For years I read that text — Like a foul-mouthed god of hemp come down to rut — as I brushed my teeth and dried my hair, the paper becoming moisture-splotched and yellowed as the years ebbed forward. I never truly committed it to memory, one of my failings as a poet, I suppose. There are few poems I can recite by heart, and this, of all poems, should really be the one; neither for any kind of universal truth nor for beauty of language (although these are both present), but because I looked at it every day, year upon year.
In the ensuing decades, past Mark's death in 2003 and beyond, it was removed and relegated, I'm guessing, to some pile, and subsequently put in some box or another. Because who could dispose of such a bare-bones piece of evidence of the consumate Irish poet as well as my poetry-loving husband who, without hesitation and minus adornment (because it needed none!), stuck the poem to our bathroom wall?
In all honesty, I've not given it any thought since I removed it from its hallowed sheetrock. That is, until today, when I read that Seamus Heaney was dead at age 74, and suddenly, tonight, after a long work-week and in anticipation of my one-week vacation commencing Sunday, I let down all my emotional barricades, and wept for the elegant Irish poet who by all rights should have thrived until a much later age, and for my half-Irish husband who went to his death with the unrealized desire to visit Ireland.
And where is this poem, The Fair Hill? Most of my poetry collections are still boxed from my move back to B-Street in 2011. The only way to access the poem online is to purchase a digital subscription to The New Yorker. Instead I'm left with only the essence of what hung in steam and the many acts of human ministration that took place in the bathroom: the showers, the baths, the tooth-brushing, the hand-washing. And then the even-more humbling instances of being alive: the attending to a sick child, the shower set to hot-steaming to soothe a persistent cough, the rinsing of gaps left in the jaw post-extraction. Seamus Heaney was present for every one of these, a torn page from a magazine, a Nobel Prize-winning poet alive and present in the most private and essential habits of my family.
More than anything, I wish Mark were here right now so we could each raise a pint of Guinness to the master of verse who presided over my make-up applications for many years. If Mark were here, we'd take turns reading Heaney's poetry aloud. We might stand out on the balcony together — he died before it was completed — and shout the lines of The Fair Hill out into the August night, into the dark and past midnight, beneath this sliver of moon that could, just possibly, resemble a potato slice.
So here's to you, Seamus Heaney.
May you and Mark clink your pint glasses in heaven, or wherever it is that poets and lovers-of-poetry land after your exit from this world of torn paper pinned to bathroom walls.