The Manhattan Review
The Manhattan Review
Established 1980

Archive > Vol. 12 no. 1


John Burnside

Poem on a line by Stanley Plumly


We lie in that other darkness, ourselves


The self is another darkness,
true enough,

and yet there are glimmers of light
at the foot of the stairs,

glimmers and chinks of gold
in the quiet dark

where a person I thought was lost
or no longer at home

is moving about in the cellar: moving about
in the shadow-work, opening boxes

of tinsel,
or last year’s jam,

moving in a darkness
he includes, so it always appears

there is more to the self than ourselves;
and this wandering light

is not quite the stranger
he seems: though I never see

his features, I can
hear him, in the slow part of the night,

murmuring under the stairs
to god knows whom,

and I listen a while,
excited to know he is there,

moved by a sound
like the murmur I heard as a child

rising through water,
rising through duckweed and moss

and telling me nothing,
only to make itself heard.