[In honor of Seamus Heaney (1939-2013), SHARKPACK offers short reflections on our favorite passages by the Irishman. —Ed.]
When all the others were away at Mass
I was all hers as we peeled potatoes.
They broke the silence, let fall one by one
Like solder weeping off the soldering iron:
Cold comforts set between us, things to share
Gleaming in a bucket of clean water.
And again let fall. Little pleasant splashes
From each other’s work would bring us to our senses.
For me, Seamus Heaney has been the capturer of those glistening moments from the workaday that deserve elevation and crystal remembrance. Here, in this section of “Clearances” (his memorial to his mother), Heaney remembers the simple yet sacrosanct moments the two spent alone together during his childhood. As the oldest of a heap of children, Heaney must have treasured silence, and within its luxury he connects with his mother through likewise quiet work.
In this tribute is the happy ownership mother and son feel for each other (‘I was all hers’) and for the ‘gleaming’ things they shared: shared work, shared (and scant) belongings, shared lessons—equal parts being and becoming. He talks of ‘clearances’ between silence and noise, unknowing and knowing, peel and knife, potato and clean water, life and death, action and still awareness. The poem is a study of traversals.
Any time I think of Heaney, I imagine a narrow sheet of dusty sunlight—his ability to softly transcribe the wicked pinch of being small in the world. Awareness is power for him, and he incants the ancient and important with a wisdom that—like Frost—belies his ‘simplicity.’
With the kind of reverence he lent his mother upon her death, I remember Seamus Heaney.