In the Attic by Seamus Heaney

In the Attic

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 shoals—
And when they’ve passed, the face of Israel Hands

That rose in the shrouds before Jim shot him dead
Appears to rise again . . . “But he was dead enough,”
The story says, “being both shot and drowned.”

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 crow’s nest of a life,
Airbrushed to and fro, wind-drunk, braced

By all that’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 matinée,

His voice awaver like the draft-prone screen
They’d set up in the Club Rooms earlier.
“And Isaac Hands,” he asks, “was Isaac in it?”

His memory of the name awaver, too,
His mistake perpetual, once and for all,
Like the single splash when Israel’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 boy’s first time on the rigging,
As the memorable bottoms out
Into the irretrievable,

It’s not that I can’t imagine still
That slight untoward rupture and world-tilt
As a wind freshened and the anchor weighed.

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