Wednesday, December 26, 2007

Seamus Heaney


I shouldered a kind of manhood

stepping in to lift the coffins

of dead relations.

They had been laid out

in tainted rooms,

their eyelids glistening,

their dough-white hands

shackled in rosary beads.

Their puffed knuckles

had unwrinkled, the nails

were darkened, the wrists

obediently sloped.

The dulse-brown shroud,

the quilted satin cribs:

I knelt courteously

admiring it all

as wax melted down

and veined the candles,

the flames hovering

to the women hovering

behind me.

And always, in a corner,

the coffin lid,

its nail-heads dressed

with little gleaming crosses.

Dear soapstone masks,

kissing their igloo brows

had to suffice

before the nails were sunk

and the black glacier

of each funeral

pushed away.



Now as news comes in

of each neighbourly murder

we pine for ceremony,

customary rhythms:

the temperate footsteps

of a cortege, winding past

each blinded home.

I would restore

the great chambers of Boyne,

prepare a sepulcher

under the cupmarked stones.

Out of side-streets and bye-roads

purring family cars

nose into line,

the whole country tunes

to the muffled drumming

of ten thousand engines.

Somnambulant women,

left behind, move

through emptied kitchens

imagining our slow triumph

towards the mounds.

Quiet as a serpent

in its grassy boulevard

the procession drags its tail

out of the Gap of the North

as its head already enters

the megalithic doorway.


Before they put the stone back

in its mouth,

let us pray

that the necropolis will prove

sufficient to our appetite

for memory, that cuds behindbacks

and incubates spilled blood;

and place these remnants

in the care of Gunnar.

He lay beautiful

inside his mound,

though dead by violence

and unavenged:

it seemed that he was chanting

verses about honour,

and four lights burned

in corners of the chamber.

Which opened then, as he turned

with a joyful face

and looked at the moon.

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