Two Poems by Harry Clifton


All night, on the opposite shore,
The lights of McCrystal’s glitter.
You could walk on water
To get there, and be drowned,
Or take the long way round,

Where a million instants
Shatter and die on the windscreen -
Late summer insects, flecks of rain
Melting into each other again -
And change is the only constant.

There, where sky and water meet
And none are strangers to themselves
Or the land beneath their feet,
McCrystal, quietly stacking shelves,
Open infinitely late

On the universe, picks you out
From the fixed and wandering stars
Of sailmakers’ cottages, nightbound cars -
Forever approaching, the only man
Driven by supernatural doubt.

Everything mortal shies away.
The horse in foal, and the fox
Dead in your headlights, oozing blood,
Glittering back an evil eye,
You too, my friend, will have to die ...

And the goddesses, the gods,
Of summer - girls, bare-midriffed,
Riding shotgun through the moonroofs,
Running the double gauntlet
Of boyfriends and the temperance squad.

The forecourt of his filling station
Blazes like broad daylight.
Ask - have you travelled all this way
Past trees and people, gable ends
Turning black on a western sky,

To cash a cheque? Or shatter the veil
Of phenomena? His Holy Grail
Is sand and futures, factory-floors,
Grazing rights on an airfield
Overgrown since the last World War ...

Everything everyone needs he stores,
As self-contained as a man-god
In the aftermath of creation.
Anything else, from the farther shore,
Is optical, an illusion.

Times Literary Supplement (11 Feb. 2005), p.15.

“Victrola Music” - Hart Crane 1899-1932

Wind the damned thing up,
Release the handle, and begin your dance
For the millionth time. When it stops And a crowd has gathered, start all over again.
From the front to the back of your brain,
Something is moving - a trance,

The cranked-up ecstasy
Of latter days. You are getting there - Ignore them, those with no morrow
Or jobs, at the heart of despair,
Their ears stuffed with cotton wadding,
Who climbed out of the body

Only yesterday. Silent shouts
Mean nothing. But the automatic language
Shuddering through you now,
The news from nowhere, feel it spew
White paper, writing itself out
Like a telex message

On the left side of your mind.
King Oliver, Cannonball Adderley, Earl Hines

Just keep them turning! The nightsoil man
From Attica, the Brooklyn Irish cop
Summoned by switchboard, to get you to stop,
Are pounding their own jungle beat

If only they knew it,
If only they could get through to it -
One more time! The dawn is breaking
On Sand Street, the sailors are all going home
To bottomless oceans. Seventy Eights
And the makings of a poem

Gather them up, like dinner-plates Indigence dines off. Soul-food
No-one ever ate or went to work on.
Mindblowing spirit hash, and residue
Of the devil’s music. Which, anyway, means God
For the likes of you.

Times Literary Supplement (3 Feb. 2006), p.26.


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