The HyperTexts

Rejection Slips
by Michael R. Burch

I chose the title "Rejection Slips" ironically, since I question whether the "slips" were made by the poet or his editors. These are poems of mine that were rejected multiple times before being published; some have never been formally published. I have given my "suspicions" why in some cases. Of course it could be that the poems in question simply appeal to me more than to other people, but I like to think these are publishable poems and that it was the editors who slipped up!



Nun Fun Undone
by Michael R. Burch

Abbesses'
recesses
are not for excesses!

I suspect "Nun Fun Undone" is too naughty and heretical for some editors. The poem was published by Brief Poems, thanks to editor Connor Kelly, many years after it was originally written. The title may be a poem in its own right.



Caveat Spender
by Michael R. Burch

It’s better not to speculate
"continually" on who is great.
Though relentless awe’s
a Célèbre Cause,
please reserve some time for the contemplation
of the perils of
Exaggeration.

I believe "Caveat Spender" is my most-rejected poem.



Distances
by Michael R. Burch

Moonbeams on water —
the reflected light
of a halcyon star
now drowning in night ...
So your memories are.

Footprints on beaches
now flooding with water;
the small, broken ribcage
of some primitive slaughter ...
So near, yet so far.

I’m not sure why "Distances" hasn’t been snapped up. It may be my favorite of all my unpublished poems. In the first stanza the "halcyon star" is the sun, which has dropped below the horizon and is thus "drowning in night." But its light strikes the moon, creating moonbeams which are reflected in the water. Sometimes memories seem that distant, that faint, that elusive. Footprints are being washed away, a heart is missing from its ribcage, and even things close at hand can be infinitely beyond our reach. Every time the poem has been rejected, I have been surprised and disappointed.



Sex Hex
by Michael R. Burch

Love’s full of cute paradoxes
(and highly acute poxes).



Moments
by Michael R. Burch

There were moments full of promise,
like the petal-scented rainfall of early spring,
when to hold you in my arms and to kiss your willing lips
seemed everything.

There are moments strangely empty
full of pale unearthly twilight—how the cold stars stare!
when to be without you is a dark enchantment
the night and I share.

This is the sort of poem that is hard to get published these days. Thankfully this one was eventually published by Tucumcari Literary Review, Romantics Quarterly and in a Romanian translation by Petru Dimofte.



Frail Envelope of Flesh
―for the mothers and children of the Holocaust and Gaza

Frail envelope of flesh,
lying cold on the surgeon’s table
with anguished eyes
like your mother’s eyes
and a heartbeat weak, unstable ...

Frail crucible of dust,
brief flower come to this—
your tiny hand
in your mother’s hand
for a last bewildered kiss ...

Brief mayfly of a child,
to live two artless years!
Now your mother’s lips
seal up your lips
from the Deluge of her tears ...

The title and first line of this poem came from a comic book that I read around age eleven while living in Wiesbaden, Germany. The line, uttered by a super-villain really struck me and stayed with me.



Southern Icarus
by Michael R. Burch

Windborne, lover of heights,
unspooled from the truck’s wildly lurching embrace,
you climb, skittish kite . . .

What do you know of the world’s despair,
gliding in vast          solitariness           there,
so that all that remains is to
fall?

Only a little longer the wind invests its sighs;
you
stall,
spread-eagled, as the canvas snaps

and flaps
its white rebellious wings,
and all

the houses watch with baffled eyes.



Lullaby
by Michael R. Burch

for Jeremy

Cherubic laugh; sly, impish grin;
Angelic face; wild chimp within.

It does not matter; sleep awhile
As soft mirth tickles forth a smile.

Gray moths will hum a lullaby
Of feathery wings, then you and I

Will wake together, by and by.

Life’s not long; those days are best
Spent snuggled to a loving breast.

The earth will wait; a sun-filled sky
Will bronze lean muscle, by and by.

Soon you will sing, and I will sigh,
But sleep here, now, for you and I

Know nothing but this lullaby.



brrExit
by Michael R. Burch

what would u give
to simply not exist—
for a painless exit?
he asked himself, uncertain.

then from behind
the hospital room curtain
a patient screamed—
"my life!"



The Shrinking Season
by Michael R. Burch

With every wearying year
the weight of the winter grows
and while the schoolgirl outgrows
her clothes,
the widow disappears
in hers.



Goddess
by Michael R. Burch

“What will you conceive in me?”—
I asked her. But she
only smiled.

