No Last Line – poem by Julie Anne Gilligan

Julie Anne Gilligan

No Last Line

‘I can only do two things for them – describe this flight and not add a last line.’

from ‘Photograph from September 11’ by Wislawa Szymborska, translated by Stanislaw Baranczar and Clare Cavanagh


From Times Square we stepped down arrow-straight sidewalks,

tap-tapping our feet to that old Broadway magic, through

Madison Square to Lower Manhattan. Stopped by the sea wall

at Battery Park, saw the Staten Island Ferry slice through

the iced water, cutting wakes spliced to bow-waves

that criss-crossed the channels.


Just visible, through layers of chiffon-scarf mist, Liberty’s torch

still held out her promise: the certainty of freedom and comfort

for all. Ellis Island lay dark and low in the water, first taste

of America for so many long-dead. This, their safe haven

where all would be welcome, away from oppression, starvation

or worse. Their currency was labour, bartered for freedom;

worked hard for themselves and their New World order,

turned into proud citizens, for the generations to come.

They constructed foundations for those who came later,

who built the twin glories of splendour and wealth.


As the last hazy sun slipped below the horizon,

the diamond-bright city turned on its night lights.

The star-spangled sky turned a deep speckled turquoise,

clouds of our breath told the coldness of night.

The bone-biting wind off the sea made us shiver,

so we turned from the water, our thoughts set on warmth.

That district is the hub of museums, memorials:

veterans and mariners; the dead of all wars.

The American Indian, the long Jewish Heritage, strong

pictures of history, of what went before. They stood

like sentinels of pain and experience, unknowingly circling

a conflict to come. Within the next year,

New York would be mourning.

Whatever the future, there can be no last line.



No Last Line by Julie Anne Gilligan was highly commended in the Sentinel Literary Quarterly Poetry Competition (May 2018) judged by Derek Adams

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