New Portobello Sonnets
A poem by Harry Clifton, as part of Dublin in the Coming Times
Harry Clifton: New Portobello Sonnets is is part of Dublin in the Coming Times, Fighting Words’ creative-writing programme, run in partnership with Dublin Unesco City of Literature
Clouds, too, are incoming information.
And I sit interrogating silence
On Bloomfield Avenue, the soul on trial
In the ever-changing light of contemplation.
Somebody is muttering through the wall
Of Number Twenty. Skyping, taking calls,
Digiting, at intervals between,
A million friends, on her little silver screen.
The clouds are moving slowly. Green things grow
On either side of the wall. Am I criminal,
Indifferent, waiting for the other shoe
To fall, as she quietens, finally,
And the sky clears, and the human animal
Caged in both of us, relaxes, yawns, feels free?
Linoleum, yellow light – the House of Teas
On Richmond Street. A woman, arm in sling,
In conversation with a bearded friend
On means and ends . . . Invisible, all-seeing,
If the gods had any use for me
But envy, I would die to tell her story.
For I know that girl. Her beauty, her ideals
Born after me, and doomed to die before me.
Years will pass. It will grow unreal,
The room they share above a halal butcher,
Marx, Frantz Fanon and the people’s future
Dreamed, unrealised . . . . I see it all –
Linoleum, yellow light, the sex-appeal
Of a broken arm, the politics of a fall.
3 (For Marina, Who cut my Hair)
Belonging, as she did, to the era after the book
And I to the era which, without the book,
Would be unliveable, what we had in common,
This gorgeous blond-haired woman
From Lithuania and I, was the mirror between us,
Where the left hand and the right
Were privy to each other, but only in God’s sight,
And our respective demeanours
Gave away nothing, all those years
Of high communion, silence, fallen hair . . . .
They say she is in India now, or Mexico somewhere
Seeking God. At the hour of her setting-forth
Where was I? Breath on the mirror
Clouds her face. A spirit has passed from the earth.
Not for us high priesthood, Nat and I –
A deaconate, maybe. Poems, minor orders
In the broad church of creation. Every day
On Camden Street, between murder
And resurrection, naked among wolves,
He walks his greyhound. Floodlit Harold’s Cross
His holy ground. And mine the local bars.
Invisible the surplice of our selves
We wear in secret. Wordlessly, we pass
Into each others’ lives, Nat Kenny and I
On Camden Street. The catalogue of saints
Includes us too, without the saintliness.
Should we say hello? We would sooner die,
Bound, as we are, by temporal constraints.
I have it in mind, North African gentlemen,
To write you into our own reality
Such as it is. Would you sit there for me
In the window, Al Houari Boumedienne,
Mohammed Mebtouhe, Afshan Jilani,
Eyes averted, women kept unseen,
Unsaleables on shelfspace, nothing unclean
In an empty freezer? The colour of money
Means nothing to you, I know, or the death of God.
Time is your real currency, gentlemen,
Who fly your kites behind glass, and trap the sun
In a yellow frontage. Put aside religion,
Rites of slaughter. By your slightest nod
Acknowledge me, eating here, in the Camden Kitchen.
This poem is part of the series Dublin in the Coming Times, a free, citywide programme of creative writing run by Fighting Words in partnership with Dublin Unesco City of Literature. More at fightingwords.ie