I wrote this poem for the American poet, Allison Funk.


for Allison Funk

There are nights when we cannot name
the animals that flit across our headlights

even on moonlit journeys, when the road
is eerie and still

and we smell the water long before
the coast road, or those lamps across the bay,

they cross our path, unnameable and bright
as any in the sudden heat of Eden.

Mostly, it’s rabbit, or fox, though we’ve sometimes caught
a glimpse of powder blue, or Chinese white,

or chanced upon a mystery of eyes
and passed the last few miles in wonderment.

It’s like the time our only neighbour died
on Echo Road,

leaving her house unoccupied for months,
a darkness at the far end of the track

that set itself apart,
the empty stairwell brooding in the heat,

the blank rooms filling with scats
and the dreams of mice.

In time, we came to think that house contained
a presence: we could see it from the yard

shifting from room to room in the autumn rain
and we thought it was watching us: a kindred shape

more animal than ghost.
They say, if you dream an animal, it means

“the self” – that mess of memory and fear
that wants, remembers, understands, denies,

and even now, we sometimes wake from dreams
of moving from room to room, with its scent on our hands

and a slickness of musk and fur
on our sleep-washed skins,

though what I sense in this, and cannot tell
is not the continuity we understand

as self, but life, beyond the life we live
on purpose: one broad presence that proceeds

by craft and guesswork,
shadowing our love.

from The Light Trap (Cape, 2002), copyright John Burnside 2002, used by permission of the author and the publisher.

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