Two Poems

John Burnside


Carolus Linnaeus (1707-78)

Weeks out of school: in rainstorms
and grandmothers’ cupboards,
bear-dark in the corners, filigrees
of lacewing
and silt;

the birds we saw in books: merganser, stork;
trees from botanic gardens printed on air;
the words in our minds
like games that would never be finished: names
for moments at sea; or how a skin

is altered by a history of shade: the smallest shift
enough to fix a thing
or make it new: soft
or more evenly mottled; bearing scars
and hairless; or defined for centuries

by how it seemed
emerging from the earth:
fragile dicotyledon smudged with ash,
not sixty feet
of constituted rain.


Imagine they knew already: a loved one
singled out in permafrost, or sand;
fingertips laying stitch-marks in the skin
that might be read; each
wedding-feast or name-day laying claim
to birth marks, dimples, curvatures of bone.
Imagine they treasured scars for what they tell
of summers, traces set into the flesh
for August noons; or winter solstices
remembered in a burn. Imagine it:
not loving less, but more, for knowing time
would quietly erase a lover’s voice,
a grandchild’s hand;

                                  and how, unwittingly,
they planned each afterlife, concealing seed
and pollen in the hemline of a gown,
or carving timberwork with hidden signs,
seasons and gifts that someone else would find.