Koi

John Burnside

The trick is to create a world
from nothing

– not the sound a blackbird makes
in drifted leaves;

not dogwood
or the unexpected scent
of jasmine by the west gate

not the clouds
reflected in
these puddles all around
the bowling-green
deserted after rain
and darker than an early Polaroid –

but nothing
which is present in the flesh
as ripeness is: a lifelong urgency.

The trick is in the making
not the made

beginning where an idle mind spools out
to borderline and limit
half a mile
of shadow in the pine woods
or a rim

of wetland – rush and willow
gathered close
like mourners in the dark –

a sudden
ambiguity of liverwort or birch
suggesting no man’s land
or journey’s end.

As everything is given
and conceived
imagined real
a stone’s throw in the mind

it’s not the thing itself
but where it stands

– the shadows fanned
or dripping from a leaf
the gap between each named form and the next

where frogs and dragonflies arrive
from nowhere
and the kingdom is at hand
in every shift of colour and degree

bullfinch and squirrel
hawk-moth
and antirrhinum.

All afternoon we’ve wandered from the pool
to alpine beds and roses
and the freshly painted
palm house;

all afternoon
we’ve come back to this shoal
of living fish.

Crimson and black
pearl-white
or touched with gold
the koi hang in a realm of their invention

with nothing that feels like home
– a concrete pool
and unfamiliar plants spotted with light
birdsong and traffic
pollen and motes of dust

and every time the veil above their heads
shivers into noise
they dart
and scatter

though it seems more ritual now
than lifelike fear
as if they understood
in principle
but couldn’t wholly grasp

the vividness of loss

and every time we gaze into this pool
of bodies
we will ask

how much they know of us
and whether this
is all illusion

like the play of light
across a surface gilded with a drift
of pollen

or the sound a blackbird makes
as it withdraws
one moment at a time

remembering its myth of origin.