Seamus Heaney in Community College Summer School


We drowse in the purgatorial
classroom, blinds cranked closed
while YouTube bogs, stuttering
through The Troubles, the Celtic
Tiger, the word “Ulster” snapped
at the teeth. Heaney heaps


four centuries on his New York crowd
as if racing against a tea kettle
squeal for the suits and gowns
who splash laughter at his puns
before resuming a silence
anxiously funereal. Can I blame


my night shift nurses, single dads,
and high school wunderkinds
for their panoply of dozing off,
some with cracked algebra books
for pillows, their faces slatted
from the blinds’ thin light, fierce


as a farrier’s blade? As if on cue
the clip’s recitation freezes
at the appointed time to stream
beyond the screen into the hallway’s
brittle halogens, where phones
chirp with all the private news


my rule delayed. One cell’s ding
could pass for the cretaceous
projector Sister Margaret kept
on her cart, which I wobbled
through the narrow center aisle
of my fourth grade class lethargic


from kickball sprints. My nervous hand
held the Cousteau stills of jellyfish
and coral reefs until the creaking
cassette intoned for me to turn
the shadowed room deeper
into my giddy brownnoser’s dream


of power. Frozen, Heaney’s
eyes hover closed, sunken under
tufty eyebrows. The pixelated
chasm of his mouth holds its line.
Three stories below, the lawn crew
roars their mowers down the quad.

Adam Tavel

Adam Tavel is the author of Plash & Levitation (University of Alaska Press, 2015), winner of the Permafrost Book Prize in Poetry, and The Fawn Abyss (Salmon Poetry, 2016). You can find him online at