Martin Burke

A ruined house, a low row of green and brown ragged hedge growth before it; a young man and an old man.



Old Man:

A cold moon, and a slow dance

Of clouds across it

April that feels like the chill of March 

For the seasons have gone haywire

And even the stars seems wrong in the sky.

Yes, a cold moon, a moon that sends shivers

Across my heart that has seen much

And should fear nothing yet fears tonight.


Young man:

Stop your mutterings to the wind old man

Your words are empty air.


Old man:

What can an old man do but mutter to the wind

When the wind is muttering to me?


Young man:

You’re prone to windbag workings.

Your mind remembers unwholesome thoughts

And you give yourself over to them.

But rouse yourself, here is a ruin

Where we can take shelter and this hedge

Will block the wind from working its ways

Upon us.


Old man:

I know this place, I have been here before

I know its recitals and its visions

I feel the tragedy inherent in these stones

It is as if death is unappeased in this place

Or that beauty has died at the hand of anger.


Young man:

Now you’re are talking in riddles

Or rambling with words the way we ramble

This countryside day and night.

The twisting roads have twisted your mind

You were reluctant to come to this place

But insisted that we come to this place

You’re a contradiction to yourself

As much as you are to me.


Old man:

Old men have prerogatives which young men do not.

If I twist and turn it is because of a memory

Which can never rest easy in my heart. Nor is my mind

Better equipped to handle it. Say what you will

About my state yet even though I don’t want to be here

This is where I must be.


Young man:

Must be, must be

What must be for the two of us

Travelling these roads and seeking shelter?


Old man:

I’m looking for more than shelter

I’m looking for an answer to a vision

That has troubled me for twenty years

Which I hope will be resolved this night


A face, neither male nor female, a face of tragic androgenic beauty, stylized, slowly appears out of the green and brown shrubbery, holds there a few seconds, then slowly disappears back into it again


Old man:

There! Did you see it?


Young man:

See what?


Old man:

That face, peering out of the hedge

The way a bird might peer out from its nest.


Young man:

I saw nothing.


Old man:

But you must have seen it

That face, that face of tragic beauty

Which I have seen in this place before

A face that has drawn me back to this place

After twenty years of travelling.


Young man:

I saw nothing but the shakage of leaves

In a shuddering wind.


Old man:

No, it was there, as if it was waiting for me

As if it has waited for me all these years

That I might at last resolve its meaning

And die without a question in my mind.


Young man:

You’re blathering under the force of the moon

The way you often do. You mutter in your dreams

When you think I do not hear – but I hear.

You are doing no more than that now.


Old man:

No, it was more than that

It was some apparition from between the worlds

Of life and death – some half and half that cannot live

As we do in the world we live in


Young man:

A trick of the moon, no more, that’s all,

A trick of the moon.


Old man:

But the moon has truths only the moon knows

And we are swayed by them the way a tree

Is swayed by a hard and harsh wind.


Young man:

A face and the moon – what a combination

What am I to believe of you on a night like this?

You tell old stories often enough and often hint

At something you have never fully spoken.

Are your wits working against you?

Are you so shaken by the cold that visions appear

To be real to you and you see impossible things

Like a face appearing out of a hedge.


Old man:

I saw it twenty years ago

And it has never left my mind.

Perhaps some tragedy occurred here

And a soul is left waiting for a compassionate heart

To take pity on it and write it into a poem.

Or maybe I am the custodian of some truth which the moon

Casts upon the floor of the world. Perhaps to remember

And acknowledge it is what I must do. Perhaps I am

The only one who has ever seen it and so must carry

That face within me as a heart carries a secret.

Who knows but some tragic story unfolded

In this house and beauty died un-mourned.

Perhaps some jealous lover killed the one he loved

Or maybe it is himself that has half taken on her features

So that he is he and she in the one moment

And there is no escape from his condition

Until the appointed moment of forgiveness

Or the true apparition of that face.


Young man:

Now you disturb me

It’s as if you are telling a story in which you had a part.

What do you know that you won’t say?

What do you say?