“Naked, I bore your child
when the wolf wind howled,
when the cold moon scowled . . .
naked, and gladly.”

“What will become of me?”—
I asked her, as she
absently stroked my hand.

Centuries later, I understand;
she whispered—“I Am.”



Autumn Conundrum
by Michael R. Burch

It’s not that every leaf must finally fall,
it’s just that we can never catch them all.



Piercing the Shell
by Michael R. Burch

If we strip away all the accouterments of war,
perhaps we’ll discover what the heart is for.



Smoke
by Michael R. Burch

The hazy, smoke-filled skies of summer I remember well;
farewell was on my mind, and the thoughts that I can't tell
rang bells within (the din was in) my mind, and I can't say
if what we had was good or bad, or where it is today.
The endless days of summer's haze I still recall today;
she spoke and smoky skies stood still as summer slipped away . . .

This poem appeared in my high school journal, the Lantern, in 1976. It also appeared in my college literary journal, Homespun, in 1977. But I don't believe it was ever published elsewhere. I believe I had The Summer of '42 in mind when I wrote the poem. Ironically, I didn't see the movie until many years later, but something about its advertisement touched me. Am I the only poet who ever wrote a love poem for Jennifer O'Neil after seeing her fleeting image in a blurb? At least in that respect, I may be unique! In any case, the movie came out in 1971 or 1972, so I was probably around 14 when I wrote the poem.



Styx
by Michael R. Burch

Black waters,
deep and dark and still . . .
all men have passed this way,
or will.

I don't remember exactly when I wrote this poem, but I do remember it being part of a longer poem. It was originally titled "Death." The first four lines seemed better than the rest of the poem, so I opted for the better part of valor: discretion. Years later I submitted the epigrammatic version of the poem to Harvey Stanbrough, the founder and editor of The Raintown Review, and he responded: "When I find a submission like yours in the stack of generally mind-numbing pages, I feel both thrilled and honored. I hope you'll let me see more of your work in the near future. The poems I accepted are the excellent epigraph, 'Death,' and 'Rant: The Harvest of Roses,' an excellent exercise in dactylic rhythm. I know how difficult it is to write well AND maintain a dactylic meter throughout, and you handled it well." I remember being somewhat perplexed, because I wrote poetry purely by ear and had no idea what "dactylic meter" was. (Still don't!)



Lady’s Favor
by Michael R. Burch

May
spring
fling
her riotous petals
devil-
may-care
into the air,
ignoring the lethal
nettles
and may
May
cry gleeful-
ly Hooray!
as the abundance
settles,
till a sudden June
swoon
leave us out of tune,
torn,
when the last rose is left
inconsolably bereft,
rudely shorn
of every device but its thorn.



Reflex
by Michael R. Burch

for Jeremy

Some intuition of her despair
for her lost brood,
as though a lost fragment of song
torn from her flat breast,
touched me there . . .

I felt, unable to hear
through the bright glass,
the being within her melt
as her unseemly tirade
left a feather or two
adrift on the wind-ruffled air.

Where she will go,
how we all err,
why we all fear
for the lives of our children,
I cannot pretend to know.

But, O!,
how the unappeased glare
of omnivorous sun
over crimson-flecked snow
makes me wish you were here.



Fascination with Light
by Michael R. Burch

Desire glides in on calico wings,
a breath of a moth
seeking a companionable light,

where it hovers, unsure,
sullen, shy or demure,
in the margins of night,

a soft blur.

With a frantic dry rattle
of alien wings,
it rises and thrums one long breathless staccato

and flutters and drifts on in dark aimless flight.

And yet it returns
to the flame, its delight,
as long as it burns.



The Pain of Love

for T. M.

The pain of love is this:
the parting after the kiss;

the train steaming from the station
whistling abnegation;

each interstate’s bleak white bar
that vanishes under your car;

every hour and flower and friend
that cannot be saved in the end;

dear things of immeasurable cost ...
now all irretrievably lost.

Note: The title “The Pain of Love” was suggested by an interview with Little Richard, then eighty years old, in Rolling Stone. He said that someone should create a song called “The Pain of Love.” I have always found the departure platforms of railway stations and the vanishing broken white bars of highway dividing lines depressing.



Desdemona
by Michael R. Burch

Though you possessed the moon and stars,
you are bound to fate and wed to chance.
Your lips deny they crave a kiss;
your feet deny they ache to dance.
Your heart imagines wild romance.

