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.