Where the flat water
Came pouring over the weir out of Lough Neagh
As if it had reached an edge of the flat earth
And fallen shining to the continuous
Present of the Bann.
Where the checkpoint used to be.
Where the rebel boy was hanged in ’98.
Where negative ions in the open air
Are poetry to me. As once before
The slime and silver of the fattened eel.
Write your own “At…” poem, placing yourself in your own familiar place that, in some ways, has produced the person you are. First, make a list of places you remember, places that hold significance for you. Be specific. Maybe you remember sitting in the back of an old pickup truck in the backyard under a pin oak tree. Maybe you remember a rock that jutted out over a creek and how you drew figures upon it with another rock. Maybe you remember a grandmother’s kitchen table where stories were shared above a chipped gravy bowl and two-day old tea. Just be specific and list as many of these places as you can remember.
Then choose one of these places and write your own poem.
In 2005, I wrote the poem below, which later appeared in the journal Poem. Though I didn’t have Heaney’s poem in mind at the time, I must have tucked away the idea of his poem years earlier. In fact, I'm kind of astonished at the visual similarities of the two poems on the page and feel embarrassed to have written such a visually similiar poem. I only wish I had been more aware that I was doing so when I wrote the poem. Well, truthfully, I have written several “At…” poems over the years: “At Horse Creek,” “At Hampshire Pond,” among others. Countless poems by poets take place "at" some central place, and that choice makes reasonable sense to me. In my own writing life, I find that placing myself in a familiar location usually produces a poem for me, quite simply because place gives rise to details, and details usually give rise to significance. I keep returning to places in my life because of how details keep awakening me to the “being I have and am.”
AT HORSE CREEK
Down there in the cool green
wash of stones, perch and catfish
steering through like whispers—I placed
a hand along the tree-shade shimmerings
slack and wet.
What being I have and am
was mostly born there in that lazy bend,
bent to touch the ever-flow and fading image
of a world that stretches time into a grace
of stillness sliding past, hushed and incorruptible.