we wanted to seal his mouth

A poem by John Burnside

Here is a poem by John Burnside, recently published in THE LONDON REVIEW OF BOOKS, written in response to some ancient beliefs that the body as well as the soul is immortal and could at any time re-emerge from the grave.        For me the poem provokes strong feelings not about Joshua rising from the dead, but of all the things we have done to keep him alive. What I mean is to keep his memory alive.   But still that terror still lurks as part of my grief – that terror that impossibly Joshua is not dead and will fulfill my deepest wish and walk in through the door.


We wanted to seal his mouth
with a handful of clay,
to cover his eyes
with the ash of the last

bonfire he made
at the rainiest edge
of the garden

and didn’t we think, for a moment,
of crushing his feet
so he couldn’t return to the house
at Halloween,

to stand at the window,
smoking and peering in,
the look on his face

like that flaw in the sway of the world
where mastery fails
and a hinge in the mind
swings open – grief

or terror coming loose
and drifting, like a leaf,
into the flames.