As a somnolent hymn to Mary rose
I felt an old pang that bags of grain
and the sloped shafts of forks and hoes
once mocked me with, at my own long virgin Fasts and thirsts, my nightly shadow feasts
Haunting the granaries of words like breasts.
I sense the old fear more clearly now than then, perhaps. Heaney is on an ancient pilgrimage route, which is reassuring: why would he want a pilgrimage if he did not respect it? Yet this simile
like an absence stationed in the swamp-fed air
above a ring of walked-down grass and rushes
where we once found the bad carcass and scrags of hair
of our dog that had disappeared weeks before
is the absence felt in the church, under the kneeling boards. I reassure myself that this absence is only in the utterly corrupt Irish Catholic “church”- or even the absence is the still point in the turning world.
What if he should convince me? And- I want to understand him, know his position, which must involve interpreting and categorising this.
A footnote explains that William Carleton converted in the early 19th century from Catholicism to the Church of Ireland- still “my lot” though I know that Erastianism is a crippling flaw in a church. “Traditore! Traditore! Traditore!” To join the church of the overlords- I judge, and sympathise. Another footnote explains lines are quoted from the Inferno, where Dante is assured of the care of Beatrice. And then we meet the murdered man. His brow was blown open above the eye and blood had dried on his neck and cheek… shites thinking they were the be-all and the end-all came to his shop in the night, banged on the door, and when he answered it shot him.
“Forgive the way I have lived indifferent-
forgive my timid, circumspect involvement,”
I surprised myself by saying. “Forgive,
my eye, he said, “all that’s above my head.”
Out into the afternoon sunshine. Will that huge mass of black cloud rain on me before I get back home? The wind is so strong I fear it will blow the wig from my head, which would matter on the bridge over the river. I nearly step on a khaki snake as it darts into the undergrowth, its fear and shock greater than mine. The profusion of blackberries is so great that I can still cherry-pick the softest and most luscious, and be satisfied.
I might forgive my sensitivity. It is almost bearable.