Though you cupped fire in your hands
and molded incandescent forms,
you are barren now, and—spent of flame—
the ashes that remain are borne
toward the sun upon a storm.

You, who demanded more, have less,
your heart within its cells of sighs
held fast by chains of misery,
confined till death for peddling lies—
imprisonment your sense denies.

You, who collected hearts like leaves
and pressed each once within your book,
forgot. None—winsome, bright or rare—
not one was worth a second look.
My heart, as others, you forsook.

But I, though I loved you from afar
through silent dawns, and gathered rue
from gardens where your footsteps left
cold paths among the asters, knew—
each moonless night the nettles grew

and strangled hope, where love dies too.



Veiled
by Michael R. Burch

She has belief
without comprehension
and in her crutchwork shack
she is
much like us . . .

tamping the bread
into edible forms,
regarding her children
at play
with something akin to relief . . .

ignoring the towers ablaze
in the distance
because they are not revelations
but things of glass,
easily shattered . . .

and if you were to ask her,
she might say—
sometimes God visits his wrath
upon an impious nation
for its leaders’ sins,

and we might agree:
seeing her mutilations.



Lucifer, to the Enola Gay
by Michael R. Burch

Go then,
and give them my meaning
so that their teeming
streets
become my city.

Bring back a pretty
flower—
a chrysanthemum,
perhaps, to bloom
if but an hour,
within a certain room
of mine
where
the sun does not rise or fall,
and the moon,
although it is content to shine,
helps nothing at all.

There,
if I hear the wistful call
of their voices
regretting choices
made
or perhaps not made
in time,
I can look back upon it and recall,
in all
its pale forms sublime,
still
Death will never be holy again.



Squall
by Michael R. Burch

There, in that sunny arbor,
in the aureate light
filtering through the waxy leaves
of a stunted banana tree,

I felt the sudden monsoon of your wrath,
the clattery implosions
and copper-bright bursts
of the bottoms of pots and pans.

I saw your swollen goddess’s belly
wobble and heave
in pregnant indignation,
turned tail, and ran.



If You Come to San Miguel
by Michael R. Burch

If you come to San Miguel
before the orchids fall,
we might stroll through lengthening shadows
those deserted streets
where love first bloomed ...

You might buy the same cheap musk
from that mud-spattered stall
where with furtive eyes the vendor
watched his fragrant wares
perfume your breasts ...

Where lean men mend tattered nets,
disgruntled sea gulls chide;
we might find that cafetucho
where through grimy panes
sunset implodes ...

Where tall cranes spin canvassed loads,
the strange anhingas glide.
Green brine laps splintered moorings,
rusted iron chains grind,
weighed and anchored in the past,

held fast by luminescent tides ...
Should you come to San Miguel?
Let love decide.



Salat Days
by Michael R. Burch

Dedicated to the memory of my grandfather, Paul Ray Burch, Sr.

I remember how my grandfather used to pick poke salat ...
though first, usually, he’d stretch back in the front porch swing,
dangling his long thin legs, watching the sweat bees drone,
talking about poke salat—
how easy it was to find if you knew where to look for it ...
standing in dew-damp clumps by the side of a road, shockingly green,
straddling fence posts, overflowing small ditches,
crowding out the less-hardy nettles.

“Nobody knows that it’s there, lad, or that it’s fit tuh eat
with some bacon drippin’s or lard.”


“Don’t eat the berries. You see—the berry’s no good.
And you’d hav’ta wash the leaves a good long time.”


“I’d boil it twice, less’n I wus in a hurry.
Lawd, it’s tough to eat, chile, if you boil it jest wonst.”

He seldom was hurried; I can see him still ...
silently mowing his yard at eighty-eight,
stooped, but with a tall man’s angular gray grace.

Sometimes he’d pause to watch me running across the yard,
trampling his beans,
dislodging the shoots of his tomato plants.

He never grew flowers; I never laughed at his jokes about The Depression.

Years later I found the proper name—“pokeweed”—while perusing a dictionary.
Surprised, I asked why anyone would eat a weed.
I still can hear his laconic reply ...

“Well, chile, s’m’times them times wus hard.”



Of Civilization and Disenchantment
by Michael R. Burch

Suddenly uncomfortable
to stay at my grandfather’s house—
actually his third new wife’s,
in her daughter’s bedroom
—one interminable summer
with nothing to do,
all the meals served cold,
even beans and peas . . .

Lacking the words to describe
ah!, those pearl-luminous estuaries—
strange omens, incoherent nights.

