The Little Review (littlereview) wrote,
The Little Review

Poem for Sunday

By Seamus Heaney

Between my finger and my thumb
The squat pen rests; as 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 could 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, digging down and down
For the good turf. Digging.

The cold smell of potato mold, 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.


"'Digging' starts off tracing the poet's break from his sod-cutting father in Northern Ireland," writes Mary Karr in Poet's Choice in The Washington Post Book World. "The pen he holds as a gun in the opening lines suggests Heaney is a kind of stickup man at first, taking aim at his father for doing undignified work, which Heaney must 'look down' on. And though digging makes 'a clean rasping sound,' the old man is a comic, almost feminized figure, 'his straining rump among the flowerbeds' 'living roots awaken in my head,' the memory of that work sends green shoots into the pen he holds. For this reader (bred herself to plod behind a plow), seeing the two jobs conflate is poetic alchemy."

Daniel took the S.A.T. this morning! I have no idea how he got old enough for that to happen. Adam volunteered at Hebrew school in his place, and they both came home in reasonably good moods, so I hope that means things went well. In the afternoon, we went to Ellicott City because it was the last day to see the Holiday Festival of Trains at the B&O Railroad Museum (which we had also never visited, and was admitting Maryland Zoo members free). The train displays were fantastic -- I was expecting setups like the ones at Fairfax Station or Brunswick, but there were two massive exhibits portraying the Baltimore-Ellicott City train stations at different points in history, and several other model train displays, plus the surviving main depot, freight house, and a caboose at this oldest surviving railroad station in the U.S. And the town itself is wonderful -- dozens of antique and collectible shops, tea houses, bakeries, toy stores, and restaurants, many in historic buildings slanting down a hill where bedrock breaks through between the houses and a stream requires many bridges, some with buildings right over them. Plus they have their own Shakespeare company!

Behind the B&O Railroad Museum, a view of the old track, replica horse-drawn passenger rail car Pioneer, and a bit of the town of Ellicott City.

This is one of the holiday train displays, housed in the telegraph and ticket office of this onetime B&O Railroad station.

Paul's grandfather worked on the Erie Lackawanna line, so we always notice model trains with cars representing it.

In the background of the model train above, you can see some of the examples of much older model trains kept in cases, like these 1915 toys.

Downstairs, the freight agent's living quarters are also decorated for the holidays. Originally a holding area for cargo, the lower level was converted in the 1840s, though it still has low, wide doorways to allow large barrels to pass through.

The museum has several living historians such as this one to explain what life was like on the railroad and in the town 150 years ago.

This enormous HO-gauge model in the freight house shows Baltimore's train yards, including the roundhouse that is now the main building of Baltimore's B&O Railroad Museum.

And we were lucky enough to have a train rumble through on the newer tracks behind the station while we were inside the freight house.

After stopping in several of the stores (tea shop, fairy emporium, handmade chocolates), we came home for dinner only to find that the chicken had not thawed, so we went out to California Tortilla using the coupons they gave out in honor of Inauguration Day, which we weren't here to receive but the lovely woman who runs their Twitter account generously gave us anyway. It's been a really great week for me on Twitter -- and Blogger too, since I got notes from both Wolfgang's Candy and Utz thanking me for my posts about their factory tours. In the evening we watched Crusoe, which is my current favorite TV show, and I am very happy that we're going to get at least some explanation of what Blackthorn is up to and why before NBC yanks it off the air. I'm not sure what Olivia is up to, but she can't possibly treat Susannah worse than she was being treated in the madhouse, and I'm pretty sure that was St. Mary's Abbey in York where she took her (Paul thought it was Whitby, but in either case we've been there).

I'm still puzzled why Susannah's brother is putting up with the way she and her children are being treated -- if Blackthorn plans to marry someone else and produce his own heirs, he won't be sharing with Susannah's brother, and if he's going to adopt his second-generation illegitimate grand-nephew and raise him as his own, why terrorize the children? Would he really have been out of the succession anyway given such messy circumstances for Robinson's birth? It's interesting that Blackthorn refuses to disguise his aristocratic contempt for Friday, who is of course angry at being treated as a savage, but also seems jealous that his best friend has another best friend on their private island. And it's irksome that Robinson is so busy trying to impress Jeremiah that he doesn't always give Friday credit where it's due. And it's annoying that we have to wait a week for a resolution!

We ended the evening watching a bunch of episodes of Arrested Development that had us screeching in amusement...Tobias playing Mrs. Doubtfire, and Will Arnett's Gob trying to divorce Amy Poehler' we ever find out her name?

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