Bowery

Adam Clifton

In the mythos of memoried stories

Lies a place of incumbered name;

It’s not without its unsung glories,

But oft passed over for acclaim.

What’s ‘known’ about it lies in rumour

More than it does in certain fact;

It owes as much to unkind humour

As it does to a verbal tact.     

It is a place where ships are tethered,

One of commerce, but inlaid charm.

With maritime yet clement weather,

Here, new stories can yet be farmed.

For here, where a ‘different resonance’

Nurtures swevens of sounds and sights,

Even the seasons practise temperance

And inspire dreams of dancing light.

What sundry creative minds call home

(For some, marginal in their sphere,

And others, the only one they’ve known)     

Is the place on its own frontier.

An end-of-the-line estuary town,

A place on the edge of the earth,

Constructs and people come crumbling down

Here, not receiving what they’re worth.

A maze of tenfoots and alleyways,

A mesh of paths laid interlaced,

Ginnels, snickets, whatever the phrase:

All the roads seem to reach one place.

Its tangle of routes reflects mankind

In how it’s both complex and flawed,

But also in such a diverse bind

Of winding straits and tree-lined broads.

For in this place, north of the Humber –

In this proud and ardent harbour –

The trees, which are still great in number,

Guard us like a garden arbour.

All of these trees comprise a bower

That sees the light fall down in beams,

Yet shields us from unwelcome showers

And forms a roof between its seams:

The canopy of the bowery streets

Where one and another were set to meet.

 

 

He came from such an unsound place,                                  

With mockery a marker of his past,                                      

That he sought but never found his grace                 

And confused the bearing of his path.                                   

He was one who consigned to loss                                        

The taste of everything, save for sadness;                             

He burnt his time with no thought for cost                            

And awaited the surcease of madness.                                  

He earnt his share of sleepless nights                                    

And took yet more of listless days,                                       

Unsure of how to ease his plight                                           

Or tame his ever-restless ways.                                             

He knew only unrequited ardour;                              

His contentment remained exclusive.                        

Though as he entered the bowered harbour,                          

He resolved it would not stay elusive.                                   

The bowery streets will have their say                                  

At a singular time in many lives                                            

And, lest they go their separate ways,                                               

Bring the ensemble together to thrive.                                  

Thus in the bowered place, he found                                     

A sudden tonic for his cares,                                                 

Like a tempest stirred up by unseen clouds                           

That gusted in and struck him witless, there.                        

With the swiftest of strokes, he was unmade.                        

He crashed, as if from an almighty drop;                              

Subjected to such an audacious play,                                                                        

That his heart was too joyful not to stop.                              

She saw in him what he had missed himself:                        

The qualities of which he held a score.                                 

She read his mind like he came from a shelf             

And comprehended to his very core.                                     

If there are soul mates, she may have been his,                    

Like she was the other half of his frame;                              

And like match meets taper and makes it fizz,                      

She mended in him what he thought was lame.                    

For is that not what brings about lovers:                               

That hot embers take wing when two have met?                  

Little each knew, at first sight of t’other,                              

Of the illicit tryst they’d soon beget.                                     

In the old house at the corner where two roads meet,           

They finished what began on those bowery streets.

 

At first, they lay in a platonic bind;   

‘She is not mine, so I cannot touch.’                                                 

But – mistress of her own body and mind –              

Presently it no longer mattered much.

It evolved as something much more fervent;            

An intangible dream was then made flesh:               

Just… inevitable, driven, urgent –                             

Like two distinct things that were made to mesh.     

Shared passions of ancient insignia                           

And a joy for words known only by books;  

A curious mind-meld of trivia,                      

And fingers interlocked when no one looked;

Everything else: the reserve of that room.

It was their shelter, their bowery keep,                                 

Where two supped from a single bowl and spoon;   

A hive where the two were merry as bees,                

Though he wished it were, instead, a cavern.            

Her words of fondness and his of ardour –                

Their echoes of Eden, in their haven –                                  

Would thus embed the fantasy harder.                      