Seeing the flares of the river barges
illuminating Memphis,
city of bluffs and dying splendors.

Drifting toward Alexandria,
Pharos, Rhakotis, Djoser’s fertile delta,
lands at the beginning of a new time and “civilization.”

Leaving behind sixty miles of unbroken cemetery,
Alexander’s corpse floating seaward,
bobbing, milkwhite, in a jar of honey.

Memphis shall be waste and desolate,
without an inhabitant.
Or so the people dreamed, in chains.



Loose Knit
by Michael R. Burch

She blesses the needle,
fetches fine red stitches,
criss-crossing, embroidering dreams
in the delicate fabric.

And if her hand jerks and twitches in puppet-like fits,
she tells herself
reality is not as threadbare as it seems ...

that a little more darning may gather loose seams.

She weaves an unraveling tapestry
of fatigue and remorse and pain; ...
only the nervously pecking needle
pricks her to motion, again and again.



Millay Has Her Way with a Vassar Professor
by Michael R. Burch

After a night of hard drinking and spreading her legs,
Millay hits the dorm, where the Vassar don begs:
“Please act more chastely, more discretely, more seemly!”
(His name, let’s assume, was, er . . . Percival Queemly.)

“Expel me! Expel me!”—She flashes her eyes.
“Oh! Please! No! I couldn’t! That wouldn’t be wise,
for a great banished Shelley would tarnish my name . . .
Eek! My game will be lame if I can’t milque your fame!”

“Continue to live here—carouse as you please!”
the beleaguered don sighs as he sags to his knees.
Millay grinds her crotch half an inch from his nose:
“I can live in your hellhole, strange man, I suppose ...
but the price is your firstborn, whom I’ll sacrifice to Moloch.”
(Which explains what became of pale Percy’s son, Enoch.)



Hangovers
by Michael R. Burch

We forget that, before we were born,
our parents had “lives” of their own,
ran drunk in the streets, or half-stoned.

Yes, our parents had lives of their own
until we were born; then, undone,
they were buying their parents gravestones

and finding gray hairs of their own
(because we were born lacking some
of their curious habits, but soon

would certainly get them). Half-stoned,
we watched them dig graves of their own.
Their lives would be over too soon

for their curious habits to bloom
in us (though our children were born
nine months from that night on the town

when, punch-drunk in the streets or half-stoned,
we first proved we had lives of our own).



Conformists
by Michael R. Burch

Conformists of a feather
flock together.



Bible Libel
by Michael R. Burch

If God
is good
half the Bible
is libel.

This is a heretical poem of mine that I ended up publishing myself. After having read the Bible from cover to cover as a young boy, I came to agree with William Blake, who called the biblical god "Nobodaddy" because no child would want him for a father.



Redefinitions

Faith: falling into the same old claptrap.—Michael R. Burch
Religion: the ties that blind.—Michael R. Burch
Trickle down economics: an especially pungent golden shower.—Michael R. Burch

I call these epigrams "redefinitions." There are more, but these are my three favorites.



we did not Dye in vain!
by michael r. burch

from “songs of the sea snails”

though i’m just a slimy crawler,
my lineage is proud:
my forebears gave their lives
(oh, let the trumps blare loud!)
so purple-mantled Royals
might stand out in a crowd.

i salute you, fellow loyals,
who labor without scruple
as your incomes fall
while deficits quadruple
to swaddle unjust Lords
in bright imperial purple!

Notes: In ancient times the purple dye produced from the secretions of purpura mollusks (sea snails) was known as “Tyrian purple,” “royal purple” and “imperial purple.” It was greatly prized in antiquity, and was very expensive according to the historian Theopompus: “Purple for dyes fetched its weight in silver at Colophon.” Thus, purple-dyed fabrics became status symbols, and laws often prevented commoners from possessing them. The production of Tyrian purple was tightly controlled in Byzantium, where the imperial court restricted its use to the coloring of imperial silks. A child born to the reigning emperor was literally porphyrogenitos ("born to the purple") because the imperial birthing apartment was walled in porphyry, a purple-hued rock, and draped with purple silks. Royal babies were swaddled in purple; we know this because the iconodules, who disagreed with the emperor Constantine about the veneration of images, accused him of defecating on his imperial purple swaddling clothes!



thanksgiving prayer of the parasites

by michael r. burch

GODD is great;
GODD is good;
let us thank HIM
for our food.

by HIS hand
we all are fed;
give us now
our daily dead.

ah-men!

p.s.,
most gracious
& salacious
HEAVENLY LORD,
we thank YOU in advance for
meals galore
of loverly gore:
of precious
delicious
sumptuous
scrumptious
human flesh!)



