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At times there was a sense of something wild
coming to grips with light
at the edge of the lawn,
while a boy in a buttoned-up shirt
and plum-coloured slacks
went trudging from house to house, in the midday heat,
proclaiming a gospel
he wasn’t quite sure
Out in the woods,
the mule deer were waiting for death;
it was only a truck stop away, where a man with a gun
had forgotten his place in the story;
but even then,
with new snow on the road,
or one last summer, eddying away
through apple yards
and miles of Christmas trees,
you lived by what the census left
unmentioned, all the figments of a world
that nothing can account for, but the soul:
those freight trains running through, on autumn nights,
hour after hour in the dark, the boxcars empty;
or miles outside the town, half-overgrown,
a house that no one saw, though it was there,
its windows lit for equinox and solstice,
the stillness in each room a kind of song.
John Burnside’s Black Cat Bone, winner of both the Forward Prize and the T.S. Eliot Prize, was published in the United States by Graywolf. He teaches American poetry and creative writing at the University of St Andrews.
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