Lunch with Tony Harrison

The point of lunch was just to fill his time
between our conference and another date –
thus brought, the bistro fare had wit and form,
the seafood heaped a healthy metric on his plate.

I have no memory of what filled mine –
as if my choice could would matter either way.
I listened, picking up each tone.
He filled his fork, had something wise to say,

I gave a careful moment to each thought,
and let him talk, and listened hard,
enjoyed his confidence in role as poet-scholar,
much-examined author, and living English bard.

But through the hours that came and went,
there’s now no sign of why or what,
nothing that either of us said survives
or mattered more than any other jot.

Though even every word has gone, I stagger
through the rhymes to get this right.
When merest hints of deference were
put away – and being plain was held in sight.

I, as a guest of fame, had harder tasks –
his polished northern man could calmly pace
a day like this. And thus possessed had only then
to smile and nod, while I kept in my place.

Thus I remember what he ate, and watched
for that which marked his right to be
in verse, or owner of each volume that he’d read.
Not so, if this should be reversed, he me.

To be forgot the greatest gift that anyone
can make when real talk’s thin.
A lift, a lunch, a bookshop in the styx –
so taste the moment, hold it in.

Chester 2017

See Keeping the Clay Moist