For Seamus Heaney, August 2013

When Seamus Heaney died, I wrote the lines below on Twitter in improvised tribute. I didn’t think they amounted to much, formally, so I was all the more flattered when Liz Nugent chose them for this piece in The Irish Times.

You did this. You showed us we were right to think it our own, the language we found gleaming in ditches, the leavings of queens.

You paced out the avenue, took your ease in the drawing room. And this the home of the statesman, the trembling mage, the fairy-fancier.

When you opened the cabinets, certain items stilled you. A thick hilt, crumbed in fast blood. You passed over opera glasses, posied plates.

You went over old ground, down two spits. Past the sweet tilth to the cold, sharded glut. To hoe blades, dim chalices, back teeth.

You were garlanded, and yet the least bedecked. You scored the rich hems of cardinals. Listened for the flit and thud, the dagger drop.

You smoothed out the unwritten leaf. Felt it chaste as sick day sheets. Of one weave with summer dresses, with the tatters after bombs.


It’s nothing really, just

a way of treasuring
things, a feasting

on the bright
world that borders

on the pathological,
on the unseemly

maw of wet nerves,
the gape that swallows

every spine, tingles even
in the absence

of signal, lusts for
every fluke of noise

covets wave
and particle alike

collapsing always,
coming home drunk

or high and falling
asleep in that deep

where all our seemings cross

where the overspill
was the light under

overpasses, was the solace
of amethysts
and deep kissing

where the numbers
of your birthday

were—write this down—
magnesium almost
and chlorophyll

and something like honey.



The other lives are closest
in the heat. When we unshutter
the house, when sleep comes

and goes in the skin warmth
of the garden, even barefoot
and in its lightest shift.

There is a passing between.
Somewhere in the close fugue
of musk and clockwork.

Somehow, the spored dark
is punctured—a tiny syncope,
the merest finch-heart lull.

The knowing bursts in us.
A seed-split, then a tender
vining of lobes, the fibres

tonguing upwards, shudder
to completeness, unsealing us,
in surges, from elsewhere.

How else do I know,
like the nape and milk-breath
of my dreaming child

what it was to bear peonies
for all those last miles?
In the silvering dead

of the waded spate, to hold
still and nurture a goblet
of unexploded softness

to weaken almost enough,
but at her father’s door,
even with unraised eyes

to see, at last, her unseen white

to taste her rust

her deep and vanished red.

Are You Sure This is the Place?

I joked on Twitter recently that I had resubmitted all my New Yorker caption contest entries as a poem. Afterwards, I began to wonder what that poem might look like. There was only one way to find out.

Are you sure this is in season?
Can’t you just eat around
the forbidden parts? We normally
vote Democrat, but the snake
just seems stronger on the economy.

Are you sure this is the honeymoon
suite? My wife doesn’t understand
Mimi. I give it six full moons.
She doesn’t get the bloodlust
from my side of the family.

Are you sure that’s a kidney stone?
Is there any family history
of bleeding heart liberalism?
Turns out I’m allergic to lolcats.
Trust me. My character is a doctor.

Are you sure this is Dakota?
I think one of those vultures
just friended me on Facebook.
My stylist keeps giving me
disapproving younger looks.

Are you sure the hour is up?
I have this awful feeling
like I left the waterfalls
running. I think I need to go on
one of those detox pogroms.

Are you sure this thing is safe?
I have to ask. Does the scythe
really work? I had the wyrdest
dream last night. I’ve Instagrammed
things, man. Terrible things.

Are you sure this is the place?
It looked bigger in the frescos.
Typical. No smoke signal. I’m going
to have to call you back later.
We’re going into a wormhole.



I have failed in this world
and I am greatly afraid

that even my observations
of certain lichens, of Tokyo

after rain, an obverse deep
barbed and lured with neon

will attract, if not disgrace,
then no particular encomium.

And perhaps I might
have sensed, even at first

small failings, recorded
with fingerstains alongside

the wet ruin of a dissection,
a fruit prized for its sweetness.


And if I did attain, during my
peregrinations in Mitteleuropa

an incipient ecstasy, if I felt,
beneath the bleached pulses

of strobe that night in Hamburg,
an answering syncope, a thrall

I managed only a reverence
superfluous to a discotheque.

The incident in the bus shelter
in Prague, it must be admitted

exposed indiscipline, perhaps,
a want of caution, but I submit

that you have not crossed
the chasms of Andromeda and seen


such a child, her lashes glutted
with anthracite, tears slowing

to watercolours, and you do not
know, masters, even as little as I

that some things (the haematoma
luscious on that sacred

whiteness) cannot be seen
and unseen, and that the world

I saw as I flailed and clutched
the spilt secrets of my viscera

all my languages failing,
the prayer dead behind my teeth

was one to which I carried
some remainder, from which

some meagre fraction, at least,
has now been taken away.


A First Time for Everything


It is less acrobatic somehow
than you imagined, or did you

imagine it? Because why
would you? A half note rest

of velvet inertia before
everything kicks in—

the wrestled tons, the influx
of geological heat.

Just time to kiss
the upturned world

of sodium lights, the junctions
cross-hatched and spotless.

It’s not like you’re stroking
coral with that sluggish

underwater reverence
or holding your ground

long enough to glimpse
a field of gold, a virgin

a child not of this world.




He never laid hands on me,
all that time, except the usual

which he could take or leave.
Never a wrist, though, or a temple.

But out in the halls, in Deauville
or Coventry or I don’t know where

Will you be—listen to this—a perfect angel
and stay behind the chinoiserie?

Oh yes, with the glass harp too,
and—on my mark, Rose—that moan

rising, the silk and frost of it, fingertips
slicked—you had to—in the cooling swill

always at my feet, of lye and tallow,
the maidening of last night’s linen.



Scarecrow still he’d go,
frock coat stark in the dream heat.

Then the hands, slow as a sunrise,
some lady novelist, every peck of her

peony bright and whiskering the air,
from her book, fallen open

a rattle of ashy lavender,
bless her, asplay on her lap, and then—

then, he could lift a snowflake,
I swear to God, off her heart

with that tongue, safe as a diamond,
cradled and urged—
Do you feel it?

There now, a wing beat merely,
as if a dove were trapped?

The flames, then, dipping and
curtseying low in their bowls

and all those hearts, you see,
they’d quicken and dim

all smut and flutter, they were

chambers of smoke, of fretting moths,
of vapours.




Listen—the sea
is memorising stones

retracing steps,
chalcedony and quartz.

The cave is thronged
and purged, the tide touches

every treasure,
scrapes the vellum clean.

Starting again
at first light, wakes to find

liquor and pearl,
the shells albumen-wet

a saffron morsel
for an early gull.

If I could choose?
(I know, but bear with me.)

A night in June,
the dryads gathering

jasmine, rose petals,
sleeping where they fall.

Wine tangling
the radio waves, goodbye.

Orion and Auriga,
needle stings.

Sapphires in our tin roof,
Fabergé moon.

A phosphor scratch,
just once, a meteor.

Aleph, atom, æther, morning star,
aphelion and solstice, omega.

Flight Time


The hours of flight are hidden time,
inviolate somehow, exempt

from the insistence of the surface,
the holding down, always,

of one job or another—a slackening,
a wave from the terminal.

The levelling out, the steady drain
to quiescence of the felt world.

Tropopause. The abandonment at last
even of weather, the noise

threadbare now, and pieced together
from silences that show through.

Then six or seven nightward hours
with only the ideas of spin

and drift, the receding of the world
to elsewhere and nothing

further can be done, there is nothing
beyond your own closed skin.