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Three Poems.

The Museum of Margins
If you're looking for something on the topography of sidelines
this could be the place to start
a building of impossible antiquity
constructed, or so the theory goes,
from shards of the shattered tablets
that a disillusioned Moses
threw down the mountain
while taking aim and missing
a whole herd of golden calves.

Come through the gates
and you may kiss the mezuzah
or genuflect or slip your shoes off
or do whatever else you need to do
to feel safe in the knowledge that
you don't belong here
and that, once in, they'll let you out again.

Watch your step as you skirt round
the hidden corners
where old enemies meet for coffee
and those of us once kept apart
by some Bronze Age diktat of forbidden fruits
finally come together behind the bike sheds
for a surreptitious kiss
that could last forever
if it doesn't blow the universe to bits
before next Tuesday.

Please also mind your footing
in the draughty corridors
so as not to trip over
the recent influx of rough sleepers
who have turned, inexplicably,
to stone.

Now make your way to the library
stocked with books in lost languages
bearing incorrect shelf-marks
and browse scrolls so old
their ink has faded
leaving nothing but the ends of lines
where scribes once paused
to ease their cramping fingers.
Look hard enough and you might see
these formerly blank spaces filling in
with undelivered messages
from the uncomfortable invisible ignored.

On your way out
resist the postcards in the gift shop
and the calendars so out-of-date
they mark the cycles of a different sun.
And finally, when looking for the exit
try to avoid the one that leads
to the debatable lands between this world and the next
where all comers queue to show their passports
hoping their documents have not expired.

Mixed Marriage
My half-Irish-Catholic
entirely atheistical
Glaswegian beloved
is deeply allergic to strawberries, cinnamon,
and all forms of theological doctrine.
She never puts her foot into a church
except for weddings, funerals, early music,
and her weekly class in Scottish Country Dancing.

My half-Irish-Catholic
entirely atheistical
Glaswegian beloved
would not let a Hail Mary pass her lips
but is word-perfect in the Yiddish formulae
for deflecting Ayn-Hore, the Evil Eye
and knows, far better than I do,
where to find the candles for my parents' Yahrzeits.

My half-Irish-Catholic
entirely atheistical
Glaswegian beloved
is always up for a good domestic spat
over the best route to Scottish independence
or whose turn it is to clean the bathroom sink,
and then it's Talmudists versus Jesuits
dancing on heads of pins
and splitting hairs at forty paces
and Heaven only knows which team will win.

My grandmothers' grandmothers
waving from the dock
from station platform or a market square
watching everyone go out of sight
lost to sea-fog, coal smoke, bends in roads.

Letters follow
news of births and deaths
scored out by censors or delayed by war
changes of address that never come
from senders unaware where they'll go next.

Yet those who can will finally reunite
in tattered photos whispering in my drawer
some older than the century gone by
some with names and faces I don't know
but I won't be the one to let them go.


Although born in New Jersey, Ellen Galford has spent most of her life in Scotland. She has published four novels: Moll Cutpurse: Her True History (Firebrand Books, 1985), The Fires of Bride (Firebrand Books, 1988), Queendom Come (Virago Books, 1990), and The Dyke and the Dybbuk (Seal Press, 1994)--the last of which was the recipient of a Lambda Award for Gay and Lesbian Literature from the American Publishers Association. Galford has also contributed to anthologies on Jewish and LGBTQ themes. She is currently learning Yiddish, and some of her early experiments with Yiddish poetry have appeared in the US-based journal Afn Shvel. She has also collaborated with composer Phil Alexander to create Among Others: 200 Years of Jewish Lives in Edinburgh, a performance piece marking the bicentenary of Scotland's oldest Jewish community.
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Author:Galford, Ellen
Article Type:Poem
Geographic Code:4EUUK
Date:Dec 22, 2019
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