Lantern Light: In Memory of Seamus Heaney

…Each one seeded full with the light
Of the sky, the gleam of the lines…

It’s probable my western people came
To traverse the diagonal of Clare to Toome
And visit your decaying troubles north,

Though nothing came across as fact but blood –
Our shared veins, yours being born into it all
The same year my father was, oceans apart,

Born into immigrant declinations,
And I, the same year as your second volume,
Would touch my head, my heart and shoulder blades

To Protestant peace for Roman Catholic ease.
My student years leaned fast away from light;
But when the light came on and shone for good

I came upon your hoard – hard as Beowulf
At finding the fire-lick of dragon’s teeth –
All bound between two papered covers, gift

And warning, given at Christmas from a friend
Whose family sat through most of Pinochet’s
Disappearing act: “Write like him; words endure.”

Between the words I read, the worm would squeeze
Its golden castings. Glimmering smoke in peat
Would shed a dim munificence of words

That figured more than I could count, and tugged
At rugged terrain like hooks that tangle hanks
Of line and grab the stoutest trout by the gill.

Herein, smoked and hung to dry, I soon learned
The government of the tongue, the parliament
Of eye and ear that rise like mist or fog

Above the fields, working grammar’s mercy
With poetic justice. Piss kerplunks
The rust-frailed bottom of a tin bucket

And bog water ripens the haw. Lantern
And electric light can have us seeing things,
Some different by nature, some by want of art –

And so, to be safe, in chthonic rhythms
You dug a bit deeper, giving ink-black soil
A natural death, and dark doors a way out

From winter’s complacency. Turning on
The radio, I scanned through static’s district
And circled around again to other

Stations – channeled like a late-night lorry
Being checkpointed into a “quare” station.
I landed on stony sorrow’s own island.

Though early morning, I was now hard awake.
Your death was being read in short facts.
Before the sign-off, their words allowed yours,

And your thick-pelted voice began to sing
Once more through the wireless, the distance
Being slane-cut one final lasting time:

When we climbed the slopes of the cutting
We were eye-level with the white cups
Of the telegraph poles and the sizzling wires.

Amid the usual dire news of war,
Politics’ darkening spirit, leveling fires
Across the country from Yosemite’s

Most recent, reticular conflagrations
To somber sanctuary lamps that hush
With scent of paraffin and crimson cast,

Your voice remembered, retained, redressed with truth
What seemed a link between the latest hour
And matters which reach to a place more human,

Chaining us to your words as to things to come.


  1. Angelico Nguyen, Esq., OP says

    Autobiobituary. Very strong.

  2. That, my friend, is the Word of the Year.

    Love it.


    • Angelico Nguyen, Esq., OP says


      On the strength of this poem, I’d say the ‘autobiobit’ just might deserve to be a genre.

  3. Matthew Lickona says

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