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Self-Portrait as Amnesiac

John Burnside


Photo by Adam Levine.

Self-portrait as Amnesiac

I never saw the fauna of this world,
only a stare through headlights, a hurried

lurching from verge to verge
on a woodland road;

and, long ago, those places in the roof
where dust had gathered,

shoeboxes lined with eggs and empty
pomegranates drying in a bowl,

mousebones and wicker, chess pieces, muddled coats,
the slender, puppet versions of myself

who played here for a while
then moved away.

At times, when I have nothing else to do,
I think of going up into the highest

roof-beam, like the bridegroom in a hymn,
and bringing something down, an ancient

bird mask, or a broken violin,
or something in a cage that’s still alive

until I fetch it out into the light
and watch it go to powder, teeth and eyestitch

crumbling, and the sound it used to make
extinguished, like that shrieking in the woods

that, once, when I was small, and still awake,
uncharmed me from my bed, before it vanished.

John Burnside will also be featured in the forthcoming
Britain issue
, out on
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.

Defining Betrayal

John Burnside, Mohsin Hamid, Karen Russell, Janine di Giovanni, André Aciman, Samantha Harvey, Callan Wink, Jennifer Vanderbes, Colin Robinson

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