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  

  was shabby.  

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  

  home’ pleas.  

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.

Will Burns is a poet and novelist. He first came to prominence in 2014 as a Faber New Poet and has since authored poetry collections ...

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