Seamus Heaney - Selected Poems (2/2)

Poems from The Haw Lantern (1987) and Seeing Things (1991)
Clearances
The Milk Factory
Markings
Seeing Things
The Ash Plant
The Settle Bed
The Sounds of Rain
The Fosterling
Lightenings
Crossings
Settings
Squarings


from The Spirit Level (1991)
Mint

from Electric Light (2001)

See full-text copy of “Clearances” - as attached.

from Human Chain (2010)
Uncoupled
Miracle
A Herbal

On the previous page ...

Digging
Thatcher
Bogland
Anahorish
Broagh
Mossbawn
Kinship

Casualty
The Otter
The Skunk


 
Clearances” (in memoriam M. K. H., 1911-1984)
 

She taught me what her uncle once taught her:
How easily the biggest coal block split
If you got the grain and hammer angled right.

The sound of that relaxed alluring blow,
its co-opted and obliterated echo,
Taught me to hit, taught me to loosen,

Taught me between the hammer and the block
To face the music. Teach me now to listen,
To strike it rich behind the linear black.

[...]  
  III
  When all the others were away at Mass
I was all hers as we peeled potatoes.
They broke the silence, let fall one by one
Like solder weeping off the soldering iron:
Cold comforts set between us, things to share
Gleaming in a bucket of clean water.
And again let fall. Little pleasant splashes
From each other’s work would bring us to our senses.
So while the parish priest at her bedside
Went hammer and tongs at the prayers for the dying
And some were responding and some crying
I remembered her head bent towards my head,
Her breath in mine, our fluent dipping knives -
Never closer the whole rest of our lives.
[...]  
  V
  The cool that came off the sheets just off the line
Made me think the damp must still be in them
But when I took my corners of the linen
And pulled against her, first straight down the hem
And then diagonally, then flapped and shook
The fabric like a sail in a cross-wind,
They made a dried-out undulating thwack.
So we’d stretch and fold and end up hand to hand
For a split second as if nothing had happened
For nothing had that had not always happened
Beforehand, day by day, just touch and go,
Coming close again by holding back
In moves where I was x and she was o
Inscribed in sheets she’d sewn from ripped-out flour sacks.
[...]  
  VIII

 

I thought of walking round and round a space
Utterly empty, utterly a source
Where the decked chestnut tree had lost its place
In our front hedge above the wallflowers.
The white chips jumped and jumped and skited high.
I heard the hatchet’s differentiated
Accurate cut, the crack, the sigh
And collapse of what luxuriated
Through the shocked tips and wreckage of it all.
Deep-planted and long gone, my coeval
Chestnut from a jam jar in a hole,
Its heft and hush become a bright nowhere,
A soul ramifying and forever
Silent, beyond silence listened for.
—from The Haw Lantern (1987)

[ top ]

The Milk Factory

 

Scuts of froth from the discharge pipe.
We halted on the other bank and watched
A milky water run from the pierced side
Of milk itself, the crock of its substance spilt
Across white limbo floors where shift-workers
Waded round the clock, and the factory
Kept its distance like a bright-decked star ship.

There we go, soft-eyed calves of the dew,
Astonished and assumed into florescence.

—from The Haw Lantern (1987) [see full text version - attached.]

[ top ]

