Anything Can Happen
By Andrew Lazo
Anything can happen. You know how Jupiter
Will mostly wait for clouds to gather head
Before he hurls the lightning? Well, just now
He galloped his thunder cart and his horses
Across a clear blue sky. It shook the earth
And the clogged underearth, the River Styx,
The winding streams, the Atlantic shore itself.
Anything can happen, the tallest towers
Be overturned, those in high places daunted,
Those overlooked regarded. Stropped-beak Fortune
Swoops, making the air gasp, tearing the crest off one,
Setting it down bleeding on the next.
Ground gives. The heaven’s weight
Lifts up off Atlas like a kettle-lid.
Capstones shift, nothing resettles right.
Telluric ash and fire-spores boil away.
Seamus Heaney’s right—anything can happen. In this poem, Heaney translates Horace’s ode I. 34. Horace wrote about of how belief in God coming to him per purum, out of a clear blue sky. He wasn’t ready for it and then, boom! he heard thunder. Horace discovered that his lazy unbelief might warrant a second and third look, especially if Jupiter, the god of thunder and lightning, was going to announce himself so inconveniently.
As I sat a dozen years ago watching over and again airplanes flying into buildings per purum, out of a clear blue sky, one main thought occurred. I wondered then what art would come of this unexpected tragedy hurling at us from the sky, shattering our security. And a few years later, Seamus Heaney offered an answer. He took Horace’s Ode I. 34, added a verse, and left it for us. It gave me a kind of key.
I don’t know why Heaney’s death has caught me up so short. Even now it wells my eyes with tears to think of it. I haven’t even read enough of his poetry, and yet the news of his death crashed into me and has left me at such a jagged loss even to explain how and why it hurts so badly. The only thing I keep thinking about is that we need Heaney himself to tell us how to handle his death. And now he’s gone.
Reflecting on the loss, not only am I surprised by how much it stings, but I also wonder why I so little expected it. Most of those who have written the books or poems or music, or who have made pictures or paintings or the movies I love will pass away before me. I certainly could have seen this coming. And I too likely have more days behind me than before. And Heaney’s death soon joined up in my mind with the anniversary of my mother’s passing, this month too. I guess that September now serves as a momento mori for me.
I said that Heaney’s poem gives me a kind of key. On September 11th, I taught this poem to my students. It also comes as a shock I should have expected to find that, for these freshmen in high school, 9/11 and the Peloponnesian War occupy roughly the same time period to them: that of the unremembered past. They cannot recall that it was the first day in Houston that the humidity had dropped. They don’t remember the comfort food we ate and the way we stumbled, stunned, until we found that voice or routine that reset our world again, even though “nothing resettles right.”
They don’t know—of course they can’t. But they do know about their own tallest towers overturning. As I read the poem, tears catching in my throat, many of them seemed to understand the sense of the lids lifting, of a crest torn off one to be set down bleeding on another. Even at their young age, in several of them I saw that faraway look that comes from having experienced some of the deep ways that darkness can seep under our doors.
And so I stood before them and spoke of Heaney, and almost cried. And I choked my way through the line about the “tallest towers” and, again, almost cried. But that’s not all.
For then I told them about how poetry offers to us a kind of vocabulary of the soul. I spoke of that key, unlocking the profound places in the heart that sometimes only a fragment of language can open up and, when the timing is right, begin to explain.
They don’t believe me, of course. I’ve only read them a couple pomes, and haven’t yet invited them to press their ears against the hive. But I’ve done this often enough to know that they will find something in scraps of words curiously assembled that can open up the double-bolted doors inside their hearts. My poetry will jam their machines before I’ve done with them. And then I ended the poetry time speaking of resurrection, of joy in the morning though weeping lasteth the night.
I believe that some days more than others, but somehow I know it every night. When it grows darkest in my room, and I get tired enough to let the defenses down, that’s when steadfast love, without fail, stands in my room, even sings over me. Its song almost never makes sense, but it always wraps me around and I know. And this is how I talk to God, and how He talks to me, sometimes.
And as I muse of all these things, Heaney again shines light to help. “Don’t fear,” he said with his last breath. “Noli timere,” he wrote, his last-scrap poem. And maybe if he had one more line, we would have heard him whisper just a little more:
“Don’t fear, for anything can happen.”
Andrew Lazo is a teacher, writer, and sought-after speaker on C.S. Lewis and the Inklings. Read more from him at his website: http://andrewlazo.com