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When the Promised Day Arrives

           One golden day the whole of life contains
                                 —HÖLDERLIN


When the promised day arrives
That prophets and old wives
Are always predicting, examine your hands
Where the fatelines have been read
And what you wanted to hear is said—
At last you will understand.

The traffic, birds, pneumatic drills
Of an absolute city
Will be yours. White architecture,
Classical, and the sky a brilliant blue
In early winter, season of clarity,
Urban trains, their clean electric smell—
And the rest will be up to you

To do with as you please.
Ideal objects, the people, the trees,
Giving themselves unconsciously,
Fish and vegetable stalls, a splash of awnings
Everywhere, tobacco and coffee
Of student cafes, and the energies
Of expectation, for it is still morning

And the best is still to come.
The sizzle of meat
On skillets, Chantilly and rum
In sawdust joints, where the officeworkers eat,
The prisoners of time.
And feeling it in you, the appetite

Afterwards, someone at any price—
Her sallow skin, her almond eyes,
Black hair, and cold professional zeal
Conducting you towards release,
The old regressive peace
That was always better imagined than real,

Always unreachable.... Follow your own arc
Into decline, not all at once
But gradually. Battered shopfronts,
The immigrant quarter, littered with orange-peel,
Syringes, a ferris wheel
Stopped dead, your alter egos
Lounging at every corner, out of work,

Who dreamt, like you, of life in the ideal city.
You will take it all in
As expected; the golden afternoon,
The parks, the changing angle of light
On nave and transept, human futures and pasts.
You are not the first, you will not be the last

To follow your own shadow
As it lengthens. Dispassionate,
Steady your gaze. Already, it is late,
And the blue deepens, merciless and clear.
The unities fall into place.
Disillusionments, lost years

Are part of the story. The rest is praise—
Be equal to it, pay your way
With the same blank cheque that floats so many lives,
Your birthright and your crossing fee
When the promised day arrives.


Harry Clifton

The Holding Centre: Selected Poems 1974-2004
Wake Forest University Press


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