Markings
I
We marked the pitch: four jackets for four goalposts,
That was all. The corners and the squares
Were there like longitude and latitude
Under the bumpy ground, to be
Agreed about or disagreed about
When the time came. And then we picked the teams
And crossed the line our called names drew between us.
Youngsters shouting their heads off in a field
As the light died and they kept on playing
Because by then they were playing in their heads
And the actual kicked ball came to them
Like a dream heaviness, and their own hard
Breathing in the dark and skids on grass
Sounded like effort in another world ...
It was quick and constant, a game that never need
Be played out. some limit had been passed,
There was fleetness, furtherance, tiredness,
In time that was extra, unforeseen and free.
II
You also loved lines pegged out in the garden,
The spade nicking the first straight edge along
The tight white string. Or string stretched perfectly
To make the outline of a house foundation,
Pale timber battens set at right angles
For every corner, each freshly sawn new board
Spick and span in the oddly passive grass.
Or the imaginary line straight down
A field of grazing, to be ploughed open
From the rod stuck in one headrig to the rod
Stuck in the other.
III
                 All these things entered you
As if they were both the door and what came through it.
They marked the spot, marked time and held it open.
A mower parted the bronze sea of corn.
A windlass hauled the centre out of water.
Two men wiht a cross-cut kept in it swimming
Into a felled beech backwards and forwards
So that the seemed to row the steady earth.
—from Seeing Things (1991)

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Seeing Things
I
Inishbofin on a Sunday morning.
Sunlight, turfsmoke, seagulls, boatslip, diesel.
One by one we were being handed down
Into a boat that dipped and shilly-shallied
Scaresomely every time. We sat tight
On short cross-benches, in nervous twos and threes,
Obedient, newly close, nobody speaking
Except the boatmen, as the gunwales sank
And seemed they might ship water any minute.
The sea was very calm but even so,
When the engine kicked and our ferryman
Swayed for balance, reaching for the tiller,

I panicked at the shiftiness and heft
Of the craft itself. What guaranteed us
That quick response and buoyancy and swim
Kept me in agony. All the time
As we went sailing evenly across
The deep, still, seeable-down-into water,
It was as if I looked from another boat
Sailing through air, far up, and could see
How riskily we fared into the morning,
And loved in vain our bare, bowed, numbered heads.

II
Claritas. The dry-eyed Latin word
Is perfect for the carved stone of the water
Where Jesus stands up to his unwet knees
And John the Baptist pours out more water
Over his head: all this in bright sunlight
On the façade of a cathedral. Lines
Hard and thin and sinuous represent
The flowing river. Down between the lines
Little antic fish are all go. Nothing else.
And yet in that utter visibility
The stone’s alive with what’s invisible:
Waterweed, stirred sand-grains hurrying off,
The shadowy, unshadowed stream itself.
All afternoon, heat wavered on the steps
And the air we stood up to our eyes in wavered
Like the zig-zag hieroglyph for life itself.

III
Once upon a time my undrowned father
Walked into our yard. He had gone to spray
Potatoes in a field on the riverbank
And wouldn’t bring me with him. The horse-
  sprayer
Was too big and new-fangled, bluestone might
Burn me in the eyes, the horse was fresh, I
Might scare the horse, and so on. I threw stones
At a bird on the shed roof, as much for
The clatter of the stones as anything,
But when he came back, I was inside the house
And saw him out the window, scatter-eyed
And daunted, strange without his hat,
His step unguided, his ghosthood immanent.
When he was turning on the riverbank,
The horse had rusted and reared up and pitched
Cart and sprayer and everything off balance
So the whole rig went over into a deep
Whirlpool, hoofs, chains, shafts, cartwheels, barrel
And tackle, all tumbling off the world,
And the hat already merrily swept along
The quieter reaches. That afternoon
I saw him face to face, he came to me
With his damp footprints out of the river,
And there was nothing between us there
That might not still be happily ever after.

—from Seeing Things (1991)

[ top ]

The Ash Plant
He’ll never rise again but he is ready.
Entered like a mirror by the morning,
He stares out the big window, wondering,
Not caring if the day is bright or cloudy.

An upstairs outlook on the whole country.
First milk-lorries, first smoke, cattle, trees
In damp opulence above damp hedges
He has it to himself, he is like a sentry

Forgotten and unable to remember
The whys and wherefores of his lofty station,
Wakening relieved yet in position,
Disencumbered as a breaking comber.

