Poem of the Week - Stephen Sexton

The Strange Case of the Movie Star’s Double

which you’ll remember from the newspapers
kept me blinking into the dawns of that winter.
At first I refused the job, knowing enthusiasm
tumbles towards ruin like roulette wheels
and martingales.


I remember saying, pointing from the train,
it’s like that forest which is used as a forest
or the way Ireland’s rustique does its perfect
impression of itself for postcards, green
as a radium landscape, a gift with a gilded brass
frame in the dressing room of a dead rival.


The strange case of the movie star’s double
clattered in twilit alleys and their offshoots,
in the receding patter of boots beating
hastily away on the cobblestones outside.
Nevertheless, the postman distributed rumour
the way a bee pollenates flowers. Life went on.


We did not know we were waiting for a second
murder, not through the snow, not alongside
the twisting shadows and quarantines of powercuts.
Certainly not as the murder weapon was valued
at 1.3 million pounds by Christie’s of London
and went for more to an Australian magnate.


That winter the movie star exceptionally kissed
once on celluloid the talented blonde actor
on the screen of the smoke-filled cinema.
It was the night of the premiere. Snow fell
as it had fallen earlier but more so
and the movie star’s double looked away.


A week later, in the lushness of the greenest
county’s arms she was found apparently moved
to death – her words (I have the note here) –
by his turn as the dashing artist Henry Austin.
The strange case of the movie star’s double
was strange because the doubles were everywhere:


in posters, papers, reviews, red carpets, scandals.
And like the old story of the evidence hidden
in plain view on the mantelpiece before tides
of detectives, the murderer was there on the screen:
a thing of light and dormant. To recognize the double
is to admit him a sort of blueprint in our soft brains.


This, being the first case of character assassination,
(and the double being in the wind) there was no arrest.
And me, at my desk into these nights, I smoke and pore
over the reels of film. There are witnesses around
the world. In the mornings, they rattle in my letterbox
and the double’s there, in my widest dreams, or at the door.



Stephen Sexton is a PhD student in the Seamus Heaney Centre for Poetry. His poems have recently appeared, or are forthcoming, in Poetry London, Poetry Ireland Review, and as part of The Lifeboat reading series. In 2012 he was the winner of the inaugural Funeral Services Northern Ireland National Poetry Competition. His pamphlet, Oils, will be published by the Emma Press later this year.