Heaney has become a favorite lately.

Electric Light by Seamus Heaney

Candle grease congealed, dark-streaked with wick-soot.
Rucked alps from above. The smashed thumbnail
of that ancient mangled thumb was puckered pearl,

moonlit quartz, a bleached and littered Cumae.
In the first house where I saw electric light
she sat with her fur-lined felt slippers unzipped,

year in, year out, in the same chair, and whispered
in a voice that at its loudest did nothing else
but whisper. We were both desperate

the night I was left to stay with her and wept
under the clothes, under the waste of light
left turned on in the bedroom. “What ails you, child,

what ails you, for God’s sake?” Urgent, sorrowing
ails, far-off and old. Scaresome cavern waters
lapping a boatslip. Her helplessness no help.

Lisp and relapse. Eddy of sibylline English.
Splashes between a ship and dock, to which,
animula, I would come alive in time

as ferries churned and turned down Belfast Lough
towards the brow-to-glass transport of a morning train,
the very “there-you-are-and-where-are-you?”

of poetry itself. Backs of houses
like the back of hers, meat safes and mangles
in the railway-facing yards of fleeting England,

an allotment scarecrow among patted rigs,
then a town-edge soccer pitch, the groin of distance,
fields of grain like the Field of the Cloth of Gold,

tunnel gauntlet and horizon keep. To Southwark,
too, I came, from tube mouth into sunlight,
Moyola-breath by Thames’s “straunge strond.”

If I stood on the bow-backed chair, I could reach
the light switch. They let me and they watched me,
A touch of the little pip would work the magic.

A turn of their wireless knob and light came on
in the dial. They let me and they watched me
as I roamed at will the stations of the world.

Then they were gone and Big Ben and the news
were over. The set had been switched off,
all quiet behind the blackout except for

knitting needles ticking, wind in the flue.
She sat with her fur-lined felt slippers unzipped,
electric light shone over us, I feared

the dirt-tracked flint and fissure of her nail,
so plectrum-hard, glit-glittery, it must still keep
among beads and vertebrae in the Derry ground.

Who’s your favorite Irish poet?

Advertisements