(In memory of Kenneth Koch) You died the day I was driving to Carrigskeewaun (A remote townland in County Mayo, I explain, Meaning, so far as I know, The Rock of the Wall Fern) And although it was the wettest Irish year I got the car Across the river and through the tide with groceries And laundry for my fortnight among the waterbirds. If I'd known you were dying, Kenneth, I'd have packed Into cardboard boxes all your plays and poems as well And added to curlew and lapwing anxiety-calls The lyric intensity of your New York Jewish laughter. You would have loved the sandy drive over the duach ("The what?"), over the machair ("the what?"), the drive Through the white gateposts and the galvanised gate Tied with red string, the starlings' sleeping quarters, The drive towards turf-fired hilarity and disbelief, "Where are all those otters, Longley, and all those hares? I see only sparrows here and house sparrows at that!" You are so tall and skinny I shall conscript a heron To watch over you on hang-glider wings, old soldier, An ashy heron, ardea cinerea, I remind you (A pedant neither smallminded nor halfhearted): "And cinerarius?": a slave who heats the iron tongs In hot ashes for the hair-dresser, a hair-curler Who will look after every hair on your curly head. That afternoon was your night-season. I didn't know. I didn't know that you were "poured out like water And all your bones were out of joint". I didn't know. Tuck your head in like a heron and trail behind you Your long legs, take to the air above a townland That encloses Carrigskeewaun and Central Park.
From Collected Poems by Michael Longley. Copyright © 2007 by Michael Longley. Used by permission of Wake Forest University Press.
Michael Longley is an Irish poet, and author of eleven collections of poetry, most recently Angel Hill (Wake Forest University Press, 2017).
Date Published: 2007-01-01
Source URL: https://poets.org/poem/heron