Departed
by Michael R. Burch

Already, I miss you,
though your parting kiss is still warm on my lips.

Now the floor is not strewn with your stockings and slips
and the dishes are all put away.

You left me today . . .
and each word left unspoken now whispers regrets.



Regret
by Michael R. Burch

Regret,
a bitter
ache to bear . . .

once starlight
languished
in your hair . . .

a shining there
as brief
as rare.

Regret . . .
a pain
I chose to bear . . .

unleash
the torrent
of your hair . . .

and show me
once again—
how rare.



The Toast
by Michael R. Burch

For dreams discarded, useless dust,
brief lusts that animated clay,
for passions wilted at the bud
and skies grown desolate and gray,

for stars that fell from tinseled heights
and mountains bleak and scarred and lone,
for seas reflecting distant suns
and weeds that thrive where seeds were sown,

for waltzes ending in a hush
and rhymes that fade as pages close,
for flames exhausted, leaving ash,
and petals falling from the rose,

I raise my cup before I drink
in reverence to a love long dead,
and silently propose a toast—
to passages, to time that fled.



Success
by Michael R. Burch

for Jeremy

We need our children to keep us humble
between toast and marmalade;

there is no time for a ticker-tape parade
before bed, no award, no bright statuette

to be delivered for mending skinned knees,
no wild bursts of approval for shoveling snow.

A kiss is the only approval they show;
to leave us—the first great success they achieve.



Sunset
by Michael R. Burch

This poem is dedicated to my grandfather, George Edwin Hurt, who died April 4, 1998.

Between the prophesies of morning
and twilight’s revelations of wonder,
the sky is ripped asunder.

The moon lurks in the clouds,
waiting, as if to plunder
the dusk of its lilac iridescence,

and in the bright-tentacled sunset
we imagine a presence
full of the fury of lost innocence.

What we find within strange whorls of drifting flame,
brief patterns mauling winds deform and maim,
we recognize at once, but cannot name.



The Princess and the Pauper
by Michael R. Burch

for Norman Kraeft in memory of his beloved wife June Kysilko Kraeft

Here was a woman bright, intent on life,
who did not flinch from Death, but caught his eye
and drew him, powerless, into her spell
of wanting her himself, so much the lie
that she was meant for him—obscene illusion!—
made him seem a monarch throned like God on high,
when he was less than nothing; when to die
meant many stultifying, pained embraces.

She shed her gown, undid the tangled laces
that tied her to the earth: then she was his.
Now all her erstwhile beauty he defaces
and yet she grows in hallowed loveliness—
her ghost beyond perfection—for to die
was to ascend. Now he begs, penniless.



The Sky Was Turning Blue
by Michael R. Burch

Yesterday I saw you
as the snow flurries died,
spent winds becalmed.
When I saw your solemn face
alone in the crowd,
I felt my heart, so long embalmed,
begin to beat aloud.

Was it another winter,
another day like this?
Was it so long ago?
Where you the rose-cheeked girl
who slapped my face, then stole a kiss?
Was the sky this gray with snow,
my heart so all a-whirl?

How is it in one moment
it was twenty years ago,
lost worlds remade anew?
When your eyes met mine, I knew
you felt it too, as though
we heard the robin's song
and the sky was turning blue.



The Better Man
by Michael R. Burch

Dear Ed: I don’t understand why
you will publish this other guy—
when I’m brilliant, devoted,
one hell of a poet!
Yet you publish Anonymous. Fie!

Fie! A pox on your head if you favor
this poet who’s dubious, unsavor
y, inconsistent in texts,
no address (I checked!):
since he’s plagiarized Unknown, I’ll wager!

I have never understood why this one wasn't snapped up by Light or some other publisher of humorous poetry. It seems rather cute and clever to me, but what do I know? The poem was published by The Eclectic Muse, thanks to editor Joe M. Ruggier.



Roses for a Lover, Idealized

When you have become to me
as roses bloom, in memory,
exquisite, each sharp thorn forgot,
will I recall—yours made me bleed?

When winter makes me think of you—
whorls petrified in frozen dew,
bright promises blithe spring forsook,
will I recall your words—barbed, cruel?



The State of the Art (?)
by Michael R. Burch

Has rhyme lost all its reason
and rhythm, renascence?
Are sonnets out of season
and poems but poor pretense?

