Conversations by the Hudson

Harry Clifton. Illustration: Dearbhla Kelly

Harry Clifton. Illustration: Dearbhla Kelly


A world comes back to me
Years later, hearing it said
You have been disconnected
From the life-support machines
Of America, and are dead.

I hear you say ‘Decide and live!’
As if it were only yesterday
And the traffic on Riverside Drive
Streams through the back of both our minds.
I want you to know, I got away

Into the great world, as you did –
Guardian angel, pioneer,
Ahead of me by twenty years,
A face in the New York crowd.
‘Just like us’ you point them out,

The madmen rifling trashcans
Down by the Hudson, on day-release,
‘Capitalistic energies!’
Liberated, soul-destroyed
In the American void,

Are they all we amount to?
The lights on the Jersey side blink on –
As we to them, so they to us –
And at our backs, the night begins,
Desire, frustration, enterprise,

On Eighty Ninth and Amsterdam -
Streetgirls waiting, men on stoops,
South Koreans, skullcapped Jews,
Everyone lost in a home from home,
Everyone free to choose.

‘Go back on this? Not now. Not ever.’
I hear you say, above the roar
Of traffic going nowhere
As your fiftieth year slides quietly by,
No louder than the river

Bearing its cold alluvium
Out of America, one dark flow -
The jewellery, the real estate,
The luck not given, only made
By the gambler’s throw.

Harry Clifton’s The Holding Centre: Selected Poems 1974-2004 is published this month by Bloodaxe Books and Wake Forest Press. Portobello Sonnets is forthcoming from Tusker Lights Books.