Kathryn Neel’s latest Eating and Drinking Poems post invites us to kick back on the porch of a Florida restaurant that backs up to a lagoon and ponder the Pleiades. As you read Seamus Heaney‘s poem “Oysters, ” perhaps you, too, will start to feel the pull of the tides in each salty bite.
Like all creatures in Mosquito Lagoon, oysters live at the mercy of the tides. Tides control everything from seasons and fishing, to moods and mating.
A favorite eatery situated on water’s edge is JB’s Fish Camp, which harvests oysters fresh from the lagoon. When I sit on the porch at JB’s drinking with good friends and enjoying a plate of oysters, I can taste “the salty Pleiades, ” as Seamus Heaney writes in the poem below. Many nights, I have eaten the day deliberately, as the night stars wheeled overhead; and as I’ve leaned back and toasted friendship, I know that the oysters still hidden in the estuary sleep and dream of Orion, awaiting the next ebb of the tide.
Our shells clacked on the plates.
My tongue was a filling estuary,
My palate hung with starlight:
As I tasted the salty Pleiades
Orion dipped his foot into the water.
Alive and violated,
They lay on their beds of ice:
Bivalves: the split bulb
And philandering sigh of ocean.
Millions of them ripped and shucked and scattered.
We had driven to that coast
Through flowers and limestone
And there we were, toasting friendship,
Laying down a perfect memory
In the cool of thatch and crockery.
Over the Alps, packed deep in hay and snow,
The Romans hauled their oysters south to Rome:
I saw damp panniers disgorge
The frond-lipped, brine-stung
Glut of privilege
And was angry that my trust could not repose
In the clear light, like poetry or freedom
Leaning in from sea. I ate the day
Deliberately, that its tang
Might quicken me all into verb, pure verb.
– Seamus Heaney
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“Delicate, suggestive, clever.” —Carl Sharpe, editor ofVerseWrights
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