For Seamus Heaney

Through the Back Door

We’ve all had our moments.
You, my dignified master,
left off singing a moment and ran
past the thunderfaced custodian of Apollo
who imagined she could stop you
with nothing but a look
and the tag-end of a velvet rope.

I picture you white-haired, straight-backed,
hurtling those stairs to dive snout-first
into that water, to drown,
in the sweetness of dedication,
all those whose hubris is great enough
to imagine they could bottle-up God.
I picture you snorting and blowing, horse-like,
mouthing the promise as it is fulfilled.

I see your eyes cast wide and gleaming
as mine were six years ago,
when five minutes after I bribed
the sleek Vatican guard with twenty euros
and the promise of my travel-rank company
for at least two meals, he hid me
in a Medici-era broom-closet, whose floor
was edged with serpentine marble.

I crouched among the dusty brooms,
the rags which smell the same everywhere,
of lemon and rot, waiting till the building
had sloughed museum-husk and returned to church.
I crouched in a red silk long-sleeved smock,
corduroy trousers, Birkenstocks, my long braid
and the funk of a week without showering.
He led me to the altar and left me to make my vow.

Michelangelo soared above my head,
a sonnet about the Castilian Springs
beat its rhythm through my veins.
I touched my greased forehead
to the embroidered space beneath the cross.

Twenty minutes after to sprawl on the tiles,
a floor so warped it’s cool waves rose
to meet the small of my back, a treasure
straight above my head that I yearned to match
and was ready to struggle for.

The willingness to follow traditional forms
is prerequisite to poetry. The need
to reach that moment of sweetness,
to cross every barrier, no matter the cost,
including the formal, is the necessary blood.
Now that we have drunk from the same fountain,
let us both sing some songs about that.


About Bethany W Pope

Bethany W Pope was named by the Huffington Post as ‘one of the five Expat poets to watch in 2016’. Nicholas Lezard, writing for The Guardian, described her latest collection as 'poetry as salvation'.....'This harrowing collection drawn from a youth spent in an orphanage delights in language as a place of private escape.' Bethany has won many literary awards and published several collections of poetry. Her first novel, Masque, was published by Seren in 2016. Her second novel, Ordinary Lives: The Ballad of John and Mary, was published in 2018. Follow her on Twitter @BethanyWPope

Posted on December 15, 2012, in Uncategorized. Bookmark the permalink. Leave a comment.

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