Jane Burn is a poet, based in North East England.
What if there was no divide?
by Jane Burn
What if life, for so many of us wasn’t a chasm?
You only have a basic understanding. It’s complex –
not quite as simple as that. What would the famished
do with money, after all? They’d only spend it.
Yes. On food/rent/bills/clothes/ Pay back those loans
and learn what it means to be free. Imagine the weight of worry
sloughed, the heavy skin of debt gone. Imagine not being
afraid of the post, your card never being declined at the till.
A holiday, bus fare, un-cracked glass. Imagine a shared and fair
level peg of healthcare/education. Imagine enough.
What are all those billion billions for? I sat and watched
the plush and pearly claim of dawn and rich or poor,
I saw it with the same eyes. Perhaps I even saw it more,
for these are the only jewels I own. I have an Eden already,
I think, at times like these. I have a 21st century dream
of a place where the sun always rises in colours of hope –
where the dusk does not lower its flames upon lack and want.
In my envisioning, there is a tax of kindness and you
must pay it forward. You make each other happy, simple as.
Everyone has a garden – nature is greeted like a best friend
and there are no better parts, no worser parts, no gated havens
where you fool yourself out of the world, shuck responsibility
like dew from a wet pelt. No postcode lottery schools,
no forgotten corners of decay. Children are not pared thin by need,
their small angels are not an unfortunate consequence of
budget/back-slappy bonuses/ deliberate squandering of the poor.
Their ghosts do not haunt those hoarded gluts of avaricious cash.
Parks are more important than shopping malls for this place
has learned the lessons of our plastic past. Trees are worshipped
for their miracle strength. People say good morning.
People smile. It has made such a difference,
now that there are no have or have-nots. Envy and greed
are burdens that we happily shed. Equality
is our favourite song. Above the great entrance arch to this
brave new world, two words are carved and kept
on a great crown of honest stone. Welcome, Everyone.
This was one of a number of brilliant poems contributed by a number of poets towards the centenary celebrations of the Communist Party of Britain, see here for the downloadable pdf.
I am Road, I am Mother, I am a Better Person Now, I am Failed
words and image by Jane Burn
So I have this ache (suddenly) to run. Don’t go thinking I’m fit, that I flow
like a river. I just got sick, sick of the sight of myself, sick of the unpleasant
feeling of flesh. I have dreamed this cumbrance away for after all, I am only
a frame of weeping bits. I have spent too much of this elongated time
on my back (imagining sky), wishing my grody molecules would buzz
into the air, away like flies, like a bluebottle cloud. When was the last time
I properly slept? I get rid of portions of the dark – scald my corneas
on some book, blink on grit. Fail to feel the words go in. Forget
what I have read. Masturbate. Not because I’m thinking sex. Because
I have to find something buried in myself, like trying to remember
when I was last alive, like trying to get to the beat in a dead bird’s breast.
I just want to find some sign of now, some flicker of life. The rest of the time
I turn like a bundle of sticks, go numb, think or don’t think, turn the cogs
on morsels of the previous day, or let the coils of my brain be void.
My eyes swell like storm drains, my ears keep primed. When I hear the dawn,
I cry for the squandering of another night. I want to clamber out of this skin.
It weighs me like wet wool, a flaccid coat. Thirteen weeks of fear
have kept me to the confines of this home and I have crept like a fat automaton,
fridge to stool, rug to window, hall to bathroom, cupboard to bed, have pacified
my family with mountains of bread. I have filled my mouth and eaten my way
into pain. I want my bones. I want myself to carve her bright way back.
So I say to my son let’s run. I don’t say let’s run away from ourselves.
I think I broke for good. All I can think of is how many shitty things I did
or said. I didn’t know is no excuse and now I do, I see that my tongue
has been a knife, a cudgel, an evil fish. Every day I spew for fear and wait
for a hand on my shoulder, remember too much the shove in the guts,
fist on my cheek, a rip in my cunt. I kneel beneath an accusation of sky,
say please help me, help me please for I have almost had enough
of this kind of life. Smile, smile, smile, smile, smile. Smile and think
of the phone number that the clinic gave for such vile emergencies and I
(will not) have not phoned it because they did not remember how I said
I hate talking on the phone, would rather scratch my arm-skin off. I’m sorry.
I’m trying to make amends. So me and my son, we run. I found a road
where hardly anyone goes – past the church ’cause nobody has any time
these days for God – besides, all their doors are locked, so suffer your sin
in silence. Them that need some wine and wafer genuflection, I guess
just go without. Past the Shrine of the Two Marys – oh, how I have
worshipped their crumbling prayer, their sad relics, their pietà of mist,
their concrete knees. At least this Lockdown, somebody got round
to painting them fresh again, hung baskets of flowers on each side,
like pendulums keeping time. I stagger past and wish for selfish things –
MaryMothers, make me thin, MaryMothers, I’m not that person anymore.
MaryMothers, put out the pains in my head. In front, my tall son.
Me behind, running upon the long cast of his shadow, like he’s
getting away and always forever I’m failing to catch him up.