As his head goes light with light, his wasting hand
Gropes desperately and finds the phantom limb
Of an ash plant in his grasp, which steadies him.
Now he has found his touch he can stand his ground

Or wield the stick like a silver bough and come
Walking again among us: the quoted judge.
I could have cut a better man out of the hedge!
God might have said the same, remembering Adam.

—from Seeing Things (1991)

[ top ]

The Settle Bed
Willed down, waited for, in place at last and for good.
Trunk-hasped, cart-heavy, painted an ignorant brown.
And pew-strait, bin-deep, standing four-square as an ark.
If I lie in it, I am cribbed in seasoned deal
Dry as the unkindled boards of a funeral ship.
My measure has been taken, my ear shuttered up.

Yet I hear an old sombre tide awash in the headboard:
Unpathetic och ochs and och bobs, the long bedtime
Anthems of Ulster, unwilling, unbeaten,
Protestant, Catholic, the Bible, the beads,
Long talks at gables by moonlight, boots on the hearth,
The small hours chimed sweetly away so next thing it was

The cock on the ridge-tiles.
And now this is ‘an inheritance’
Upright, rudimentary, unshiftably planked
In the long ago, yet willable forward

Again and again and again, cargoed with
Its own dumb, tongue-and-groove worthiness
And un-get-roundable weight. But to conquer that
        weight,

Imagine a dower of settle beds tumbled from heaven
Like some nonsensical vengeance come on the people,
Then learn from that harmless barrage that whatever is
        given

Can always be reimagined, however four-square.
Plank-thick, hull-stupid and out of its time
It happens to be. You are free as the lookout,

That far-seeing joker posted high over the fog,
Who declared by the time that he had got himself down
The actual ship had been stolen away from beneath
         him.

—from Seeing Things (1991)

[ top ]

The Sounds of Rain
in memoriam Richard Ellmann
I
An all-night drubbing overflow on boards
On the veranda. I dwelt without thinking
In the long moil of it, and then came to
To dripping eaves and light, saying into myself
Proven, weightless sayings of the dead.
Things like He’ll be missed and You’ll have to thole.

II
It could have been the drenched weedy gardens
Of Peredelkino: a reverie
Of looking out from late-winter gloom
Lit by tangerines and the clear of vodka,
Where Pasternak, lenient yet austere,
Answered for himself without insistence.

‘I had the feeling of an immense debt,’
He said (it is recorded). ‘So many years
Just writing lyric poetry and translating.
I felt there was some duty ... Time was passing.
And with all its faults, it has more value
Than those early ... It is richer, more humane.’

Or it could have been the thaw and puddles
Of Athens Street where William Alfred stood
On the wet doorstep, remembering the friend
Who died at sixty. ‘After “Summer Tides”
There would have been a deepening, you know,
Something ampler ... Ah well. Good-night again.’

III
The eaves a water-fringe and steady lash
Of summer downpour: You are steeped in luck,
I hear them say, Steeped, steeped, steeped in luck.
And hear the flood too, gathering from under,
Biding and boding like a masterwork
Or a named name that overbrims itself.

—from Seeing Things (1991)

[ top ]

Fosterling
That heavy greenness fostered by water’ (John Montague)

At school I loved one picture’s heavy greenness -
Horizons rigged with windmills’ arms and sails.
The millhouses’ still outlines. Their in-placeness
Still more in place when mirrored in canals.
I can’t remember never having known
The immanent hydraulics of a land
Of glar and glit and floods at dailigone.
My silting hope. My lowlands of the mind.

Heaviness of being. And poetry
Sluggish in the doldrums of what happens.
Me waiting until I was nearly fifty
To credit marvels. Like the tree-clock of tin cans
The tinkers made. So long for air to brighten,
Time to be dazzled and the heart to lighten.

—from Seeing Things (1991)

[ top ]

SQUARINGS
Lightenings
[...]
iii
The annals say: when the monks of Clonmacnoise
Were all at prayers inside the oratory
A ship appeared above them in the air.

