Acquiring the Skeleton of Irishman Charles Burns

I.
He tears up my letters. He sends back no word.
But Burns has been staggering. His shinbones must pain him,
Decade on decade longshanking about –
Or so says my shadow, a greedy young gnome
Who follows my Burns for a generous sum –
With a whistle to signal the butcher and wagon.
What a sight they must be as they slouch
Down the High Street, the giant unnerved
By the unblinking dwarf.

II.
Men of Burns’ size are like pachyderms,
Like mastiffs or baluchitheria.
It takes so much effort, such muscular pumping,
For the heart to succor all those organs.
And bathe the brain with blood for long.
I predict the strain will take him.
The taller a man is, the shorter his life.
The gnome reports it will be soon.

III.
To my study
The news comes.
I set down my scone.
(The dwarf knows not
Hygiene. He ruins
My appetite.)
It seems Burns has hired a sailor to end it,
To take him to the river’s mouth
And drop him in the drink.
Lash your anchors
To my corpse, says Burns –
And so he will entomb himself
At the bottom of the sea.
But still, says the dwarf, he
Fears you will find him,
Run a hook through his sinews
Reel him up from the brine.
No, I think I shall
Harpoon his pelvis.
Dear Burns. He really is
Too much.

IV.
The vitrine cost a hundred quid,
I’d call that much an arm and leg –
And then there is the blacksmith’s bill
For all those iron mounts,
And a bundle for the boatman,
For the delivery of the bones.
Though Burns was not a wealthy man,
The sailor asked for twice his sum –
And that I procure the pistol
He would take out on the Thames.
He fastened the irons to Burns’ ankles,
And shot for the belly –
Just as I’d shown him –
And didn’t scratch a single rib.
So what was the use
Of your stubbornness,
Charles? Come now, say
What was the use.

— Annie Wyman

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Filed under Poetry, Vol 2 Issue 1

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