Shapeshifters

John Burnside

Stepping outside in the dark,
if only to fetch the coal, this December night,

I stop in a river of wind
on the cellar steps

and think of men, no different from me,
transforming themselves at will

to animals
– misshapen lives
suspended in the blood

slithering loose
and loping away through the snow

half-flesh,
half-dream;

or, coming in,
I turn to face the cold

with nothing in my veins
but haemoglobin,

the thought of someone
not unlike myself

in borrowed senses
– marten, dog-fox, wolf –

coming to some new scent, some bitter truth,
and gulping it down in the dark

while the hunters
listen.