Fantasia On A Line Of W.S. Graham

Fantasia On A Line Of W.S. Graham
     ‘I leave this at your ear for when you wake,
     A creature in its abstract cage asleep.’ W.S. Graham

It was summer from here to the coast
all morning, the side door
open to a wind that found me out 
so quietly, I barely felt a thing, 
a drift of bees, the pigeons on our roof
as casual as the light that slipped indoors
and wandered gradually from room to room, 
unravelling the serge and herringbone
from empty winter coats and tangled scarves, 
or gilding the lip-balmed rim of the hand-cut glass
you set down on the chimney breast
at midnight, when you turned without a word
and went to bed.  

I still remember when I cared enough
to watch you sleep, as if I’d catch a glimpse
of something hidden, something you had loved
in girlhood, or the year before we met.
Now I am scarcely curious enough
to wonder what it is runs through your mind, 
or what you think it means, when you unearth
some partial recollection over morning
coffee, some old 
motto from your mother’s Christmas box, 
a skipping rhyme, where everybody dies,
a life-size model of the sacred 
ibis you constructed from a book

of chromolithographs, to take the place
of what you couldn’t name, but knew 
was missing – and this hulk of squandered days
mere aftermath, the business of the house  
an epilogue, in which we understand 

our only obligation to this world
is not to see how dangerous it is
at first light, when a forced resolve might break
and come to something larger, like the tone
a bell leaves in the bones, after it’s gone. 
How life persists, for more than pity’s sake. 

I leave this at your ear for when you wake.
John Burnside

Copyright © John Burnside, 2018. All rights reserved.

John Burnside

John Burnside is a poet and novelist whose work explores fundamental spiritual and ecological issues about the nature of our dwelling on earth. 



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About Fantasia On A Line Of W.S. Graham

This poem was written as part of 'The Blue Crevasse' project, which marks the centenary of W.S. Graham in 2018. The image of a blue crevasse famously appears in W.S. Graham’s poem ‘Malcolm Mooney’s Land’, and the author’s estate welcomed the idea of creating a similar metaphorical space where admirers of the poet might, in a sense, be lowered for a month’s solitary ‘residency’.