Thursday, October 03, 2013


High Chaparral
—Photo by Robert Lee Haycock, Antioch

—Seamus Heaney

The tightness and the nilness round that space 

when the car stops in the road, the troops inspect 

its make and number and, as one bends his face 

towards your window, you catch sight of more 

on a hill beyond, eyeing with intent 

down cradled guns that hold you under cover 

and everything is pure interrogation 

until a rifle motions and you move 

with guarded unconcerned acceleration— 

a little emptier, a little spent 

as always by that quiver in the self, 

subjugated, yes, and obedient. 

So you drive on to the frontier of writing 

where it happens again. The guns on tripods; 

the sergeant with his on-off mike repeating 

data about you, waiting for the squawk 

of clearance; the marksman training down 

out of the sun upon you like a hawk. 

And suddenly you're through, arraigned yet freed, 

as if you'd passed from behind a waterfall 

on the black current of a tarmac road 

past armor-plated vehicles, out between 

the posted soldiers flowing and receding 

like tree shadows into the polished windscreen. 


—Seamus Heaney

Late August, given heavy rain and sun

For a full week, the blackberries would ripen.

At first, just one, a glossy purple clot

Among others, red, green, hard as a knot.

You ate that first one and its flesh was sweet

Like thickened wine: summer's blood was in it

Leaving stains upon the tongue and lust for

Picking. Then red ones inked up and that hunger

Sent us out with milk cans, pea tins, jam-pots

Where briars scratched and wet grass bleached our boots.

Round hayfields, cornfields and potato-drills

We trekked and picked until the cans were full

Until the tinkling bottom had been covered

With green ones, and on top big dark blobs burned

Like a plate of eyes. Our hands were peppered

With thorn pricks, our palms sticky as Bluebeard's.

We hoarded the fresh berries in the byre.

But when the bath was filled we found a fur,

A rat-grey fungus, glutting on our cache.

The juice was stinking too. Once off the bush

The fruit fermented, the sweet flesh would turn sour.

I always felt like crying. It wasn't fair

That all the lovely canfuls smelt of rot.

Each year I hoped they'd keep, knew they would not.

 A Beautiful Day For a Neighbor 
Would You Be Mine?
—Photo by Robert Lee Haycock

—Seamus Heaney

Perch on their water perch hung in the clear Bann River

Near the clay bank in alder dapple and waver,

Perch they called ‘grunts’, little flood-slubs, runty and ready,

I saw and I see in the river’s glorified body

That is passable through, but they’re bluntly holding the 

Under the water-roof, over the bottom, adoze

On the current, against it, all muscle and slur

In the finland of perch, the fenland of alder, on air

That is water, on carpets of Bann stream, on hold

In the everything flows and steady go of the world.

 Cowboy, Cowgirl, Cowdogs, Cowcow
—Photo by Robert Lee Haycock

—Seamus Heaney

As you plaited the harvest bow 

You implicated the mellowed silence in you 

In wheat that does not rust 

But brightens as it tightens twist by twist 

Into a knowable corona, 

A throwaway love-knot of straw. 

Hands that aged round ashplants and cane sticks 

And lapped the spurs on a lifetime of game cocks 

Harked to their gift and worked with fine intent 

Until your fingers moved somnambulant: 

I tell and finger it like braille, 

Gleaning the unsaid off the palpable, 

And if I spy into its golden loops 

I see us walk between the railway slopes 

Into an evening of long grass and midges, 

Blue smoke straight up, old beds and ploughs in hedges, 

An auction notice on an outhouse wall— 

You with a harvest bow in your lapel, 

Me with the fishing rod, already homesick 

For the big lift of these evenings, as your stick 

Whacking the tips off weeds and bushes 

Beats out of time, and beats, but flushes 

Nothing: that original townland 

Still tongue-tied in the straw tied by your hand. 

The end of art is peace 

Could be the motto of this frail device 

That I have pinned up on our deal dresser— 

Like a drawn snare 

Slipped lately by the spirit of the corn 

Yet burnished by its passage, and still warm.

 Part-Time Angels
—Photo by Robert Lee Haycock

—Seamus Heaney

When you plunged

The light of Tuscany wavered

And swung through the pool

From top to bottom.

I loved your wet head and smashing crawl,

Your fine swimmer's back and shoulders

Surfacing and surfacing again

This year and every year since.

I sat dry-throated on the warm stones.

You were beyond me.

The mellowed clarities, the grape-deep air

Thinned and disappointed.

Thank God for the slow loadening,

When I hold you now

We are close and deep
As the atmosphere on water.

My two hands are plumbed water.

You are my palpable, lithe

Otter of memory

In the pool of the moment,

Turning to swim on your back,

Each silent, thigh-shaking kick

Re-tilting the light,

Heaving the cool at your neck.

And suddenly you're out,

Back again, intent as ever,

Heavy and frisky in your freshened pelt,

Printing the stones.

—Photo by Robert Lee Haycock

—Seamus Heaney

Between my finger and my thumb

The squat pen rests; snug as a gun.

Under my window, a clean rasping sound

When the spade sinks into gravelly ground:

My father, digging. I look down

Till his straining rump among the flowerbeds

Bends low, comes up twenty years away

Stooping in rhythm through potato drills

Where he was digging.

The coarse boot nestled on the lug, the shaft

Against the inside knee was levered firmly.

He rooted out tall tops, buried the bright edge deep

To scatter new potatoes that we picked,

Loving their cool hardness in our hands.

By God, the old man could handle a spade.

Just like his old man.

My grandfather cut more turf in a day

Than any other man on Toner's bog.

Once I carried him milk in a bottle

Corked sloppily with paper. He straightened up

To drink it, then fell to right away

Nicking and slicing neatly, heaving sods

Over his shoulder, going down and down

For the good turf. Digging.

The cold smell of potato mould, the squelch and slap

Of soggy peat, the curt cuts of an edge

Through living roots awaken in my head.

But I've no spade to follow men like them.

Between my finger and my thumb

The squat pen rests.

I'll dig with it.


Today's LittleNip:

—Seamus Heaney

A rowan like a lipsticked girl. 

Between the by-road and the main road 

Alder trees at a wet and dripping distance 

Stand off among the rushes. 

There are the mud-flowers of dialect 

And the immortelles of perfect pitch 

And that moment when the bird sings very close 

To the music of what happens.


—Medusa, thanking Robert Lee Haycock for his photo collection of the seasons at Black Diamond  Regional Preserve (click on them once to enlarge them), and reminding you to check out Medusa's Facebook page for Katy Brown's recent album of the Sacramento Voices reading at Sac. Poetry Center last weekend.

And Blogspot still hasn't fixed the problem with our green and blue boxes at the right; no edits are possible, so I can't update the calender. For area events, go to,, and other area calendars.

Dapple of My Eye
—Photo by Robert Lee Haycock