A Find

This poem is inspired by Burns Yard, a junk yard in East Lothian.

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

Potter through,

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.