Patty Seyburn





Ode to Ikey Solomon

No longer a commonplace
in London’s East End,
Mr. Dickens lent you
a brand of fame as model
for villainous Fagin—for a price—
reputation no earnest
biographer could undo.

Did you school a pack
of boys in the art of relieving
a pocket’s burdensome wallet?
Were you a “receiver”
of stolen goods, melting down
silver, remodeling a watch
to look like new?

A better fence (richer)
perhaps a better man
than rendered in fiction,
the Yiddishe lilt, your diction
and the schnoz etched
next to an eloquent description—
257 times—“The Jew.”

“Shriveled,” “hideous” “loathsome”
holding a toasting fork
over flame—if not satan,
king of the infernal slums.
Your role, the actor’s coup—
Sykes homicidal, Nancy
a victim, Oliver the ingénue—

better to play the crook, nu?
In your way, one
of the people of the book,
compelling if evil, even
edited—Dicken’s debt—
God’s hand—crooked finger,
(after all, in His image) stirring
a tenebrous brew.

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November

In heaven, there are two
of everything, in case
one breaks. Always a back-
up plan: two Zambonis
for the firmamental
ice rink, because the dead
like to glide around a lot,
cutting cunning figures
of sideways eight. Two large
needles with generous
eyes and two spools of thick
navy thread to stitch the
wayward stars into their
god-named constellations—
they fall from formation,
sometimes, on the nights you
hear amateurs complain,
I can’t find the Big Dipper
or the two bright lights of
Queen Cassiopeia

or explaining to loved
ones that it’s too damn dark,
when the truth is, some rogue
star is loose up there
and archangels are poor
seamstresses which leaves the
task to us—flaw, husk, raw
edge—and once dead it is
not easy to fix things.

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Elegy for Richard Munslow

I have stared at this picture
of your grave in Shropshire,
and yet you don’t explain
why you ate bread, drank
ale and gave away your
soul to absolve the locals
(who likely reviled you)
of their sins. “Pawned”
your soul: that’s what
you said over a corpse
and earned a few coins
for your troubles so he
would not have to atone.
Were you witch or pauper?
When you died, did you
take their vices to your
grave? Or were you pardoned
by a god that indulged
their superstitions, gave
you a reprieve? It’s hard
to believe all of this,
anyway, right at the cusp
of modernity, the age of
doubt, before the great wars
when all our luck ran out.

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