On Friday, August 30th, I woke up to the news that my favorite living poet, Seamus Heaney, had passed away. I was shocked with disbelief. I knew Heaney as the kind of living vessel that I, in my typical wishfulness, had hopes to meet. So many Poets I read appear inaccessible, the dead ones especially. Heaney, however, my forever day-dreaming mind whispered to me, would be one of those rare men I could risk meeting, introduce myself too on a chance encounter while rambling through Wicklow, Ireland, or shake hands with by sneaking into a lecture at Oxford or Trinity College, Dublin, and charging the podium.
And so I was grieved, both for the missed opportunity, as well as the knowing loss that I, Ireland, and maybe even the world must endure to suffer. This all sounds a bit melodramatic, I know, but these things I mean. I mean them because Heaney has been a helping hand, an inspiration, a voice in my head absurdly encouraging me, “If you have the words, there’s always a chance that you’ll find the way.”
In a way, I am glad to be alive to see him go; a large ship deserving of ceremony. I am grieved, but also honored– honored to live in his wake; to lift him up to a place of astonishment. I am proud to be a link in the literary chain; to pay my respect; to be a part of the long line of poets hoping to connect, through our art, ourselves too him, too the world, as well as too each other.
I am honored to write an elegy; to thank Seamus Heaney for the voice he has been to me.
I learned to pick blackberries
From Seamus Heaney–you see,
Out on the edge of the train yard
The blanched wall of needle
Brambled over the linked fence,
Nicked a hole of my sleeve,
A fat bead of blood ripening
And spooling out a feign sprig of fear,
Red as the chafed skin
Of the not-quite-ripe pellets
Of the snaggled fruit.
My feet had not been ready
To step into the tangled blessing
Of so many thorned whips
Swaying like a choir and flattering me
With the beautiful bruises and lips
Of ripened mash burst open
Like now-born blemishes.
It was the slow choosing that pleased me most.
The testing of the strange seed;
The tender handling of the soft body
Sloped towards my poised thumb and finger;
It was pausing for the moment,
Before the gentle squeeze and strain
Of pulling on each possibility
There growing, knotted and sweet, inside
The heartbeat of the dark berries.
It was his hand guiding me,
Old and squat and accented
With the fresh light of morning,
As I reached for nothing but the gravity
That tugged on their gourds toward healing.
I welcome your thoughts.