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This Mother’s Day weekend in America finds me thinking about my mother back in Castledawson, County Derry, a great armful of sheets rescued from the clothes-line before the rain begins to fall. Then, the folding, a precise ritual, my father her partner in a dance handed down from one generation to the next.

My daughter learned those same moves not by the ironing board in my mother’s kitchen, but on the sandy edges of California before the fog rolled in on an August evening.

Facing each other, a blue blanket stretched between us, she stepped towards me, intent on matching her corners to mine, my edge to hers. In the middle we met to make the final fold, while unbeknownst to us, her father took our pictures and wrote our names in the sand, knowing the tide would wash them away. Forever.

And still we dance.

From Clearances V by Seamus Heaney

In Memoriam M.K.H., 1911-1984I


“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.”


Listen here as Seamus Heaney reads the poem.