walking round a space without seamus heaney

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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.

It’s been a year, and it is still strange to type the words.

Seamus Heaney is dead.

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There is still no way for me to convey the inestimable impact of his words on my adult life. He has been with me every day for as long as I can remember, like a pulse.

During the bad times, when friends and relatives have lost loved ones, my condolences to them have been wrapped up in Heaney’s pitch-perfect poems.

On the day of his death, we didn’t know what to say, because on that day, only Heaney himself would have been capable of producing the right words to assuage Ireland’s sorrow over his passing.

I had always assumed our paths would cross, and I would be able to thank him for making me brave when I needed to be, for gently teaching me to love from afar the language and the well-trodden lanes of Castledawson and Bellaghy in rural Derry, for “crediting marvels” in the unlikeliest small things, and, mostly, for inspiring me to set words down on a page, to light up this screen with them, so I might at last be able “to see myself, to set the darkness echoing.

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It was around dusk on November 15 last year that I crossed the door into the dark, into blacksmith Barney Devlin’s forge that sits on the side of the road at Hillhead, Castledawson.  Barney’s son Barry was telling us all about the great night’s craic behind Heaney‘s “The Midnight Anvil.” Heaney wasn’t there on December 31, 1999, but he could “still hear” Barney strike that anvil twelve times to ring in the new millennium while another of his sons listened in on his cell-phone in Alberta, “the cellular phone held high as a horse’s ear.” 

20131115_4387Looking back on that evening as I posed for a photograph with Barry on the other side of “The Door into The Dark” holding in my hands the same anvil that made the sweeter sound, then striking it, I find myself imagining a shower of sparks and wondering if it was at that very moment that my husband died, by himself and so very far away in our Phoenix home. I believe it was.

There is something soothing – and right-seeming – in believing so, in believing we may have been within Heaney’s spiritual field in that moment and in coming back to Phoenix to do what we were fit for, to take up the strain of the  long tailed pull of grief.

On this eve of the first anniversary of his death, I am wondering about his widow, Marie, and how she’s doing with the empty space, with the alteration, and of the poem he once wrote for his sons in Station Island. And I am thinking of my husband and the empty spaces within and without, and of our daughter and of me, taking the strain.

Rest easy, Seamus Heaney, and thank you.  Always.

A Kite for Michael and Christopher

All through that Sunday afternoon
A kite flew above Sunday,
a tightened drumhead, an armful of blow chaff.

I’d seen it grey and slippy in the making,
I’d tapped it when it dried out white and stiff,
I’d tied the bows of the newspaper
along its six-foot tail.

But now it was far up like a small black lark
and now it dragged as if the bellied string
were a wet rope hauled upon
to life a shoal.

My friend says that the human soul
is about the weight of a snipe
yet the soul at anchor there,
the string that sags and ascends,
weigh like a furrow assumed into the heavens.

Before the kite plunges down into the wood
and this line goes useless
take in your two hands, boys, and feel
the strumming, rooted, long-tailed pull of grief.
You were born fit for it.
Stand here in front of me
and take the strain.

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