Tuesday, September 24, 2013

Digging in the garden after dark by Pat White

for Seamus Heaney

this morning the blade bites clean
through soil turning up, on the way
worms, spiders and a surfeit of others
at work in the everlasting dark

the news is it is your turn to spend
some time with them, nothing is ended
changing places perhaps, but ritual
recognises impact on those left behind

bespectacled vultures might pick over
the life’s efforts, determine what’s
worth keeping according to the canon,
they lack access to secret conversations

the way your word entered the heart
of the matter, those books taken off
shelves the last few days, good grief
able to remind any of us, how whispering

remnants of your digging for lines, has
somehow entered as a knife would
clean, deep and permanent, parting
resistance between the shoulders

to enter the body somewhere
between truth and aspiration, to say
again with all the precision of hope
that liturgy for the fearful heart

be not afraid, don’t be afraid


posted with permission from the poet 
Editor: Mary McCallum

After Seamus Heaney died last month, after all the quotes from his poems on Facebook - some I'd never read before - others I had, after cradling that last book of his - baby heavy in its cream cover, after thinking of the Beowulf, after listening to my poet friends tell me how much they loved Heaney and realising he was a secret I hadn't shared, after the shock of the thought of a poet gone who one day I thought I'd hear read - talk to perhaps, after all of that, I received an email from my author friend Pat White - whose book on writer Peter Hooper I am to publish soon.

I didn't notice the subject line for Pat's email. Instead, I opened it, and all it said was this:
Pat White

One of my mainstays really

hope the day goes well for you

I glanced down, and there was a poem attached. So I downloaded it, read its quietness and digging and earth and worms, and liked the way it was like Pat talking. He is after all a man of the soil - a farmer once on New Zealand's West Coast who now grows olives in the Wairarapa, has worked in libraries and bookshops, painted pictures and published poems and written an excellent book called How the Land Lies: of longing and belonging (VUP) in 2010. 

The land, you see. Pat knows about that. And we've dug a garden, once, him and I when he was writer in residence at Randell Cottage in Wellington. We planted potatoes (I think) and other useful things. Then, after thinking about Pat and his poetry and the Wairarapa soil and the pleasures of digging in the dark, I read the subject line of the email: 'Seamus Heaney'. Realised then Pat wasn't just writing about himself here, but  about that singular Irish poet, and how that poet had shown him how to dig - not earth, but wormy words.

The digging in Seamus' poems always felt like real digging, a splitting and turning back of the earth in all its damp, wormy shininess, and there was awe for the dark health there and the shine on the spade, and an innocence, too, about what to look for and how long to look at it, and when to start work on the words to tuck it down and make it something. Seamus Heaney worked at poetry for roughly half a century. May he rest in peace, and thanks, Pat, for the poem.

Between my finger and my thumb
The squat pen rests.
I’ll dig with it.

From Digging by Seamus Heaney

When you've listened to Seamus and read Pat, look to the Tuesday Poem sidebar where 30 poets reside, posting poems by themselves and others they admire every Tuesday.

 This week's editor, Mary McCallum, has published writing which includes poetry, a novel The Blue, and (soon) a children's novel with Gecko Press. She also teaches creative writing and owns a small press called Makaro. She lives in Eastbourne, New Zealand. 


Jennifer Compton said...

yeah, sad

Gerry Snape said...

wonderful post...both poems very moving

maggie@at-the-bay.com said...

Very nice - I can hear Pat's voice and he and Seamus work well together. A lovely link.

Helen McKinlay said...

I have so enjoyed this post Mary and Pat. It brings an optimism to the act of digging...washes the mud off the usual dreary images digging gives of potato famines and burying the dead...the dark underbelly of life becomes something essential the joining forces with the worms a rejuvenation.
love these last lines

'clean, deep and permanent, parting
resistance between the shoulders

to enter the body somewhere
between truth and aspiration, to say
again with all the precision of hope
that liturgy for the fearful heart

be not afraid, don’t be afraid'

and listening to Seamus just added to the whole presentation. Thank you both!

Ben Hur said...

Thanks for posting this, Mary. A beautiful tribute beautifully written. And the video of Seamus Heaney is an added bonus.