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At His Quitting Time

In honour of Seamus Heaney

To me, your novice, you were more than master. You were mage.
Your books were talismans I reached for countless times, in hope
to hear the magic word which would unlock me, spring me, do the trick.
Foolish apprentice, seeking short cuts! I had no such luck.
Between your lines a truer, slower voice spoke up, and still speaks up,
its Derry accent urging, ‘Take the plunge.

Practise the art. Go on now. You can do it.’
                                                                         When you left
it was late August, and your blackberries were ripening.
Beside your house of death, next to the low clay roof, what can I leave
as grave gift but the debt — unpayable — you must forgive?
This afternoon, as summer lingers, I’m out plundering
the hedges, as you did. I’m burdened and bereft.

Poems, berries, season’s fullness… I can’t help trying
the comparison, until I see its flaw.
Your childhood’s hoarded treasures rotted and went sour.
Your lifetime’s hoard of words retains the staying power to bless
and strengthen us who stay and grieve. But will not now increase.
For that loss, as you did, I feel like crying.

Audio file

Listen to this poem — read by Joe Mahon