Matthew Thorburn: “Heaney’s Voice”


—for Phyllis Thorburn

I heard him first in London
on a cassette (this was 1996) I found
in a bookstore near the National

Portrait Gallery, where I’d gone
like a pilgrim to find him
not currently on exhibit (I asked

why not) though they had his books
in the gift shop and his portrait
on a postcard. I still have it.

That’s how I came to hear him
standing on the pavement on a rainy
afternoon and for weeks after

in my headphones on buses, trains,
all the way to Ireland, and how
I hear him still: full-throated,

large-hearted, articulating his clear
insistent music of mud and saints,
rain sticks, bog cutters, rivers

and birds, pens, guns, the lived with
as much as the wished for,
and all in that unmistakable voice

that made me feel at home there,
in place there, when—scared as I was—
I’d never been farther from it.

Matthew Thorburn‘s latest book is The Grace of Distance (Louisiana State University Press, 2019), a finalist for the Paterson Poetry Prize. His previous book, Dear Almost (Louisiana State University Press, 2016), won the Lascaux Prize. He has new poems appearing or forthcoming in Conduit, Hotel Amerika, Southern Review, and The Best American Poetry 2020.

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