The Good Neighbour

Somewhere along this street, unknown to me,
behind a maze of apple trees and stars,
he rises in the small hours, finds a book
and settles at a window or a desk
to see the morning in, alone for once,
unnamed, unburdened, happy in himself.

I don't know who he is; I've never met him
walking to the fish-house, or the bank,
and yet I think of him, on nights like these,
waking alone in my own house, my other neighbours
quiet in their beds, like drowsing flies.

He watches what I watch, tastes what I taste:
on winter nights, the snow; in summer, sky.
He listens for the bird lines in the clouds
and, like that ghost companion in the old
explorers' tales, that phantom in the sleet,
fifth in a party of four, he's not quite there,
but not quite inexistent, nonetheless;

and when he lays his book down, checks the hour
and fills a kettle, something hooded stops
as cell by cell, a heartbeat at a time,
my one good neighbour sets himself aside,
and alters into someone I have known:
a passing stranger on the road to grief,
husband and father; rich man; poor man; thief.


from The Good Neighbour (Cape, 2005), copyright © John Burnside 2005, used by permission of the author and the publisher.

Where next?

Sponsor this poem

Would you like to sponsor this poem? Find out how here.

Recordings

John Burnside

John Burnside Downloads

1Abiding Memories of Christian Zeal

£0.89

2An essay in sangfroid

£0.89

3Approaching Sixty

£0.89

4Crane Watching in Ostprigitz-Ruppin November 2014

£0.89

5Fatwa on Intimacy

£0.89

6Hendrick Avercamp A Standing Man Watching a Skating Boy

£0.89

7Memories of a Non-existent Childhood

£0.89

8Mother as a Script and Ideal

£0.89

9On the vanishing of my sister, aged 3, 1965

£0.89

10Still Life with Feeding Snake

£0.89

11Still Life

£0.89

12Sweetness

£0.89

13The Beauties of Nature and The Wonders of the World We Live In

£0.89

14The Lazarus Taxa

£0.89

Books by John Burnside