Canzone to an Underground Flow
by Jane Burn
There is a river underfoot. The road bears
above it, thickly set. Every while, a square
of red-iron drain, skidded worn – pinned below spins
of tready-rubber, spin wheel repetitions.
Blinkered to the water’s secret flow, they lie
their metal eyes, choosing the upwards pale sky,
its woeful dull of weary, stagnant dusk drawn
and definite. Veiled by the small-town, yawning,
slow-sleeped settle, she is loud, the tingled Pont –
hums despite the gravelled, tarry skin. She haunts
the dredge of evening, sing-song telling of flow,
unchecked. How large the cavern? Echoes – I know
by sense the unmeasured space. I check for cracks
in such manufactured crust. Trusting its back,
buses, cars, bikes drive unconscious of the spring
that worries, cold and winnow-fresh. Untamed thing –
one flooded flash, gorge of storm, one glutted melt
too much and she will rise, fury formed and felt
for the years of narrowed confine. Liquid spine
arched to the nearness of freedom, she streamlines,
veins groping for weakness, for chinks, for ways out.
The walls of Watling Street are sure of their grout,
roof slates certain of their placement on the beams.
The bungalows make plumply silent globes, steam
from coal-fired chimneys, tableau of dark innards
unshaken, supper-scenes as normal. In yards
where lurchers curl in kennels and spool their bones,
shadows lean from doorways, tilt shapes of gravestone
across each mean patch. Rain starts its mizzling, damp
on my cheeks, weighs the light from the line of lamps.
The pavement becomes a mysterious place –
a pathway of spooks, leading me on. A trace
of my feet, a moment then gone – I exist
for the time it takes to dissolve. My lips, kissed
by tastes of absorbed smoke, soil, are filthy-slicked –
the dark has turned the roads to oil. All is licked
by subtle tongues – the moon sheens, the greedy swell
soaks the surplus wet and grows. How is she held?
Travel forced to just one track, she bides – has worn
her route through endless chafing. Meniscus torn
on rough rock she forms, reforms – has contemplated
cheap lives, wasted to television, sated
in dwellings sat so smug above. When she chooses,
she will bring the buildings down – shudder, loosen,
burst the surface, spill radiant snow, geyser
the wreck. While we might run screaming, stand or freeze
as if we just saw angels in the waves, drown,
face-upward, written with peace or scrawled with frowns,
liquid lung-full, she will shudder away last
traces of her imprisoned hell. Floating past,
bloated vermin shimmering next-day’s sunny
reflections as they float the deluge, honeyed
like ships made from leaves. A panicked whinny races
the sullen distance. All we owned, every place
we lived lies doused and dull, deep and lost. Filthy
human waste, fatted froth is put to new tilth –
one of ripple not blade. A moorhen gives vent
to joy for this new land. The dead sleep, content
for they know no more of handbags, clocks or bread.
Our bodies cease fighting. Undulate instead.
Note: this poem is dedicated to the river Pont, Leadgate. A section of the river runs underneath the ex-mining village near Consett, County Durham and can be heard as you walk above. The photograph is of Watling Bungalows, Leadgate.
The Orange in the Stocking
by Jane Burn
The scent of citrus fills the quiet room
as socks swing from the radiant mantelpiece –
a conga line of Nora Batty’s legs. Warmth
from the fireplace rises, dances them in its drift –
when we are asleep on Christmas Eve, they make
their own celebration, kick like a chorus line,
jingle their inner treats. Inside each toe, a bulge –
year after year, tradition places it there. It waits
to be discovered, to offer its sweet to our lips.
Hull it as you would a brightly packaged gift.
It’s sharp, delicious taste cuts through this day
of bloat and richness. Here are vitamins,
here is something not foil-bound, not factory-bred,
its bauble plucked from a laden tree. Pips swim
the juice of its breast, tell a story of birth. It’s wrap
will nourish compost, not clog up landfill with scrap.
Thumb the centre, pare away each jewel. The segments
were made to be offered. It asks to be shared.
The Year of Abandoned Self
by Jane Burn
I am become entirely used to the things my head invents –
they might be visions of futures, of secrets, of hell. They might
be prophetic – I ought to be writing them down. William Blake
saw angels in the trees – if it’s alright for him, it ought to be okay
for me. Ezekiel saw wings and faces, wheels in wheels. I saw
this murky figure unfurl beneath a motorway bridge, clung like a bat,
one time I was tired near Gatwick, late at night. His lips were bone,
his spew of garbage laughter spilled like sick – I think he was waiting
for me to crash. I saw bundles of sheep as I walked on the path,
candy rainbow colours fleeced their happy backs – they were made
from pixels, tiny squares of bubble and bright, like a Super Mario zoo.
They smiled as I put my boot to their heads, trying to tamp them down –
it was a mockery. I saw a leather wingback chair melt around my friend,
the burgundy run like blood – she had no idea, just drank her tea,
told me this and that, all nonsense, of no matter fluff. I thought
I want to go home. If I stay longer, she’ll drown. I have given up
thinking I have edges – I am soft as sea-mumbled stuff. I am meld.
