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Lives

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(for Seamus Heaney)

First time out
I was a torc of gold
And wept tears of the sun.
 
That was fun
But they buried me
In the earth two thousand years
 
Till a labourer
Turned me up with a pick
In eighteen fifty-four.
 
Once I was an oar
But stuck in the shore
To mark the place of a grave
 
When the lost ship
Sailed away. I thought
Of Ithaca, but soon decayed.
 
The time that I liked
Best was when
I was a bump of clay
 
In a Navaho rug,
Put there to mitigate
The too god-like
 
Perfection of that
Merely human artifact.
I served my maker well —
 
He lived long
To be struck down in
Denver by an electric shock
 
The night the lights
Went out in Europe
Never to shine again.
 
So many lives,
So many things to remember!
I was a stone in Tibet,
 
A tongue of bark
At the heart of Africa
Growing darker and darker . . . 
 
It all seems
A little unreal now,
Now that I am
 
An anthropologist
With my own
Credit card, dictaphone,
 
Army-surplus boots
And a whole boatload
Of photographic equipment.
 
I know too much
To be anything any more;
And if in the distant
 
Future someone
Thinks he has once been me
As I am today,
 
Let him revise
His insolent ontology
Or teach himself to pray.
 

Derek Mahon, "Lives" from New Collected Poems .  Copyright © 2011 by Derek Mahon.  Reprinted by permission of The Gallery Press.
Source: New Collected Poems (The Gallery Press, 2011)
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Lives

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