In Memoriam: Seán Ó Riada

Séamus Heaney

Ó Riada’s white head was Easter snow,
the silver knob on a swordstick.
He conducted the Ulster Orchestra
like a drover with an ashplant

herding them south.
I watched him from behind,
springy, formally suited,
a black stiletto trembling in its mark,

a quill flourishing itself.
He had a cornered energy.
He was in the fallow hell,
a snowball that would neither

thaw nor flow.
“How do you work?
Sometimes I just lie out
like ballast in the bottom of the boat

listening to the cuckoo.”
The gunwale’s lifting ear
trusting the gift,
risking gift’s undertow

is unmanned now
but one whole afternoon
it was deep in both our weights.
We sat awkward on the thwarts,

taking turns to cast or row
until mackerel shoaled from under
like a
conjured retinue.
He had the spezzatura,

more falconer than fisherman, I’d say,
unhooding a skeptic eye
to greet the mackerel’s barred cold.
To pry whatever the cuckoo called.