Poetry by Rachel Burns


Wildfowl on the Water, July, and A Game of Chess



Wildfowl on the Water


Four white swans and two signets, downy feathery brown

shelter in the far corner under a sycamore.


Cormorants perch on sunken logs in the middle of the lake

as the first of the migratory wild geese gather together.


A female swan calls to her brood across the water.

The signets preen themselves, halving their bodies into the water, loosening feathers.


Little white gulls with soft black tipped wings swoop and dive for fish in the lake.

The wind shakes the red berries from the Rowan Tree and I see two huntsmen


dressed in camouflage unloading guns from their car. Morning, the older one nods

but it is meant as a warning. I leave them to their sport, and walk home past the concrete


perimeter walls of the high security prison with its barred windows and barbed wire

onwards past the farmer’s field freshly ploughed, where four magpies


toss themselves to the wind and a flock of white herring gulls

congregate in the middle of the farmer’s freshly ploughed field.





July the hottest on record. The pansies

are wilting in their planters and the strawberries

shrivel in their borders, despite futile attempts to give them water.

The lawn is parched to a yellow sunburnt crisp.

The birds are parched. Young starlings gather

to drink from the blocked guttering

gargling the water greedily in their throats.

We cycle to Durham City in the heat

stopping by a cherry tree to fill a bait box

with black to bursting ripe cherries.

The juice stains my hands and fingers red.

You say it is just as well

we did not go away on holiday this year,

imagine all the midges by the lake

gathering in black swarms.



A Game of Chess


It is the beginning of the holiday

but it feels like the end of something.

At night Flybe aeroplanes disturb my dreams

with their purple butterfly wings.

We play chess with fake Lewis Chessmen.

We lie to the children, tell them the pieces are hand-carved

from walrus ivory and whale tooth.


We walk miles, climb Arthur’s Seat

stand on Salisbury Crags, we do not hold hands.

The sea stretches out for miles under a curdled buttermilk sky

and our children squabble over whose turn

it is to hold the camera. They take pictures

of the not so happy couple.


It is harder climbing up the hills

than climbing down. Neither of us speak.

The sky is blue and endless,

we put the chess game away at the end of the holiday

wrap the Lewis Chessmen in tissue paper

so that the walrus ivory and whale tooth do not break.



rachel-burns-1 Rachel Burns poems have appeared in SOUTHLIGHT, HeadStuff, Marble Poetry, Arfur, HCE, The Fenland Reed, Crannog and Poetry Salzburg Review. She was commended in The Keats-Shelley Poetry Prize 2017, HeadStuff poetry competition 2018 and shortlisted for Primers Volume Four.

3 January 2019