On the Fairytale Ending

Begin with the fend-for-yourself
of all the loves you learned about
in story books;

fish-scale and fox prin
graven on the hand
and a tiny hook-and-eye

unfastened in the sweetmeat of a heart
you thought would never grieve
or come undone.

May; and already
it’s autumn: broken gold
and crimson in the medieval

beechwoods, where our shadows come and go,
no darker
than the figures in a book

of changes,
till they’re hexed
and singled out

for something chill and slender in this world,
more sleight-of-hand
than sorrow or safekeeping.

John Burnside


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