This poem is inspired by Burns Yard, a junk yard in East Lothian.
This is a place where worlds collide,
Where the present presses on the past.
In one shed, bedsteads and mattresses
In another ‘brown furniture’
– a rumble-lidded walnut rolltop desk
A varnished half-moon table
Stained where once flowers dropped
petals on the glowing wood;
A cedar crib, a Van Gogh chair
In the shed of broken things
A set of chairs with barley sugar legs
One missing an arm
In the centre of the yard
Bric a brac is piled on racks.
An apostle spoon in a Belfast jug
Filling up with rain. The rusty air
Smears the sides of glasses
And tarnishes the tableware.
The weekend bargain-hunters
Oh he’s an eye for the good stuff, has Mr Burns
And in the portacabin office
under lock and key
Are sets of crystal glasses,
gold and silver
Barometers and grandfather clocks
A pair of Chinese buddhas
And a malacca cane.
Mr Burns is sometimes wrong,
oh aye he shrugs, he’s missed a few.
As the winter day is on the wane.
An old woman in a fake fur coat
Walks slowly through the gate.
The dog barks and falls silent.
The woman seems to stumble,
A little unsteady on her pins.
A young man leans his bike
Against the wall and offers a hand
The woman brushes it away
and approaches the racks
Reaches a spotted hand
To the lowest shelf
And lifts, a little, blackened cup.
“So it was here.
I’ve been searching for this.
It was part of a set of twelve.
I bought them in the market place
Using money that others felt
should have been spent on better things
More sensible things
But I loved the way they caught the light
I pocketed this one, tucked it away that night
A friend drank from it at a special meal
Just before he left on a journey
I never saw him again
Not properly, not touching distance
Glimpsed in the distance only
A gleaming shadow, a trick of the moon
I saw him in dreams, heard his voice
But never again in person, not as such.
It’s good to touch,
to hold the object in the hand
It brings it back
You know how memory fades.”
She sighs and wiped a tear and adds, “My dear
We can’t go back. Life has many courses
many junctions, many intersections,
many points where the paths ahead head this way and that
And each is a choice made only once.
We can never return to the same place and take another path.
And at each succeeding junction there are fewer paths ahead.
We look back, but the way is shadowed with dust.”
She moves away from the rack,
Loses her footing and falls
Colliding with an uneven stone.
She lies there like one dead.
The young man kneels and deftly feels her pulse.
A puzzled frown. “It’s very faint,” he says. “In fact…”
Someone calls an ambulance.
The young man’s trained and will take care
The bargain hunters slowly walk away
But a short time later, as the ambulance arrives,
the young man stands alone, forlorn
an empty space beside him.
“She’s gone. She came to, rose and left
I told her she should wait to be seen
But she didn’t want a fuss.”
He turns. “She left this for you. She took a cup.”
Holds out a velvet bag. Inside a metal nail,
Ancient as the frosty wind that birls around the yard
Stirring up the stour and whispering like ghosts
“Aye well,” says Mr Burns
and shrugs and nods, and lays it on a shelf.