Listen to my rambling. All the ghosts – infestations in the corner
of my eyes like wisps, like smoke, are with me all the time. I’m
a poor man’s Gormenghast, bargain basement Gundabad – come
to the home of the cracked. I saw road signs pluck from tarmac roots
and run along with my car, grins on their flat metal faces, mouths
made of zeroes, eyebrows made from fives. We sang it’s a small world
after all, that Disney thing – quite merry, considering that I’m properly
fucking mad. Imagine keeping such secrets when you are dying to tell.
The dogs help root through the woodpile for clues – they believe
in everything I say, that’s how I know I’m right. I can’t remember
stashing all this broken glass. The woodlice nest like a plot, flit
like troubled consciences, out of sight. I am paranoia, I am Armageddon.
I’m beautiful, I’m a dungeon. I’m the second coming of Christ.
This poem was first published in Strix.
Gala Day, Durham Miners
by Jane Burn
At eight-fifteen, the band stands up in regimented lines.
July, before the schools break – the morning lull broken
by the stray parp of tuning notes, loud and sudden
through nets ghosting open windows. It’s a signal
to get up, throw cardigans over nighties, join the exodus
of neighbours slopping feet in slippers, scratching bed hair.
Slovenliness forgiven, this once – right now it means more
to be outside, listening to them play.
Dorothy – bitched about me once, with them at thirty-one,
but if I cannot forgive her that, what use as a person am I?
Her Arthur, taken by cancer in less than a year. Marie, last
of three sisters; a street full of women outliving their men.
Sleepy-eyed kids, hurried out of their beds to hear the opening
bars of Abide With Me, see The Banner, tassels of gold and red;
For The People By The People. Your history, I tell my sons.
Your village, see? This is why we don’t forget.
We were children when we lived through the last of the mines.
Thatcher – strikes, scabs, picket lines; Arthur Scargill
in Barnsley. The Dearne Valley villages – always the backdrop
of pit-heads, men in donkey jackets, orange panels bright among
allotment leeks. The scent of sparking fires – the sharp, oily smell;
powder, staining everything it touched – grimy on the coal man’s
hessian skin, sooting the sacks on his flat-bed truck. Dad, quitting
before it got too late, did not want the blackness settling on his lungs.
Wath Main, Wombwell, Hickleton, Manvers – given to nature now,
flat under birds. Nineteen eighty-four. The corridors of our local comp
overrun with cameras from the BBC – kids sticking two fingers up
for the telly. Tracy, from my year at school is missing and so are
her brothers; Darren and Paul have been killed, while scavenging
for slack on Goldthorpe coal-tips. The funeral – playing the schools
dented brass, my tongue dried up on the mouthpiece, metallic
with tears and tin. Brothers don’t die – they do not die beneath
embankments of smother and soot before they are sixteen, bursting
their lungs under slag; their fathers fingers digging through the scree,
nails split, skin torn. Blood and choke. The drummer strikes the skin
of the bass drum. A sonic boom, as if Gabriel himself is smiting
the roofs of our estate. The troop moves down the hill – people,
magnetised like iron filings follow the flag; dwindling to a last
earful of airborne notes, clear as crystal tears. Left behind,
we swallow the thick in our throats; faces lit by zealot’s blaze.
There is nothing left. Stranded here and there a winding mechanism;
giant upturned bogie wheels framed against the sky. Beamish tunnel
to gawp at – to remind us of kiddies pulling up half-ton coal tubs
in the dark; their lives lit by the whim of a candle's flame.
Gala Day, Durham Miners was previously published by Proletarian Poetry and is part of Jane's pamphlet, Fat Around The Middle.
All photos of Gala Day 2018 by Carl Joyce, www.carljoyce.com
as if they are normal folk
by Jane Burn
Shops. Imagine them wanting
shops. Wanting to buy stuff as if
they are normal folk. Wanting to be
just like us, with our popping out for bread
and milk, fags, sweets, bsicuits, pop.
Whatever. Imagine them needing
food like that. Libraries. Imagine them
wanting to read. As if they care about words,
want to educate their children, pass
the time. Time on their hands? What
do they want time on their hands for? Surely
they should be out working or something else.
Cafes? Cafes? Like they are bothered about
meeting up, sharing conversations, maybe even
make friends. As if, as if it is
fucking Butlins! I mean, are they ever going to
go home if they’re living in some sort of
holiday camp? They have a nightclub now.
A nightclub. Imagine them wanting
to sing and dance? Kara-bleedin’-oke?
We like our revellers British, ta very much,
our piss-heads local. This church,
this beautiful, fragile, plastic sheet and wood-slat church,
painted up with illuminated angels, simple cross on top.
What's the actual? These scroungers are not
Christians. Step off our white-skinned, fair faced
God. Swathes! Swathes of them. Rats.
Well done France, Stephen from Rugby says.
Londonzone - hiding under an alias - is brisk. Good.
The comment crows. Now finish the job.
Written in reaction to a newspaper story
about the bulldozing of the settlement at Calais.