Old man:

What do I say? I say that the night and the moon

Have truths which come alive in the wind. I say

That the moon guards all, holds all, hides all

Until the appointed moment and then

Then much is revealed which is otherwise hidden.

The moon has done this to my heart before

It is doing it again.


Young man:

Again, again, what is happening again?


The face appears as before, then disappears again.


Old man:

I know nothing, but the heart can suspect

What the mind cannot yet embrace.

I think I have been drawn to this place

To be a witness, to see if you can also see

The face within the green and brown leaves

Like a tantalising truth which will not fully reveal itself.


Young man:

There was a shakage in the leaves.

That’s all. There was nothing else to see.


Old man:

No! you saw more than that

And it troubles your bones and flesh

The way beauty always does

And now it works its way into you

Like a worm in an apple.

I see it in your eyes

You also saw the vision

You also saw the face in the hedge

You saw what I saw and are disturbed.


Young man:

A mind can see many things on a night like this

And not all of them are wholesome

Nor real. Tricks of the moon I say,

Tricks of the moon and nothing more than that.


Old man:

You are too adamant in your denials

What did you see?


Young man:

I saw nothing.


Old man:

What did you see? What did you see?

Tell me, tell me, what did you see?


Young man:

The leaves moved a little, that’s all.


Old man:

Yes the leaves moved and you saw the face

You did, didn’t you?


Young man:

I saw….I saw…


Old man:

Go one, say it, admit that you saw what I saw.


Young man:

How can I be sure what I saw on a night like this?

How can the mind trust itself under the paleness

Of the moon and the ragged clouds?


Old man:

Your heart knows more than your mouth will speak.

But your voice betrays you –

Yes, you saw what I first saw twenty years ago.


Young man:

I saw…something, I don’t know what it was

Creature or half-creature, the male within the female,

A mask that might be from some world other than this

Or maybe it was the true mask of myself,

Beautiful but with terror about it like a corona

Around the moon.

It repelled me even as it fascinated me

And works its way through me

Like a worm through an apple.


Old man:

You saw what I saw

You saw the face within the leaves!

Admit it!


Young man:

Yes, I saw it

I didn’t want to but I saw it.

So now I sense that I also have become a custodian

Who must carry this image further into the next generation.

You’re task is done old man, you can rest now,

The beauty and the grief will survive in memory

And maybe one day I’ll write it in a poem

To carry it into the common tongue

For the daytime mind to hold.


Old man:

We can do no more than that.

We witness and attest what we do not understand

But yet maintain allegiance to.

It was so with me, may it be so with you.

From now on I will witness nothing but death

And you will continue with your wandering

Until you also meet death disguised as itself.

Perhaps some descendent

If not of your blood then of your caste

Will also inherit this image and pay rightful homage

And at the rightful moment unravel its meanings

To cast them back at the moon for the sake

Of the spoken and the seen. Beauty is tragic

If no one is there to see it, yet only in vision

Can the heart lie down and be at peace

Therefore take the vision to your heart

And be at peace.


Young man:

Don’t die! Don’t die!


Old man:

But I must, my work is done

I have shown to you what you will show to another

In the giving is the gift and there is nothing else.

Protect what has been placed in your mind

And be faithful to that image. The moon can show

No better face than the face which you have seen.

Whatever the prophecy and the fact

Be faithful to what you have seen and known

And drawn from the world of vision. Be faithful

To that and the rhythms of your blood

And cast them back at the moon

So as to give to beauty the validity of your voice.


Young man:

He is gone, gone into the wind and I am alone

With the memory of a face which troubles my mind

The way the moon troubles this night.

Nothing remains but to give the moon

The validity of a voice and carry with me

Wherever I go the beauty and the grief.


Wherever I go I’ll carry with me the beauty and the grief.

Wherever I go I’ll carry with me the beauty and the grief.

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Martin Burke is a poet/playwright/actor. He lives in Flanders (Belgium) and has published sixteen books of his work in the USA, UK, Ireland and Belgium. Among his latest publications are: Quint – Orpheus Books 21 (Belgium); & Blake/London/Blake published by The Feral Press (New York). Contact him at:
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May 2016

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