Wednesday Poem

The Hart Crane Connection

There’s a connection I’ve made between
the overcrowded livestock
ships in Fremantle harbour, and Hart
Crane’s last voyage.

There are death ships steaming for Bahrain
with five storeys
of corroded sheep yards, the shit spilling
overboard like black hail,

half the bleating cargo either crushed
or starving to death,
and no relief from the septic winds of trade
blowing wavespray through the hold.

Hart Crane rode the full-blown tide cruising
three hundred miles
off Havana, a broken poet at the stern
watching a clipper

pass with a dark consignment
of dying animals: skulls
and sheep skins drying on the mast ropes
like a ghostboat’s ensign,

and the deck hands out smoking on the boards.
That Hart Crane
inhaled a line of uncut snow in his cabin
before going over

the stern rail of the Orizaba is incidental.
He was being shipped
to his death for years, and no amount of drugs
could ever change

his destination. He knelt in solemn meditation
like an Islamic butcher
over the wake, the clipper he’d seen now
tacking out of view.

He watched the bottle-nosed dolphins ride
the wash for awhile
and then, with a curse for the halal killing,
bled himself of poetry.

Stoned, and thick with dread at running aground
in America again,
he wept for the religious exploitation of animals,
then delivered himself to them.

What is it about a successful poet’s early death
that seems to inspire
others to excuse themselves from longevity’s
clean-blooded hand?

Mere coincidence that Lowell and Berryman
fashioned their early
work and demise on Crane’s brutal years?
A romantic life’s

more than burnt-out brilliance surely.
Though after reading
‘The Bridge’, I had a sense of being
there at its construction.

In a rented room, Crane sat before
a large bay window,
watching two sections of the Brooklyn
Bridge rising daily

to meet each other at the centre;
recording the number
of cables and girders being raised into place.
At that stage he had

no idea that the room was the very one
used by the bridge’s
architect – a drunk visionary making plans
for an unconnected harbour.

When interrupted with the news,
he opened the window
and for a moment seemed to hesitate
before shouting down

to the workers: ‘You men down there!
You poets with
manuscripts disguised as construction plans!
Do you understand

the bleak significance of your labours?
You are bolting history
into place, and cannot see the rust beginning
to work its fury!
What use the skills you’ve inherited when
poetry is ill-
concealed as a cancer in your time?’
The hammering did not cease.

He closed the window and began to write
his epic poem, making
connections between coincidence
and divine intervention;

reality, and what’s imagined for the page;
the poet, the architect
and slaughter;
life’s construction and its fall.

by Anthony Lawrence
from: Three Days Out of Tidal Town
publisher: Hale & Iremonger, Sydney, 1992,

Hart Crane: The Bridge