Lent 32: A Game of Marbles

The 2011 winner of the T S Eliot prize was John Burnside with his twelfth collection, Black Cat Bone.

It has some fantastically morbid and twisted poems in. I love this, for example: the girl from the next house but one / who should have been tucked up in bed / when she went astray, / a huddle of wool in the grass, or a silver bracelet / falling for days / through and inch and a half / of ice.

What’s perhaps most disconcerting about it is his almost revelatory but mostly obfuscating blurb about the book – evoking Charles Simic’s ‘It’s a Hot Night’ about the secret hidden meanings of people’s tattoos – how you should ever ask the story behind a tattoo choice as it’s “A private matter, a complex of personal myth and veiled obsession, social and sexual history and, possibly, the longing for a richer communal experience.” He goes on to say “Black Cat Bone could be seen, more or less, as a gloss on the secret tattoos that I’ve never had the time, or perhaps the moral weather, to have mapped on to my own skin.


Try this:

     A Game of Marbles

     The things I love
     I bury in the woods
     to keep them safe.
     The pearl-effect,
     the cherry-red and gold,
     the touch of her
     like tallow
     on my skin.

     Her sister
     gives me silks
     and Calla flowers,
     I win a princess
     and a devil’s eye
     and bury them alive
     while she is

     The earth turns cold,
     and my fingers brush the dead,
     over the trees
     a blue moon
     sails through the sky.
     I dig through leaf and mould,
     I dig through bone,
     slivers of glass
     and ashes in the rain

     and afterwards
     the woods are like
     a hymn
     that, when I think of it,
     I think of her:
     the oxblood of her mouth,
     her silver tongue,
     milk on her fingers,
     the hurry of pain
     in her eyes.

View the intro/roundup.

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2 Responses to Lent 32: A Game of Marbles

  1. Pingback: 40 Poems of Lent: an introduction & roundup | impeus.com

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