The anchor dragged along behind so deep
It hooked itself into the altar rails
And then, as the big hull rocked to a standstill,

A crewman shinned and grappled down the rope
And struggled to release it. But in vain.
‘This man can’t bear our life here and will drown,’

The abbot said, ‘unless we help him.’ So
They did, the freed ship sailed, and the man climbed back
Out of the marvellous as he had known it.

ix
A boat that did not rock or wobble once
Sat in long grass one Sunday afternoon
In nineteen forty-one or two. The heat

Out on Lough Neagh and in where cattle stood
Jostling and skittering near the hedge
Grew redolent of the tweed skirt and tweed sleeve

I nursed on. I remember little treble
Timber-notes their smart heels struck from planks,
Me cradled in an elbow like a secret

Open now as the eye of heaven was then
Above three sisters talking, talking steady
In a boat the ground still falls and falls from under.

xii
And lightening? One meaning of that
Beyond the usual sense of alleviation,
Illumination, and so on, is this:

A phenomenal instant when the spirit flares
With pure exhilaration before death
The good thief in us harking to the promise!

So paint him on Christ’s right hand, on a promontory
Scanning empty space, so body-racked he seems
Untranslatable into the bliss

Ached for at the moon-rim of his forehead,
By nail-craters on the dark side of his brain:
This day thou shalt be with Me in Paradise.

[ top ]

Settings
xxi
Once and only once I fired a gun -
A .22. At a square of handkerchief
Pinned on a tree about sixty yards away.

It exhilarated me - the bullet’s song
So effortlessly at my fingertip,
The target’s single shocking little jerk,

A whole new quickened sense of what rifle mean
And then again as it was in the beginning
I saw the soul like a white cloth snatched away

Across dark galaxies and felt that shot
For the sin it was against eternal life
Another phrase dilating in new light.

xxii
Where does spirit live? Inside or outside
Things remembered, made things, things unmade?
What came first, the seabird’s cry or the soul

Imagined in the dawn cold when it cried?
Where does it roost at last? On dungy sticks
In a jackdaw’s nest up in the old stone tower

Or a marble bust commanding the parterre?
How habitable is perfected form?
And how inhabited the windy light?

What’s the use of a held note or held line
That cannot be assailed for reassurance?
(Set questions for the ghost of W.B.)

Crossings
xxxiv
Yeats said, To those who see spirits, human skin
For a long time afterwards appears most coarse.
The face I see that all falls short of since

Passes down an aisle: I share the bus
From San Francisco Airport into Berkeley
With one other passenger, who’s dropped

At the Treasure Island military base
Half-way across Bay Bridge. Vietnam-bound,
He could have been one of the newly dead come back,

Unsurprisable but still disappointed,
Having to bear his farmboy self again,
His shaving cuts, his otherworldly brow.

xxxvi
And yes, my friend, we too walked through a valley.
Once. In darkness. With all the streetlamps off.
As danger gathered and the march dispersed.

Scene from Dante, made more memorable
By one of his head-clearing similes -
Fireflies, say, since the policemen’s torches

Clustered and flicked and tempted us to trust
Their unpredictable, attractive light.
We were like herded shades who had to cross

And did cross, in a panic, to the car
Parked as we’d left it, that gave when we got in
Like Charon’s boat under the faring poets.

Squarings
xliv
All gone into the world of light? Perhaps
As we read the line sheer forms do crowd
The starry vestibule. Otherwise

They do not. What lucency survives
Is blanched as worms on nightlines I would lift,
Ungratified if always well prepared

For the nothing there - which was only what had been there.
Although in fact it is more like a caught line snapping,
That moment of admission of All gone,

When the rod butt loses touch and the tip drools
And eddies swirl a dead leaf past in silence
Swifter (it seems) than the water’s passage.

xlviii
Strange how things in the offing, once they’re sensed,
Convert to things foreknown;
And how what’s come upon is manifest

Only in light of what has been gone through.
Seventh heaven may be
The whole truth of a sixth sense come to pass.

