In the Attic by Seamus Heaney
Like Jim Hawkins aloft in the crosstrees
Of Hispaniola, nothing underneath him
But still green water and clean bottom sand,
The ship aground, the canted mast far out
Above a seafloor where striped fish pass in shoalsâ€”
And when theyâ€™ve passed, the face of Israel Hands
That rose in the shrouds before Jim shot him dead
Appears to rise again . . . â€œBut he was dead enough,â€
The story says, â€œbeing both shot and drowned.â€
A birch tree planted twenty years ago
Comes between the Irish Sea and me
At the attic skylight, a man marooned
In his own loft, a boy
Shipshaped in the crowâ€™s nest of a life,
Airbrushed to and fro, wind-drunk, braced
By all thatâ€™s thrumming up from keel to masthead,
Rubbing his eyes to believe them and this most
Buoyant, billowy, topgallant birch.
Ghost-footing what was then the terra firma
Of hallway linoleum, Grandfather now appears
Above me just back from the matinÃ©e,
His voice awaver like the draft-prone screen
Theyâ€™d set up in the Club Rooms earlier.
â€œAnd Isaac Hands,â€ he asks, â€œwas Isaac in it?â€
His memory of the name awaver, too,
His mistake perpetual, once and for all,
Like the single splash when Israelâ€™s body fell.
As I age and blank on names,
As my uncertainty on stairs
Is more and more the light-headedness
Of a cabin boyâ€™s first time on the rigging,
As the memorable bottoms out
Into the irretrievable,
Itâ€™s not that I canâ€™t imagine still
That slight untoward rupture and world-tilt
As a wind freshened and the anchor weighed.
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