Two Poems

John Burnside

Pibroch

To the make of a piper go seven years of his own learning and seven generations before … At the end of his seven years, one born to it will stand at the start of knowledge, and lending a fond ear to the drone, he may have parley with old folks of old affairs.

Neil Munro, ‘The Lost Pibroch’

We were talking about the hills
when the land fell silent.

By that time, the deer were cartoons, soft
focus in the rear-view

mirror, the hare in our headlamps
brotherly to nothing but the rain.

Before I came in, I stood in the drive
to listen:

an owl called, down in the woods
by Gillingshill,

then nothing, but for a drone I could not parse
as music.

The pibroch, I might have said;
but I’ve never felt native so much

as local and brief
like the stone chill crossing the sands

when the haar moves in.
Curious, now, to think of the wolf as gone,

as if it had once been loose
in the slink of a mind

that thinks itself home,
if only by knowing the seasons;

and what would it make of the dog
who stands at our door,

how he seems to have waited months
for a sound we can’t fathom,

somewhere between a pulse
and the song of the earth,

beguiling him out of the warmth
to his shadowless brother?

Silkie

At midnight, when I rise,
insomniac,
and go down to the kitchen, for a glass
of water
(bars of moonlight
in the blinds, the wall-clock
halted, months ago,
at 7.10)

I know that, by the force of some
new geography
that I have yet to learn,
a woman will be standing at the sink,
gutting a bowl of codfish, the broken scales
slick on her fingers, her eyes
a blue, in this light,
that no one has seen before;

and this is where the cruelty begins,
in cleverness and lust and frayed desire,
not for this creature, who runs
from the ache of the sea,
then fritters away the moment I touch her hand,
but for someone to come, in the lists of the unforeseen,
who slips off her skin
to inherit a lifetime of gospel.