At any rate, when light breaks over me
The way it did on the road beyond Coleraine
Where wind got saltier, the sky more hurried

And silver lamé shivered on the Bann
Out in mid-channel between the painted poles,
That day I’ll be in step with what escaped me.

[ top ]

Mint

It looked like a clump of small dusty nettles
Growing wild at the gables of the house
Beyond where we dumped our refuse and old bottles:
Unverdant ever, almost beneath notice.

But to be fair, it also spelt promise
And newness in the back yard of our life
As if something callow yet tenacious
Sauntered in green alleys and grew rife.

The snip of scissor blades, the light of Sunday
Mornings when the mint was cut and loved:
My last things will be the first things slipping from me.
Yet let all things go free that have survived.

Let the smell of mint go heady and defenceless
Like inmates liberated from that yard.
Like the disregarded ones we turned against
Because we’d failed them in our disregard.’

—from The Spirit Level (1996)

[ top ]

“Postscript
And some time make the time to drive out west
Into County Clare, along the Flaggy Shore,
In September or October, when the wind
And the light are working off each other
So that the ocean on one side is wild
With foam and glitter, and inland among stones
The surface of a slate-grey lake is lit
By the earthed lightning of a flock of swans,
Their feathers roughed and ruffling, white on white,
Their fully grown headstrong-looking heads
Tucked or cresting or busy underwater.
Useless to think you’ll park and capture it
More thoroughly. You are neither here nor there,
A hurry through which known and strange things pass 
As big soft buffetings come at the car sideways
And catch the heart off guard and blow it open.
—from The Spirit Level (1996)

[ top ]

Bann Valley Eclogue” - Sicelides Musae, paulo maiora canamus -VIRGIL, Eclogue IV

POET: Bann Valley Muses, give us a song worth singing,
Something that rises like the curtain in
Those words And it came to pass or In the beginning.
 Help me to please my hedge-schoolmaster Virgil
And the child that’s due. Maybe, heavens, sing
Better times for her and her generation.

VIRGIL: Here are my words you’ll have to find a place for:
 Carmen, ordo, nascitur, saeculum, gens. 
Their gist in your tongue and province should be clear
Even at this stage. Poetry, order, the times,
The nation, wrong and renewal, then an infant birth
And a flooding away of all the old miasma.

Whatever stains you, you rubbed it into yourselves:
Earth mark, birth mark, mould like the bloodied mould
On Romulus’s ditch-back. But when the waters break
Banns stream will overflow, the old markings
Will avail no more to keep east bank from west.
The valley will be washed like the new baby.

POET: Pacatum orbem: your words are too much nearly.
Even “orb” by itself. What on earth could match it?
And then, last month, at noon-eclipse, wind dropped.
A millennial chill, birdless and dark, prepared.
A firstness steadied, a lastness, a born awareness
As name dawned into knowledge: I saw the orb.

VIRGIL: Eclipses won’t be for this child. The cool she’ll know
Will be the pram hood over her vestal head.
Big dog daisies will get fanked up in the spokes.
She’ll lie on summer evenings listening to
A chug and slug going on in the milking parlour.
Let her never hear close gunfire or explosions.

POET: Why do I remember St. Patrick’s mornings,
Being sent by my mother to the railway line
For the little trefoil, untouchable almost, the shamrock
With its twining, binding, creepery, tough, thin roots
All over the place, in the stones between the sleepers.
Dew-scales shook off the leaves. Tear-ducts asperging.

Child on the way, it won’t be long until
You land among us. Your mother’s showing signs,
Out for her sunset walk among big round bales.
Planet earth like a teething ring suspended
Hangs by its world-chain. Your pram waits in the corner.
Cows are let out. They’re sluicing the milk-house floor.

