A bit of Seamus Heaney

I found this whilst looking on the web for stories about husbands who may have been slapped by a mackerel.


Man to the hills, woman to the shore. (Irish proverb)

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
And under.

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.

(From Wintering Out, 1972)


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