Are poets lacking fire,
their words too trite and forced?
What happened to desire?
Has passion been coerced?

Shall poetry fade slowly,
like Latin, to past tense?
Are the bards too high and holy,
or their readers merely dense?



The Whole of Wit
by Michael R. Burch

for Richard Moore

If brevity is the soul of wit
then brevity and levity
are the whole of it.



Bubble
by Michael R. Burch

                Love—
          fragile,    elusive—
      if held         too closely
    cannot              withstand
  the inter                    ruption
of its                              bright,
  unmalleable              tension
    and breaks, disintegrates,
       at the           touch of
           an undiscerning
                   hand.

I believe this is my only "shape" or "shaped" poem.



Nothing Returns
by Michael R. Burch

A wave implodes,
impaled upon
impassive rocks . . .

this evening
the thunder of the sea
is a wild music filling my ear . . .

you are leaving
and the disbelieving
wind I hear:

telling me
that nothing returns
as it was before,

here where you have left no mark
upon this dark
Heraclitean shore.



The Harvest of Roses
by Michael R. Burch

I have not come for the harvest of roses—
the poets' mad visions,
their railing at rhyme ...
for I have discerned what their writing discloses:
weak words wanting meaning,
beat torsioning time.

Nor have I come for the reaping of gossamer—
images weak,
too forced not to fail;
gathered by poets who worship their luster,
they shimmer, impendent,
resplendently pale.



In a Stolen Moment
by Kim Cherub

In a stolen moment,
when the clock’s hands complete their inevitable course
and sleep is the night’s dark spell,
I call it a curse,

seeking the force,
the font of candescent words, the electric thrill
tingling from brain to spine
to incessant quill—

the fever, the chill.
I know it as well as I know myself.
Time’s second hand stirs; not I; in my cell,
words spill.



Burn

for Trump

Sunbathe,
ozone baby,
till your parched skin cracks
in the white-hot flash
of radiation.

Incantation
from your pale parched lips
shall not avail;
you made this hell.
Now burn.



Davenport Tomorrow
by Michael R. Burch

Davenport tomorrow ...
all the trees stand stark-naked in the sun.

Now it is always summer
and the bees buzz in cesspools,
adapted to a new life.

There are no flowers,
but the weeds, being hardier,
have survived.

The small town has become
a city of millions;
there is no longer a sea,
only a huge sewer,
but the children don't mind.

They still study
rocks and stars,
but biology is a forgotten science ...
after all, what is life?

Davenport tomorrow ...
all the children murmur through vein-streaked gills
whispered wonders of long-ago.



Breakings
by Michael R. Burch

I did it out of pity.
I did it out of love
I did it not to break the heart of a tender, wounded dove.

But gods without compassion
ordained: Frail things must break!
Now what can I do for my shattered psyche’s sake?



u-turn: another way to look at religion
by michael r. burch

... u were borne orphaned from Ecstasy
into this lower realm: just one of the inching worms
dreaming of Beatification; u
would love to make a u-turn back to Divinity, but
having misplaced ur chrysalis, u can only
chant magical phrases,
like Circe luring ulysses back into the pigsty ...



Alien

for J. S. S.

On a lonely outpost on Mars
the astronaut practices “speech”
as alien to primates below
as mute stars winking high, out of reach.

And his words fall as bright and as chill
as ice crystals on Kilimanjaro —
far colder than Jesus’s words
over the “fortunate” sparrow.

And I understand how gentle Emily
felt, when all comfort had flown,
gazing into those inhuman eyes,
feeling zero at the bone.

Oh, how can I grok his arctic thought?
For if he is human, I am not.



Crescendo Against Heaven
by Michael R. Burch

As curiously formal as the rose,
the imperious Word grows
until its sheds red-gilded leaves:
then heaven grieves
love’s tiny pool of crimson recrimination
against God, its contention
of the price of salvation.

These industrious trees,
endlessly losing and re-losing their leaves,
finally unleashing themselves from earth, lashing
themselves to bits, washing
themselves free
of all but the final ignominy
of death, become
at last: fast planks of our coffins, dumb.

Together now, rude coffins, crosses,
death-cursed but bright vermillion roses,
bodies, stumps, tears, words: conspire
together with a nearby spire
to raise their Accusation Dire ...
to scream, complain, to point out these
and other Dark Anomalies.

