Late show

Late show
I only watch reruns now,
or films about geese,

and yet I’m waiting for the miracle
I used to find in early black and white

where everyone looks like us and ends up
happy, in a place they’re learning

never to take
for granted.

In Northern Canada,
it’s summer now

and birds that look like friends I had in school
are dancing in a field of moss and thaw

and, as I watch, the darkness gathers round me
slowly, warmth and quiet in its gift

for as long as the birds
take flight, or Lucille Ball

lights up the screen
like someone who’s been there forever.
John Burnside

from Black Cat Bone (London: Jonathan Cape, 2011)

Reproduced by permission of the author.
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. 



Read more about this poet
About Late show

This poem was included in Best Scottish Poems 2011. Best Scottish Poems is an online publication, consisting of 20 poems chosen by a different editor each year, with comments by the editor and poets. It provides a personal overview of a year of Scottish poetry. The editor in 2011 was Roddy Lumsden.

Editor's comment:

Burnside's latest, Black Cat Bone, has been acclaimed and rewarded; it is less a 'return to form' as some have said, more an inclusive, less obsessive book, which allows room for a subject which was previously only an occasional visitor to Burnside's ample back catalogue: popular culture. Here, though the poem is reflective, and the television references keep it light, it never quite shakes off the powerful note of failure / false pride in the poem's first statement.

Author's note:

'Late Show' is about that time of night when we shift from the waking condition of the day into the kind of solitary wakefulness in which I do most of my work, (or the work that I don't bin anyhow). The image of the TV is partly tongue-in-cheek – I don't watch that much late night TV – and partly a vehicle for the imagery that runs through the mind when we are alone, alert and disengaged from the usual nonsense of societal life. Alone is very important here: I think making, for me at least, demands a high solitude quotient (to use Glenn Gould’s marvellous term) and the chief impediments to making anything – a poem, a story, a decision – are societal. Late night, TV on or not, is a time for getting away, being alone, shifting to a new kind of wakefulness.