‘Learning to sleep’ John Burnside

Though the hunter returns

at first light, bearing a heart


in which all warmth

has ceased, the gut hook


sticky in his hand, his misdeed

visible to everyone he sees


– the horseman on the road,

the miller’s girl,


the foreign delegation with its

gold and furs, old


pilgrims, crowding

the oast-house, their garments


bloody and pockmarked

with wax, the fact remains


that no one but the Queen

can ever know


the half of it:

how something in the glass


has stopped forever, setting her aside

so gently, she could reinvent herself


as Rose-Red, while the hunter

turns away,


leaving the heart, like a bud

that has still to break,


and rinsing the glit from his knife

in a fluster of ice.


Issue Eight of The Lonely Crowd features five new poems from John Burnside, including ‘Learning to Sleep’.

John Burnside is the author of eleven collections of poetry and five works of fiction. Burnside has achieved wide critical acclaim, winning the Whitbread Poetry Award in 2000 for The Asylum Dance which was also shortlisted for the Forward and T. S. Eliot prizes, and winning the 2011 T. S. Eliot Prize for Black Cat Bone. Born in Scotland, he moved away in 1965, returning to settle there in 1995. In the intervening period he worked as a factory hand, a labourer, a gardener and, for ten years, as a computer systems designer. He now lives in Fife with his wife and children and teaches Creative Writing, Literature and Ecology courses at the University of St Andrews.

© John Burnside, 2017. Image © Jo Mazelis, 2017.