God always silent, ever afar,
distant as Bethlehem’s retrograde star,
we point out now, in resignation:
You asked too much of man’s beleaguered nation,
gave too much strength to his Enemy,
as though to prove Your Self greater than He,
at our expense, and so men die
(whose accusations vex the sky)
yet hope, somehow, that You are good ...
just, O greatest of Poets!, misunderstood.



Thirty
by Michael R. Burch

Thirty crept upon me slowly
with feline caution and a slowly-twitching tail.
As three decades passed, she waited for the winds to shift;
now, claws unsheathed, she lies ready to assail
her defenseless prey.



Privilege
by Michael R. Burch

This poem is dedicated to Harvey Stanbrough, an ex-marine who was nominated for the 1999 Pulitzer Prize and has written passionately and eloquently about the horror and absurdity of war in “Lessons for a Barren Population.”

No, I will never know
what you saw or what you felt,
thrust into the maw of Eternity,

watching the mortars nightly
greedily making their rounds,
hearing the soft damp hiss

of men’s souls like helium escaping
their collapsing torn bodies,
or lying alone, feeling the great roar

of your own heart.
But I know:
there is a bitter knowledge

of death I have not achieved,
and in thankful ignorance,
and especially for my son

and for all who benefit so easily
at so unthinkable a price,
I thank you.



Imperfect Sonnet
by Michael R. Burch

A word before the light is doused: the night
is something wriggling through an unclean mind,
as rats creep through a tenement. And loss
is written cheaply with the moon’s cracked gloss
like lipstick through the infinite, to show
love’s pale yet sordid imprint on us. Go.

We have not learned love yet, except to cleave.
I saw the moon rise once ... but to believe ...
was of another century ... and now ...
I have the urge to love, but not the strength.

Despair, once stretched out to its utmost length,
lies couched in squalor, watching as the screen
reveals “love’s” damaged images: its dreams ...
and masturbating limply, screams and screams.



Am I
by Michael R. Burch

Am I inconsequential;
do I matter not at all?
Am I just a snowflake,
to sparkle, then to fall?

Am I only chaff?
Of what use am I?
Am I just a flame,
to flicker, then to die?

Am I inadvertent?
For what reason am I here?
Am I just a ripple
in a pool that once was clear?

Am I insignificant?
Will time pass me by?
Am I just a flower,
to live one day, then die?

Am I unimportant?
Do I matter either way?
Or am I just an echo—
soon to fade away?

This seems like a pretty well-crafted poem for a teenage poet just getting started. I believe I was around 14 or 15 when I wrote it. The title is a reversal of the biblical "I Am."



Time
by Michael R. Burch

Time,
where have you gone?
What turned out so short,
had seemed like so long.

Time,
where have you flown?
What seemed like mere days
were years come and gone.

Time,
see what you've done:
for now I am old,
when once I was young.

Time,
do you even know why
your days, minutes, seconds
preternaturally fly?

This is a companion piece to "Am I" Both poems appeared in my high school project notebook (titled "Poems"), so I was probably around 14 or 15 when I wrote them. I believe the class was 10th grade English and the poems had already been written.



These Hallowed Halls
by Michael R. Burch
a young Romantic Poet mourns the passing of an age . . .

I.

A final stereo fades into silence
and now there is seldom a murmur
to trouble the slumber
of these ancient halls.

I stand by a window where others have watched
the passage of time alone,
not untouched,
and I am as they were—
                                       unsure,
and the days
stretch out ahead,
a bewildering maze.

II.

Ah, faithless lover—
that I had never touched your breast,
nor felt the stirrings of my heart,
which until that moment had peacefully slept.

For now I have known the exhilaration
of a heart that has leapt from the pinnacle of love,
and the result of every infatuation—
the long freefall to earth, as the moon glides above.

III.

A solitary clock chimes the hour
from far above the campus,
but my peers,
returning from their dances,
heed it not.

And so it is
that we seldom gauge Time’s speed
because He moves so unobtrusively
about His task.

Still, when at last
we reckon His mark upon our lives,
we may well be surprised
at His thoroughness.

IV.

Ungentle maiden—
when Time has etched His little lines
so carelessly across your brow,
perhaps I will love you less than now.

And when cruel Time has stolen
your youth, as He certainly shall in course,
perhaps you will wish you had taken me
along with my broken heart,
even as He will take you with yours.

V.

A measureless rhythm rules the night—
few have heard it,
but I have shared it,
and its secret is mine.

To put it into words
is as to extract the sweetness from honey
and must be done as gently
as a butterfly cleans its wings.

