Time period: 1966-1972
Poet: Seamus Heaney
Permanent URL: http://pid.emory.edu/ark:/25593/17kr9
Right along the lough shore
A smoke of flies
Drifts thick in the sunset.
They come shattering daintily
Against the windscreen,
The grill and bonnet whisper
At their million collisions:
It is to drive through
A hail of fine chaff.
Yet we leave no clear wake
For they open and close on us
As the air opens and closes.
To-night when we put out our light
To kiss between sheets
Their just audible siren will go
Outside the window,
Their invisible veil
Weakening the moonlight still further
And the walls will carry a rash
Of them, a green pollen.
They'll have infiltrated our clothes by morning.
If you put one under a lens
You'd be looking at a pumping body
With such outsize beaters for wings
That this visitation would seem
More drastic than Pharaoh's -
I'm told they're mosquitoes
But I'd need forests and swamps
To believe it
For these are our innocent, shuttling
Choirs, dying through
Their own live empyrean, troublesome only
As the last veil on a dancer.
A latch lifting, an edged cave of light
Opens across the yard. Out of the low door
They stoop in to the honeyed corridor,
Then walk straight through the wall of the dark.
A puddle, cobble-stones, jambs and doorstep
Are set steady in a block of brightness
Till she strides in again beyond her shadows
And cancels everything behind her.
A tramp whom parents made crow
Like a cock for his victuals.
His head a toby jug now
Tilts disembodied and falls
Wide open in a bellow
That for years the lower jaw
Dammed into performances
For frightened youngsters below
Kitchen tables. He wants his
Revenge. Go on then. Bellow.
I have crossed the dunes with their whistling bent
Where dry loose sand was riddling round the air
And I'm walking the firm margin. White pocks
Of cockle, blanched roofs of clam and oyster
Hoard the moonlight, woven and unwoven
Off the bay. A pale sud at the far rocks
Comes and goes.
Out there he put me through it.
Under the boards the mackerel slapped to death
Yet we still took them in at every cast,
Stiff flails of cold convulsed with their first breath.
My line plumbed certainly the undertow,
Loaded against me once I went to draw
And flashed and fattened up towards the light.
He was all business in the stern. I called:
"This is so easy that it's hardly right,"
But he unhooked and coped with frantic fish
Without speaking. Then suddenly it lulled,
We'd crossed where they were running, the line rose
Like a let-down and I was conscious
How far we'd drifted out beyond the head.
"Count them up at your end", was all he said
Before I saw the porpoises' thick backs
Cartwheeling like the flywheels of the tide,
Soapy and shining. To have seen a hill
Splitting the water could not have numbed me
More than the close irruption of that school,
Tight viscous muscle, hooped from tail to snout,
Each one revealed complete as it bowled out
They will attack a boat.
I knew it and I asked John to put in
But he would not, declared it was a yarn
My people had been fooled by far too long
And he would prove it now and settle it.
Maybe he shrank when those thick slimy backs
Propelled towards us: I lay and screamed
Under splashed brine in an open rocking boat
Feeling each dunt and slither through the timber,
Sick at their huge pleasures in the water.
I sometimes walk this strand for thanksgiving
Or maybe it's to get away from him
Skittering his spit across the stove. Here
Is the taste of safety, the shelving sand
Harbours no worse than razor shell or crab -
Though my father recalls carcasses of whales
Collapsed and gasping, right up to the dunes.
But to-night such moving, sinewed life patrols
The blacker fathoms out beyond the head.
Astray upon a detritus of shells,
Between parched dunes and salivating wave
I claim rights on this fallow avenue,
A membrane between moonlight and my shadow.
Kennedy thought he'd test him from the start
And never slackened but the old arm shot out
Imperiously. "There you are. You land
Across the sandy bottom. Good God, man,
Is this your first time in upon the island?"
And Kennedy, well shocked that sixty years
Unsettled neither certainty nor sand,
Headed the currach in to the bare shore.
The green land bulked up and blocked the sky.
"That hill was never steep as that before,"
The old man said, standing in wet shoes
Between the silent land and lashing breaker.
Hearing his voice diminished in his ear.
Kennedy wondered if he knew the house
But said nothing, letting the heaped shingle,
Anonymous acres, deserted right-of-ways
Divest their undisturbed green desolation
To close with the ghost world that had lured them there.
"God O God, man, eighteen when I left!
They were every one lined up there to convey me
And when I walked over the shoe mouth in the tide
The youngsters cried but the old ones watched my back."
They climbed up the cart track to his house
Where he knelt down outside the rotten door
To pray. "God bless and God rest my father."
The door ripped off its hinges when he pushed.
He stooped himself under the mildewed roof,
Put out his arms almost from wall to wall
As if to shoulder an antique yoke, called
Kennedy. "Our house was a bigger house
Than this house; there never were five children
Reared on this floor. I guess it's caving in."
When they came out he reckoned it too dull
For photographs so Kennedy produced
The whiskey and they drank a lot quickly
On the doorstep, leaving the door collapsed.
"No wonder they all left. There's no life here.
I'm sorry, fellow, to have dragged you out
To a place like this." He never looked back
Going down to the currach. At his back
The marked shore sloped vacant to the tide;
The unpictured hill reflected and diminished
In Kennedy's unwatching oarsman's eye.
A pallor in the headlights'
Range wavered and disappeared.
Weeping, blood bright from her cuts
When she'd fled the hedged and wired
Road, they eyed her nakedness
Astray among the cattle
At first light. Lanterns, torches
And the searchers' gay gabble
She eluded earlier:
Now her own people only
Closed around her dazed whimper,
With rugs, dressings and brandy
Conveying maiden daughter
Back to family hearth and floor.
Why run, our lovely daughter,
Bare-breasted from our door?
So she became a by-word.
By the shocked button-lipped
Her bare act was embroidered.
And she began to be met
By the drunk, the vicious
Who told of lewd invitings
And tumbles in cold ditches
And foul, secret whisperings -
Even though during this time
She sat bandaged by the fire,
Moved from there to the bedroom
Obedient, behind her stare.
Till, like good luck, she returned.
At night, crossing the thresholds
Of empty homes, she warmed
Her dewy roundings and folds
To sleep in the chimney nook.
After all, they were neighbours.
As neighbours, when they came back
Surprised but unmalicious
Between them. She was there first
And so appeared no haunter
But, making all comers guests,
She stirred as from a winter
Sleep. Smiled. Uncradled her breasts.