Two Poems

John Burnside

Down by the River

El muro cano
Va a imponerme su ley, no su accidente.

         Jorge Guillén

She dies in a local flurry of dismay
as kittens do, held steady in a pail
of icy water,

never what I intended, more a case
of inattentiveness than grief or rage,

I held her in the current, fingers wound
with shift and slither.

It wasn’t personal. It wasn’t something planned.
I let her slip away, then stood, alone,

forgetting how the mind will travel far
to catch itself in blood and narrative:

a little thing; not mean, but
local, like a dustfall

or a blinding,
thought burning out in the eyes and the afterwards

that lasts too long,
like cinders in the rain.

It wasn’t personal; I only saw
the logic in the moment of my bidding,

a slow tide, like the pull of earth and sky
that gripped her in my hands, and held her down,

inevitable, known but unforeseen,
imposing neither chance, nor accident.

Day of the Dead

It’s the corpse-groom
who holds my attention:

out of his wedding night
with the moth-eaten bride,

he’s pledging his troth, by default,
to a marzipan doll

with eyes that no longer
remind him of someone else;

and, happy to be free
of hope and fear,

he listens for the wind
that snakes across

the asphalt, hymns
and ghost towns in its wake

and silence trailing after, like the sleep
he thought would end

in sugarcraft and satin.