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The Archaeology of ChildhoodJohn Burnside
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Vol. 24 No. 10 · 23 May 2002
Poem

The Archaeology of Childhood

John Burnside

238 words

for Will Maclean

I House

If the house in a dream
is how I imagine myself:

room after room
of furniture no one could use;

stairs leading upwards
to nothing; an empty hall

filling with snow
where a door has been left ajar;

then whatever I make
of the one room high in the roof

where something alive and frantic
is hopelessly trapped,

whatever I make
of the sweetness it leaves behind

on waking, what I know
and cannot tell

is awkward and dark in my hands
while I stop to remember

the snare of a heart;
the approximate weight of possession.

II Snow

I was always expecting to meet
an animal, out in the snow
by Fulford Pond,

one of the mammals I knew
from nature books,
some vivid creature

from the distant North:
the Arctic fox;
a sudden wolverine.

In stories, the animals talk.
Their faces are maps;
they come to us with gifts

or riddles
in the still of afternoon
when snow begins to fall – a covenant

too subtle
for the gods
we answer to.

I used to think
the animals themselves
were secret gods,

come from the very quick
of a blizzard
to find me out

or making it holy again
when I crossed a field
and the footprints I left behind

kept swimming away,
resolving, among the tracks
of mink and geese,

while the lull
I mistook for a self
decayed into silence.

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