Their secrets: the necklace of runes that danced –    

Stark, ancient pleas of an amorous man –                 

The symphonic songs and the Nordic chants.           

With these, and the prophetic song they sang,                      

They formed all the sounds of their lovers’ nest:      

‘Won’t you envelop my life in light                          

And lift my soul with summery breath?                                

Teach me to discern the wrongs from rights,            

And make me think you were always there.’

They heard a tune that’s all rise and no fall,             

But the forms of all songs, one is aware,                               

Are of highs and lows – not endless at all.                

So, here on this street, so bowery –               

And I speak directly, for your sake –

You turned the corner away from me                        

To follow a path I could not take.                             

But I found the strength to run after you                   

For one last kiss, one more ‘goodbye’;                     

And far down the length of that avenue,                   

I heard ‘I love you’ one last time.                 

Yea, that love-bitten soul is me. Verily, I am him:

Left by you where it’s bowery; now the streetlights grow dim.

 

Soon the summer-white and the bowery

Were switched for something trite and cold;

But from the night-lights of the factory

I’d return, and scent you in the folds.

That space beside me – something amiss:

The tilted head with every look and smile,

That arm draped over in ownership

And those angelic eyes that so beguiled.

The hardest parts of our goodbyes

Were your parting words: ‘Don’t wait for me.’

I would not let them see me cry,

So I shed my tears in secrecy.

Those were the days I was afraid of sleep;

For just as one might beseech a stone,

I would scream out to you in my dreams

And entreat you not to leave me alone.

Yet you seemed determined to make me past

And put me further from your mind;

And as your pace grew ever fast,

You would leave the bower and me behind.

Here, in my arbour by the Humber,

It’s a time to write, a time to record.

No longer does it cease my slumber

To collate or dwell on our accords.

The loss racks my heart much less, today;

Rather, what stirs vestiges of my pain

After so long, I’m unashamed to say,

Is to fear we might not meet again.

Rivers apart, we host like conditions;

Do you find the Humber, Thames, Seine and Rhine

Cement the lands in coalition,

Or bar you in your cage and me in mine?

I walk my bowery streets at night

While dressed in black, and blend right in,

Though a streetlamp sometimes sheds its light

Enough for some to catch my skin.

But this, and you, are only in dreams;

We exist in a blur of time and space.

I think on what can or should have been

And the movements I cannot track or trace:

My elixir fountain, I only seek to know that you’re alive

Whether on bowery street, or a healing mountain I could climb.

 

I commit to walk my bowered line,                           

At least until there is no road,                                    

Or my tower bells all cease their chime                    

Upon release from corporal load.                              

Now, where you wander, I may not go,                    

But there’s a mood I humbly house:                         

It’s something that I would have you know              

Before we take our Earthly bows.                             

Should we survive all current strife                           

And both live through these desperate times,            

Before we draw the curtain of life                             

Across ourselves in disparate climes…                     

When we walk the arboured streets again,                

Unafraid of air and people,                                        

And the harbour breathes from end to end:               

Every shack and every steeple…                  

When life is back to its normal flow                         

And it is once more a wonder,                       

With the street a dreamlike place to go                     

In this bower by the Humber…                                 

I would love nothing more than to greet –    

Like something from a filmic frame –                       

Your face once more on our bowered street             

And eyes that have not lost their flame.                    

When the bowered streets don autumn dress            

And arbour trees have spun their gold,                      

Perchance then, we can both reassess                        

What we left there in time of old.                              

Yea, this may find us young no longer;                                

It may see our prospects bleaker:                              

A temperance older, wiser, stronger,                         

But with that, our bodies weaker.                              

And if our best years have spilt away,                       

Then these two things I still decree:                          

Suffer beside you, I will, that day,                

But keep you, and be bowery.                                   

Absent a chart of the verdant lanes,                                                              

Do not write off convergence there;

I’ll be down our leafy road, in rain,                           

True to the words I once declared.                            

Turn the corner of that bowery street

And along there again, in time, we’ll meet.