Cycnus in Soho
We met up again in that old, central clot of London.
It suited you – its secret knowledge,
danger, certain hedonistic qualities – that edge
which had not yet had its keenness dulled, its end begun.
Then we had our place full of roll-up ash
and would-be artists, where I found you most mornings,
a foot from the television, watching Friends.
A trash of pizza boxes, beer bottles, cash.
You moved in when your old house burned down.
No fault of your own, no blame attached, and yet no plan.
But a little money, so you cut your ties and ran.
A bag of clothes, some books, a taxi across town.
The nights became cheap. For me at least – in that sense I
Would you consider all this an outrageously late attempt
(I’ve gone about it somewhat stagily, I admit that at any
to pay back what I owe? Would you indulge again what
must have then been pity?
At school you had a bit of Rupert Brooke
and more yet of the Californian anti-hero –
plain white T-shirt, or grey marl, the first to have a mobile
That battered old Ford Fiesta that just undermined your
The phone. Remember when it went off in History
and you answered (didn’t you?)? Even Sir was leering,
the class all ears, and you just said, ‘Hey. What are you
You wore your intellect as one-liners, elegantly, effortlessly.
There was rage behind the cool stand-offishness –
a parade of broken safety doors (the damage paid), the
of so many later friends and their ‘please take him
The dinner-party classic of that French arrest.
I am trying to think (don’t waste your time, you would say,
it hurts too much
to see you struggling to keep up) if it was some kind of
that you felt towards my, what was it in the end . . . lust?
It is true that it was always me that chased, or more banal,
tried to get in touch.
It took a Herculean will,
to stop beating myself on your approval.
But I did stop bringing my bullshit to your door, or your
altar, after all.
Left you in a seaside town softening your brain with pills.
The seasons have long abandoned all meaningful
relationships (or oppositions) to one another.
They are interchangeable, a pair of badly-plotted twin
I sometimes wonder after all
if I didn’t make you up entirely.
Because who is the protagonist here in the end –
me, or those fine looks, to which all youth must attend?
The agony, finally, is not changing. Never changing,
oh, the agony.
from 'Country Music' (Offord Road Books, 2020), © Will Burns 2020, used by permission of the author.