the ironwork lattice of the station roof, filling the terminus as the great steam engine announces its intention to leave. Smoke and noise coalesce among the crowd awaiting other trains or seeing this one off. Lucille Ball leans forward in her seat to peer out at the faces as they start slowly to recede. Lime Street falls away, giving way to the back yards of brick terraces. The gentleman in the opposite seat proffers a pack of unusual cigarettes. She knows his face from somewhere. Closing her eyes, she realises the resemblance, is sure he must be Conan Doyle. When she wakes, he is gone, the seat empty, though a hint of his strange smoke lingers. For the first time, she notices marks on the frame of the window. Someone has scratched the words ‘I Love Lucy’ in the paintwork.
Breakfast in Bermondsey.
PLATES OF TOAST crumbs pushed aside, coffee cups in hand, George and Dinah Washington pore over the brochures. Do you remember Florence? she asks, placing a hand on his forearm. For a moment he stiffens, then relaxes. It is the city she means, where they ate cold pizza on the Duomo steps and she bought him that ridiculous hat. Of course she cannot know about Miss Price. It was all so long ago and now so unimportant.
Let us call this a eureka moment.
TODAY, ARCHIMEDES IS sporting an old T-shirt tending to grey and the shorts he wore to play rugby at school. He has never favoured bright colours or lycra like his friend Kepler. As the two jog together through the early-morning streets of London, a bus full of workers pulls up alongside them, coughing particulates. Kepler puts a hand out as if to fend it off, and it abruptly disappears. Archimedes stares at its sudden absence for a moment in disbelief, then chuckles. The memory file, he says. Somehow it has become corrupted.
William Blake plays Scrabble with Joni Mitchell.
HER CITY BECOMES his loquacity. Her Satan is doubled by his satanic. He challenges her bellyful, before crossing it with papyrus. She queries his jeremiad, then finds its value in her Hejira, but it is her snackbar across two triples that proves decisive.
Another crisis, another world summit.
MINARETS AND DOMES sparkle in the rising sun, the amplified call of the muezzin setting the air ringing, as the empress Maria-Theresa arrives on her flying carpet above the rooftops of Isfahan. It has been a cold nighttime journey over the high peaks of the Caucasus and she is embarrassed to realise she has huddled for warmth against her fellow traveller Pippin, son of Charlemagne, who now looks at her a shade sternly perhaps as they inch apart, both careful not to come too near the carpet’s edge. As luck would have it, they arrive at the conference centre just as Benjamin Franklin comes bounding up the steps, spilling a dash of Starbucks coffee at her feet. He is wearing flares and his favourite Seattle Seahawks jersey. Hi there, princess, he winks at her, catch you at the first interval. Pippin, nonplussed, has donned his most inscrutable smile, affects an interest in the mechanism of the revolving door.
At the Frost Fair.
PEPYS LOOKS ON sardonically as the Ford Escort trundles gingerly across the ice, slipping and sliding yet somehow managing to avoid collision with the stalls, the entertainers, the sellers of hot roast chestnuts, the fire-eaters, the jugglers, the skaters with wooden skates. Smart wheels, eh – what do you think? asks Brecht, winding down the window after slithering to a halt. Pepys peers inside the car. I would have expected furry dice, he says, or at least a nodding dog. Brecht grins. Go fuck yourself, he says. Pepys appears to consider this proposition. Would that such a manoeuvre were possible, he says.
In a taverna not far from Athens…
I DO NOT believe you believe what I believe. I believe you should not believe what I believe you have been told. Believe me, I can barely credit your credulity. It is my belief that your beliefs are unbelievable. Thus unburdened, Rene Descartes shoulders his Make Tea Not War tote bag and flounces out, leaving a flustered and emotional Aristotle to pick up the bill.
After a gap of 33 years between his first published pamphlet and his first full collection, Aidan Semmens has published five books of poetry in nine years, the latest being There Will Be Singing (Shearsman Books, 2020). A journalist, editor and photographer, he divides his time between Suffolk and Orkney. He is also the founder and editor of the online poetry magazine Molly Bloom. His website is here.