—from Electric Light (2001)

[ top ]

The Loose Box” [II]
On an old recording Patrick Kavanagh states
That there’s health and worth in any talk about
The properties of land. Sandy, glarry,
Mossy, heavy, cold, the actual soil
Almost doesn’t matter; the main thing is
An inner restitution, a purchase come by
By pacing it in words that make you feel
You’ve found your feet in what “surefooted” means
And in the ground of your own understanding -
Like Heracles stepping in and standing under
Atlas’s sky-lintel, as earthed and heady
As I am when I talk about the loose box.
—from Electric Light (2001).

[ top ]

The Conway Stewart

“Medium,” 14-carat nib,
Three gold bands in the clip-on screw-top,
In the mottled barrel a spatulate, thin

Pump-action lever
The shopkeeper
Demonstrated,

The nib uncapped,
Treating it to its first deep snorkel
In a newly opened ink-bottle,

Guttery, snottery,
Letting it rest then at an angle
To ingest,

Giving us time
To look together and away
From our parting, due that evening,

To my longhand
“Dear”
To them, next day.

[ top ]

Uncoupled

I
Who is this coming to the ash-pit
Walking tall, as if in a procession,
Bearing in front of her a slender pan

Withdrawn just now from underneath
The firebox, weighty, full to the brim
With whitish dust and flakes still sparkling hot

That the wind is blowing into her apron bib,
Into her mouth and eyes while she proceeds
Unwavering, keeping her burden horizontal still,

Hands in a tight, sore grip round the metal knob,
Proceeds until we have lost sight of her
Where the worn path turns behind the henhouse.

II
Who is this, not much higher than the cattle, 
Working his way towards me through the pen,
His ashplant in one hand

Lifted and pointing, a stick of keel
In the other, calling to where I’m perched
On top of a shaky gate,

Waving and calling something I cannot hear
With all the lowing and roaring, lorries revving
At the far end of the yard, the dealers

Shouting among themselves, and now to him
So that his eyes leave mine and I know
The pain of loss before I know the term.

 

[ top ]

Miracle

Not the one who takes up his bed and walks
But the ones who have known him all along
And carry him in –

Their shoulders numb, the ache and stoop deeplocked
In their backs, the stretcher handles
Slippery with sweat. And no let-up

Until he’s strapped on tight, made tiltable
And raised to the tiled roof, then lowered for healing.
Be mindful of them as they stand and wait

For the burn of the paid-out ropes to cool,
Their slight lightheadedness and incredulity
To pass, those ones who had known him all along.

[ top ]

Human Chain” - for Terence Brown

Seeing the bags of meal passed hand to hand
In close-up by the aid workers, and soldiers
Firing over the mob, I was braced again

With a grip on two sack corners,
Two packed wads of grain I’d worked to lugs
To give me purchase, ready for the heave –

The eye-to-eye, one-two, one-two upswing
On to the trailer, then the stoop and drag and drain
Of the next lift. Nothing surpassed

That quick unburdening, backbreak’s truest payback,
A letting go which will not come again.
Or it will, once. And for all.

—from Human Chain (2010)

[ top ]

A Herbal” (after Guillevic’s “Herbier de Bretagne”)

Everywhere plants
Flourish among graves,

Sinking their roots

In all the dynasties
Of the dead.
*
 

Was graveyard grass
In our place
Any different?

Different from ordinary
Field grass?

Remember how you wanted

The sound recordist
To make a loop,

Wildtrack of your feet
Through the wet
At the foot of a field?

*
 

Yet for all their lush
Compliant dialect
No way have plants here
Arrived at a settlement.

Not the mare’s tail,

Not the broom or whins.

It must have to do
With the wind.

*
 

Not that the grass itself
Ever rests in peace.

It too takes issue,

Now sets a fire.

To the wind,
Now turns its back.

*
 

"See me?" it says.
"The wind

Has me well rehearsed
In the ways of the world.

Unstable is good.

Permission granted!

Go, then, citizen
Of the wind.
Go with the flow."

