by Seamus Heaney (1939-2013)
It's raining on black coal and warm, wet ashes There are tyre-marks in the yard, Agnew's old lorry Has all its cribs down and Agnew the coalman With his Belfast accent's sweet-talking my mother. Would she go to a film in Magherafelt? But it's raining and he still has half his load To deliver farther on. This time the lode Our coal came from was silk-black, so the ashes Will be the silkiest-white. The Magherafelt (Via Toomebridge) bus goes by. The half-stripped lorry With its emptied, folded coal-bags moves my mother: The tasty ways of a leather-aproned coalman! And films no less! The conceit of a coalman... She goes back in and gets out the black lead And emery paper, this nineteen-forties mother, All business round her stove, half-wiping ashes With a backhand from her cheek as the bolted lorry Gets revved and turned and heads for Magherafelt And the last delivery. Oh Magherafelt! Oh, dream of red plush and a city coalman As time fastforwards and a different lorry Groans into shot up Broad Street, with a payload That will blow the bus station to dust and ashes... After that happened, I'd a vision of my mother, A revenant on the bench where I would meet her In that cold-floored waiting-room in Magherafelt, Her shopping bags full up with shovelled ashes. Death walked out past her like a dust-faced coalman Re-folding body-bags, plying his load Empty upon empty, in a flurry Of motes and engine-revs, but which lorry Was it now? Young Agnew's or that other, Heavier, deadly one set to explode In a time beyond her time in Magherafelt... So tally-bags and sweet-talk darkness, coalman. Listen to the rain spit in new ashes As you heft a load of dust that was Magherafelt, Then reappear from your lorry as my mother's Dreamboat coalman filmed in silk-white ashes.