seamus heaney | digging

26 05 2012

POETRY DISPATCH #374 | May 26, 2012



Between my finger and my thumb
The squat pen rests; snug as a gun.

Under my window, a clean rasping sound
When the spade sinks into gravelly ground:
My father, digging. I look down

Till his straining rump among the flowerbeds
Bends low, comes up twenty years away
Stooping in rhythm through potato drills
Where he was digging.

The coarse boot nestled on the lug, the shaft
Against the inside knee was levered firmly.
He rooted out tall tops, buried the bright edge deep
To scatter new potatoes that we picked,
Loving their cool hardness in our hands.

By God, the old man could handle a spade.
Just like his old man.

My grandfather cut more turf in a day
Than any other man on Toner’s bog.
Once I carried him milk in a bottle
Corked sloppily with paper. He straightened up
To drink it, then fell to right away
Nicking and slicing neatly, heaving sods
Over his shoulder, going down and down
For the good turf. Digging.

The cold smell of potato mould, the squelch and slap
Of soggy peat, the curt cuts of an edge
Through living roots awaken in my head.
But I’ve no spade to follow men like them.

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

[from: OPEN GROUND: Selected Poems 1966-1996]

mother’s day poems | charlie rossitter, ralph murre, donna balfe

13 05 2012

Painting by Mary Cassatt

POETRY DISPATCH No. 373 | May 13, 2012

Mother’s Day Poems

Charlie Rossiter, Ralph Murre, Donna Balfe

my mother, my mountain

standing on you
eyes fixed on far horizons
how could I know
back then
you were there

Charlie Rossiter

it was tricky
the way she loved us
since yardsticks
were routinely
over our backsides

Ralph Murre


You stand between me and the sun,
A gorgeous cloud that casts a chill shadow.
Soon you will be gone.
Wind whipping you into white feathers
The sky swept clean.

I am rock, not water
And do not give way to winds.
But hold fast
Waiting to be drenched
In the milky light of morning.

Donna Balfe

EDITOR’S NOTE: Thanks to everyone for the Mother’s Day poetry that was submitted. Once again both judges were entirely in agreement (almost) as to three favorite poems, as we sifted through all the work (names removed), Both of us picked two of the favorite poems featured above, while the last of the three favorites was the toughest choice, selected from a group of at least four other poems which were equally good, all in the running. Yet…

We weighed again all the factors mentioned in the invitation/description of what constituted a good poem. Finally it came down to the nuts and bolts and spirit of language and words and movement and image–what any poem should attempt to express/suggest in capturing the feeling of the experience.

Once again, many of the poems need just a little fine tuning to find acceptance in online or print publication elsewhere. Others need to be re-thought entirely Work with them.

The only order to the poems printed above is that of a timeline: the order in which they arrived in my computer.

I take a good deal of the blame that some of these poems weren’t better. That too many of them were too close to, if not entirely, narrative prose. That I may have led too many poets astray by the harsh but REAL examples I selected…suggesting, alas, either a verbose vernacular or “I hate my mother” poetry absent a real touch. Not that anger, hate, resentment, etc. aren’t perfectly acceptable subject matter for Mom but—let there be some sense of music to the lines, the language you employ. I wish now I had featured as an example at least one ‘gentler’ poem that was not Hallmark sentimental, yet captured an honest sense of mother. Something perhaps like this: —Norbert Blei

In Memoriam M.K.H. (1911-1984)
by Seamus Heaney

When all the others were away at Mass
I was all hers as we peeled potatoes.
They broke the silence, let fall one by one
Like solder weeping off the soldering iron:
Cold comforts set between us, things to share
Gleaming in a bucket of clean water.
And again let fall. Little pleasant splashes
From each other’s work would bring us to our senses.

So while the parish priest at her bedside
Went hammer and tongs at the prayers for the dying
And some were responding and some crying
I remembered her head bent towards my head,
Her breath in mine, our fluent dipping knives—
Never closer the whole rest of our lives.