Three Poems

John Burnside

Whoso List to Hunt

Small comfort to be had in mea culpa,
damp afternoons, just shy
of saccharin, a boyhood in the rain
rescripted as a child’s compendium
of minor sins. No subtlety of eyes around my bed;
no whispered blame, no frost-fall in the blood,
but later, when I lay me down to sleep
and all the lamps burn out across the yards,
I come home to the sadness of the creatures:
our hunting fathers, drowned in no man’s land,
love in the absence of Thou, the finer
disciplines that winter recommends,
such sanctuary I find, but cannot keep,
since in a net I seek to hold the wind.

Ode to Hypnos

Here is the angel of slumber, come from the woods
to press a bloody talon to the glass;
the erstwhile abolitionist
of mardi gras, pure stranger to himself,
he fabricates this ersatz
Eden, trading bishoprics of light
for milk and honey, words in Aramaic,
a Weihnachtsmarkt
of diet pills and Lauds.

Here is the house of the echo, and here
the boys clothed all-in-green, the moonshine
flaking from their bones
forevermore,
a troupe of all the souls
I might have known,
crossing the seven bridges, one by one,
like Struwwelpeter dolls, with ink for skin
and nothing to keep them from harm
but the promise of dawn.

Rationing for Beginners

When it no longer smells like an orchard
gathering around me in the dark,
the sense of a known Beloved that comes
of garden work, the honey of a voice
receding in my throat, my flesh
more sleep than dream;

when nothing on the air
gives answer to that hollow in the bone
from years ago, the wound I never told,
no scar to show
by daylight, nothing
Ancient in my house, or Perilous;

when flocks of geese rise,
month-long, from the fields
and arc towards the north
I say I’ll drown my books and start again,
for no one’s sake,
a heartbeat at a time.

My mother is a day’s walk in the rain,
waiting for someone to come
with pear drops and nylons;
my father is a gun beyond the hill,
his shirt sleeves stitched and seamed
with sweet molasses,

but neither foresaw the childhood I would spin
from laughing gas
and mild diphtheria,
the dreams I furnished
on the bus ride home
more gospel than I knew, a house of lights

where all my yesterdays lay side by side
in narrow beds, from Loos to Belleau Wood,
and when the rain went by, the April sun
bloomed on their hands and mine, a passing gleam,
just permanent enough to warm my skin
in lieu of presence, textbook, like a god.