Listening to Seamus Heaney Read His Translation of Beowulf While at the Gym on the Elliptical Machine Quite Early on a Monday Morning

~ by Helen Wickes

The badass dragon’s done for, collapsed, out of form,
out of life, a grand deflation. The tatted homey next over,
huge headphones, loud on his cell; I evil-eye him; he desists.

Our hero is languishing, our old man
who’s taken on the ravisher of life, hoarder of treasure.

(Note to self: Breathe, buy milk, pay bills, and heart rate’s
way too high. Note to self: chick on next machine
hurling sweat, coughs a frenzy; best avoid her.)

I’m the dragon, hoarding bright moments,
sharp words, glints of treasure, all for memory.

Beowulf at life’s end, breath’s end, beside his fiercest foe,
summoning the last words of solace, designing funeral rites,
his heritage, what’s carried forward.

The Wednesday couple toddle in, fatter than—now words
fail me—anyhow, they give the machines a workout.

All that gold—what’s a dragon
want with gold, to bury it deep in earth, to take so many lives?

Old guy removes his shoes, weighs his scrawny body
as usual, sighs and works the daylights from the bike.

Still a dragon, here I go, stealing texture, faceting the edges,
turning it around in the light, hoarding all for later.

And Seamus Heaney’s voice, calling me back to sound.
As day begins again I enter the chapel of his voice.



Electrical Tidings


That summer my main accomplishment
was not breathing. I’d catch myself
working, cooking, not breathing; who knows where

the breath went—neither held, nor dispersed—it wasn’t
within me. I lived in an airless world,
scolding myself to suck in some gulps

of air, during that summer a few loved people
hadn’t been dead so long that I didn’t think about them
every day, but gone long enough to talk to them
about the stupid things people did, or about

what I wrote, or regretted, and they, by then, telling me
what they missed most from the world. This was also
the summer that the next-door ladies

put collars on Harold and Ida to lightly shock
their hearing when they barked—and these dogs barked
at nothing, all day, always at nothing—
and here’s the thing: when Harold and Ida barked,
the electrical ringing went off in my head—really—
the sound happened in my skull, a high-wired noise,
intense, subtle, and piercing; I couldn’t

escape, and though I could leave home, the noise
would be there, tapping its toes, waiting
to get going again, in my brain, in my breath,
as if it too, owned my life that summer.