Still Life

You know where this work begins: a brace of quail 

or woodcock; half a dozen 


oysters, shucked, and spending in a slur 

of milt and light; a bowl from Jingdezhen,  


brought in, they say, as ballast for the tea,  

(that blue and white the Chinese did not favour, 


preferring single tones, say lang yao hong,  

or qingbai, threads  


of craquelure or pooling in the glaze 

instead of narrative), the emblematic 


lotus bloom or Willow Pattern scene 

half-hidden by a heap of blemished grapes 


and vineleaf, peaches, lemons with their rinds 

half-peeled. It has nothing to do  


with shellfish, nothing to do 

with cherries, or the trade in porcelain,  


but speaks of how the worm 

is present, always: moments as they happen 


perishable, married love and selfhood 

perishable by their very  


nature; yet, by nature, given back  

in season, sieved  


through clay and rain and fruit-falls for the meagre  

gold of summer’s end, the kitchen 


silent, when you bring the apples in 

and wrap them, individually, in sheets 


of newsprint, humming torch songs as you work 

till dusk, beyond the point where I am gone.  

from Still Life with Feeding Snake (Cape, 2017) © John Burnside 2017, used by permission of the author and the publisher.

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