The Mighty Hudson

‘It’s odd how they had the same name’ – New York Star

After ten years of truck-work, he looked round and sighed;
Left a note for his nephew – ‘The parts of my radio’ –
And made for the city in a frilled shirt.

Found a walk-up full of the mythical skyline
With the river in front of it grey as a vein
And a tide running up into unreal suburbs.

Practised his weights on a fat co-lodger,
Lifting her one-handed up to the cobwebbed light.
Heard her hot geyser of giggling straight-faced but happy.

Arm-wrestled in bars with less effort than sighing,
Was bought beers by men who pincered his biceps,
Made friends with the barman. Got mystique by not smiling.

Enjoyed a short local career as a hero
After righting a load that got stuck on GW Bridge;
The newspaper posed him lifting a Merc into parking.

Soon after was called by Los Niños Non-Animal Circus
And shot to the top of the bill juggling three girls in lycra;
Their thighs left sequins stuck in his sideburns

And scents that perplexed him: one night he climbed onto their trailer,
Peeled back the roof like a ring-pull,
Picked Leonie out of her bunk through the skylight.

Didn’t know his own strength, that’s for certain,
Nor hers, when she struck with the whip, with the poker, the shotgun.
The lights of Jersey dimmed in the pith of his head

As he staggered back into the water, his namesake,
Keen as a mother to hurry him home.
Past the dark lighters, the bilge boats;

Past Peekskill, Poughkeepsie and Kingston,
Bear Mountain twirling oddly away like a girl.
The leaves blazing red as the fall, and the branches red too.

From Times Literary Supplement (8 August 2014). Reproduced with kind permission from The Times Literary Supplement.