*
 

The bracken
Is less boastful.

It closes and curls back

On its secrets,

The best kept
Upon earth.

*
 

And, to be fair,
There is sun as well.

Nowhere else
Is there sun like here,

Morning sunshine

All day long.

Which is why the plants,
Even the bracken,

Are sometimes tempted
Into trust.

*
 

On sunlit tarmac,
On memories of the hearse

At walking pace

Between overgrown verges,

The dead here are borne
Towards the future.

 
*
 

When the funeral bell tolls
The grass is all a-tremble.

But only then.

Not every time any old bell

Rings.

*
 

Broom
Is like the disregarded
And company for them,

Shows them
They have to keep going,

That the whole thing’s worth

The effort.

And sometimes
Like those same characters
When the weather’s very good

Broom sings.

*
 

Never, in later days,
Would fruit

So taste of earth.

There was slate

In the blackberries,
A slatey sap.

*
 

Run your hand into
The ditch back growth

And you’d grope roots,
Thick and thin.
But roots of what?

Once, one that we saw
Gave itself away,

The tail of a rat
We killed.

*
 

We had enemies,
Though why we never knew.

Among them,

Nettles,

Malignant things, letting on
To be asleep.

*
 

Enemies -
Part of a world

Nobody seemed able to explain
But that had to be

Put up with.

There would always be dock leaves
To cure the vicious stings.

*
 

There were leaves on the trees
And growth on the headrigs

You could confess
Everything to.

Even your fears
Of the night,

Of people
Even.

*
 

What was better then

Than to crush a leaf or a herb
Between your palms

Then wave it slowly, soothingly
Past your mouth and nose

And breathe?

*
 

If you know a bit
About the universe

It’s because you’ve taken it in
Like that,

Looked as hard
As you look into yourself,

Into the rat hole,

Through the vetch and dock
That mantled it.

Because you’ve laid your cheek
Against the rush clump

And known soft stone to break
On the quarry floor.

*
 

Between heather and marigold,
Between spaghnum and buttercup,
Between dandelion and broom,
Between forget-me-not and
                         honeysuckle,

As between clear blue and cloud,

Between haystack and sunset sky,
Between oak tree and slated roof,
I had my existence. I was there.
Me in place and the place in me.
*
 

Where can it be found again,
An elsewhere world, beyond

Maps and atlases

Where all is woven into

And of itself, like a nest
Of crosshatched grass blades?

 
—from Human Chain (2010)
[See note on web-page lay-out - infra.]  

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The Blackbird of Glanmore  

On the grass when I arrive,
Filling the stillness with life,
But ready to scare off
At the very first wrong move.
In the ivy when I leave.

It’s you, blackbird, I love.

I park, pause, take heed.
Breathe. Just breathe and sit
And lines I once translated
Come back: “I want away
To the house of death, to my father

Under the low clay roof.”

And I think of one gone to him,
A little stillness dancer –
Haunter-son, lost brother –
Cavorting through the yard,
So glad to see me home,

My homesick first term over.

And think of a neighbour’s words
Long after the accident:
“Yon bird on the shed roof,
Up on the ridge for weeks –
I said nothing at the time

But I never liked yon bird.”

The automatic lock
Clunks shut, the blackbird’s panic
Is shortlived, for a second
I’ve a bird’s eye view of myself,
A shadow on raked gravel

In front of my house of life.

Hedge-hop, I am absolute
For you, your ready talkback,
Your each stand-offish comeback,
Your picky, nervy goldbeak –
On the grass when I arrive,

In the ivy when I leave.

 
—from Human Chain (2010)

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[Note on web-page lay-out of “A Herbal”: The original in Human Chain (2010) appears in a single column with sections separated by asterisks as here where it is given in double columns to be read left and right across each section - i.e., ‘sinking their roots / In all the dynasties / Of all the dead./ * / Was graveyard grass / In our place / Any different? / ...’, &c.]


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