A new John Burnside poem: To the younger man

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I see you know
    the world’s way, all that

slop and carrion
    of having, but not

    ludic and cavalier, you’re almost

    in someone else’s hell,

answering dog
    with shark, aristocrat

with nunc dimittis.
    So rest assured,

you’re welcome in this place,
    there’s no one, here, would

Ides of March
    your party;

but listen:
    can you hear it in the floor

the ring that rings
    against the ring

of footsteps
    when you stumble out of luck?

no need to tell the truth:
    just don’t pretend

you walked into a fate
    you knew would happen;

there’s falcon still
    to come, the noontide

swing of it, before the claws
   dig in

– and later, when it dives
    to drain the heart

and daybreak finds you
    with a run of blood,

like grease, between the collar
    and the chin,

step out into the sun
    for all to see:

your friends, your dead,
    your team of publicans

who kept you sweet
    so they could gut you now.


John Burnside’s most recent poetry collection is Still Life with Feeding Snake (Jonathan Cape

This article appears in the 06 April 2017 issue of the New Statesman, Spring Double Issue