Three Poems by Jo Burns

How to Emigrate (For Example to Germany)


First: You Forget Your Own Language


I flew at the turn of the millennium 

to sandstone hues where summer is plump 

burgunder grapes and the bend of Main to Danube. 


For a Hauptsturmführer’s grandson, I picked a new tongue 

(a tongue once maimed by my blood, the Dresden rear-gunner).  

It fit well, telling two families into one tale.  

Over a decade it propagated, crept and covered.

It became an ivy wall spread over a forgotten home.


I have barely lived on this land, yet I’ve assumed its anthem, 

diluting my old dictions, songs. They lie warm but mute.

Unspoken, incognito. But there is a Vorteil.

When you don’t want to be seen, new words have their uses.



Second: You Abseil German Syntax

(After Mark Twain)


Down a crevasse, your subject is loosened rock.

You negotiate objects, (juts holding more clauses).  

You belay those phrases, (watching your brackets) 

until you hit ground and peer blind in the darkness.

The elusive verb you need is a holy grail.

You prise adjectives up, searching under the rubble.

When you lift it, dripping its pronoun entrails,

it’s only then that you know what you were doing at all.



Third: You Become a Rabenmütter


It can be implied that some mothers are no better than corvids.

Or that corvids are more maternal than mothers who work.

You love ravens but you’ve never before been named after one. 

What Celtic irony – raven goddesses warned poet-god Lugh.


As relegations go, you decide the name’s not a bad one.

With clipped tongue and odd flock, you’re an unknown genus.

Your conspiracy unkempt, you are classified flippant.

You’re called a raven mother, in a congress of eagles.


Your child is not wrapped in cotton wool like the rest.

You’re no bird of paradise but they find you too foreign.

What kind of mother finds nine-to-five school days best?

Eyes roll from the guillotines of rare coffee mornings.


You kraa lacklustre in that second-language way.

You’re fluent yet never seem to say quite the right things

so you distil your vocabulary to dull banalities.

The last thing you mention is what you collect all day.


Those shiny words you grab and conceal in your nest.

Oxidation could matte them so you flick your best

on ink menisci just to watch them float and sway:

your hoard of synonyms for the word displaced.



Gertrude Stein Reacts to Pablo Picasso’s Poetry


‘They tell me that you write. I can believe anything of you’

Maria Picasso y Lopez


You write as only a painter could write

and only give back what an ego

writes, which glibly puts a stamp 

without thought on giving back.

Is it that easy, Pablo, simply writing?


Kindly stick to painting

as a painter does, and leave 

the words for the lambs in the hands 

of those who bare their inky

iambs for the forensic beaks of crows.

Stay with colour, Pablo. Simply paint it.



Mrs Violet Schiff at the Majestic


At this gathering of society horsemen to rapture 

behind Parisian oyster cream gates, 

Proust is driving me completely insane, 

and bloody Joyce is silent and seems irritated.


I’m waiting for you, Pablo, in this status collection.

Please wear that faixa wound, for me, on your temple. 

Stravinsky is nervous. I need another cocktail.

I’ve already told them Picasso is coming.


Every minute you make me and Diaghilev wait,

so many numerable things are taking place:

250 children are born, pure and new,

100 souls pass through death and space.


The universe expands by 3000 miles, more or less,

400 litres of blood pump through our veins,

100 marry and 80,000 (probably) have sex.

6 billion human hearts beat 300 billion times.


Although there are 500,000 of these minutes per year,

and it could be assumed that each one of them is small,

each minute I wait, while they quarrel over Beethoven,

Pablo, my social reputation is going,     going,          gone.



Born in Maghera, County Derry, Northern Ireland, Jo Burns is a biomedical scientist and mother of three. She lives in Germany. To date, her poems have been published by A New UlsterThe Taj Mahal ReviewGreensilk JournalThe Artistic MusePoetry BreakfastThe Galway Review and The Honest Ulsterman, and featured in The Irish Literary Times, the Poetry NI P.O.E.T anthology and the Dove Tales anthology Identity.



Image credit: Jaime Pérez

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