Seamus Heaney, 1939-2013

The Open Bar

We at Tin House morn the loss of the great poet, Seamus Heaney, but also want to take a moment to celebrate his spirit and work. I can’t tell you, my brothers and sisters, how many times I have turned to Heaney’s poems in moments of loss and love. Every time I visit the Oregon Coast, I bring Heaney with me.
Join us today in saying hello and goodbye to this poet’s spirit by reading his work out loud. Share it with a friend. Let the world know this: Seamus Heaney was here and meant so much, that poetry grew and was illuminated because of him. -Matthew Dickman


To Mick Joyce in Heaven 

Kit-bag to tool-bag,
Warshirt to workshirt—
Out of your element
Among farmer in-laws,
The way you tied sheaves
The talk of the country,
But out on your own
When skylined on scaffolds—
A demobbed Achilles
Who was never a killer,
The strongest instead
Of the world’s stretcher-bearers,
Turning your hand
To the bricklaying trade.

Prince of the sandpiles,
Hod-hoplite commander
Watching the wall,
Plumbing and pointing
From pegged-out foundation
To first course to cornice,
Keeping an eye
On the eye in the level
Before the cement set:
Medical orderly,
Bedpanner, bandager
Transferred to the home front,
Rising and shining
In brass-buttoned drab.

You spoke of “the forces.”
Had served in the desert,
Been strafed and been saved
By courses of blankets
Fresh-folded and piled
Like bales on a field.
No sandbags that time.
A softness preserved you.
You spoke of sex also,
Talked man to man,
Took me for granted:
The English, you said,
Would do it on Sundays
Upstairs, in the daytime.

The weight of the trowel,
That’s what surprised me.
You’d life its lozenge-shaped
Blade in the air
To sever a brick
In a flash, and then twirl it
Fondly and lightly.
But whenever you sent me
To wash it and dry it
And you had your smoke,
Its iron was heavy,
Its sloped-angle handle
So thick-spanned and daunting
I needed two hands.

“To Mick Joyce in Heaven”—
The title just came to me,
Mick, and I started
If not quite from nowhere,
Then somewhere far off:
A bedroom, bright morning,
A man and a woman,
Their backs to the bedhead
And me at the foot.
It was your first leave,
A stranger arrived
In a house with no upstairs,
But heaven enough
To be going on with.