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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1Abiding Memories of Christian Zeal

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2An essay in sangfroid

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3Approaching Sixty

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7Memories of a Non-existent Childhood

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8Mother as a Script and Ideal

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

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10Still Life with Feeding Snake

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11Still Life

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12Sweetness

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