Poem

John Burnside – Black Cat Bone

June 24, 2013

John Burnside – Black Cat Bone

Pieter Brueghel: Winter Landscape with Skaters and Bird Trap, 1565

John BurnsideWe have to imagine the duties they leave behind
for the thrill of the river,
the kitchens and middens, the sheepfolds and clouded byres,
the old folk in their sick beds
mumbling prayers.
The day is bright
and this is their escape
from hardship,
but each has his private hurt, her secret dread:
the man who starts thirsty and tired, his body soured
with last nights schnapps,
then skates out to the bridge at breakneck speed,
away from the loveless matron hes had to endure
for decades;
the woman in blue and grey, keeping pace with her child,
untroubled for now, but never released from the fear
that her husband will catch her wasting his precious time
and beat her as hes beaten her for years,
the moment he gets her home.
At midstream, the children play
with makeshift hockey sticks and, near the church,
a man finds the thoughtless grace
of the boy he once was
to glide free
in the very eye of heaven;
it could be simple paradise foreseen
but up on the rightmost bank, amid thorns and briars,
someone has built a bird trap from a plank
set on a perch, from which a length of rope
snakes to a halfclosed door,
and all around it, birds dip from the air,
starlings and fieldfares, redwings, unaware
of any danger.
It seems a fable and perhaps it is:
we live in peril, die from happenstance,
a casual slip, a fault line in the ice;
but surely its the other thought that matters,
the sense that, now and then, theres still a chance
a man might slide towards an old
belonging, momentarily involved
in nothing but the present, skating out
towards a white
horizon, fair
and gifted with the grace
to skate forever, slithering as he goes,
but hazarding a guess that someone else
is close beside him, other to his other.