But when it is captured, it is gone again;
its usefulness is only
that it lulls to sleep.

VI.

So sleep, my love, to the cadence of night,
to the moans of the moonlit hills
that groan as I do, yet somehow sleep
through the nightjar’s cryptic trills.

But I will not sleep this night, nor any . . .
how can I, when my dreams
are always of your perfect face
ringed in whorls of fretted lace,
and a tear upon your pillowcase?

VII.

If I had been born when knights roamed the earth
and mad kings ruled strange lands,
I might have turned to the ministry,
to the solitude of a monastery.

But there are no monks or hermits today—
theirs is a lost occupation
carried on, if at all,
merely for sake of tradition.

For today man abhors solitude—
he craves companions, song and drink,
seldom seeking a quiet moment,
to sit alone by himself, to think.

VIII.

And so I cannot shut myself
off from the rest of the world,
to spend my days in philosophy
and my nights in tears of self-sympathy.

No, I must continue as best I can,
and learn to keep my thoughts away
from those glorious, uproarious moments of youth,
centuries past though lost but a day.

IX.

Yes, I must discipline myself
and adjust to these lackluster days
when men display no chivalry
and romance is the "old-fashioned" way.

X.

A single stereo flares into song
and the first faint light of morning
has pierced the sky's black awning
once again.

XI.

This is a sacred place,
for those who leave,
leave better than they came.

But those who stay, while they are here,
add, with their sleepless nights and tears,
quaint sprigs of ivy to the walls
of these hallowed halls.



Aflutter
by Michael R. Burch

This rainbow is the token of the covenant, which I have established between me and all flesh.—Yahweh

You are gentle now, and in your failing hour
how like the child you were, you seem again,
and smile as sadly as the girl (age ten?)
who held the sparrow with the mangled wing
close to her heart. It marveled at your power
but would not mend. And so the world renews
old vows it seemed to make: false promises
spring whispers, as if nothing perishes
that does not resurrect to wilder hues
like rainbows’ eerie pacts we apprehend
but cannot fail to keep
. Now in your eyes
I see the end of life that only dies
and does not care for bright, translucent lies.
Are tears so precious? These few, let us spend
together, as before, then lay to rest
these sparrows’ hearts aflutter at each breast.

This is a poem about a couple committing suicide together. The “eerie pact” refers back to a Bible verse about the rainbow being a “covenant,” when the only covenant human beings can depend on is the original one that condemned us to suffer and die. That covenant is always kept perfectly.



I AM
by Michael R. Burch

I am not one of ten billion—I—
sunblackened Icarus, chary fly,
staring at God with a quizzical eye.

I am not one of ten billion, I.

I am not one life has left unsquashed—
scarred as Ulysses, goddess-debauched,
pale glowworm agleam with a tale of panache.

I am not one life has left unsquashed.

I am not one without spots of disease,
laugh lines and tan lines and thick-callused knees
from begging and praying and girls sighing “Please!”

I am not one without spots of disease.

I am not one of ten billion—I—
scion of Daedalus, blackwinged fly
staring at God with a sedulous eye.

I am not one of ten billion, I
AM!

This is another heretical poem. It sort of reverses my childhood poem "Am I."



Willy Nilly
by Michael R. Burch

for the Demiurge aka Yahweh/Jehovah

Isn’t it silly, Willy Nilly?
You made the stallion,
you made the filly,
and now they sleep
in the dark earth, stilly.
Isn’t it silly, Willy Nilly?

Isn’t it silly, Willy Nilly?
You forced them to run
all their days uphilly.
They ran till they dropped—
life’s a pickle, dilly.
Isn’t it silly, Willy Nilly?

Isn’t it silly, Willy Nilly?
They say I should worship you!
Oh, really!
They say I should pray
so you’ll not act illy.
Isn’t it silly, Willy Nilly?

This is yet another heretical poem that it has been difficult to find publishers for.



Kindred (II)
by Michael R. Burch

Rise, pale disastrous moon!
What is love, but a heightened effect
of time, light and distance?

Did you burn once,
before you became
so remote, so detached,

so coldly, inhumanly lustrous,
before you were able to assume
the very pallor of love itself?

What is the dawn now, to you or to me?
We are as one,
out of favor with the sun.

We would exhume
the white corpse of love
for a last dance,

and yet we will not.
We will let her be,
let her abide,

for she is nothing now,
to you
or to me.



Unwhole
by Michael R. Burch

What is it that we strive to remember, to regain,
as memory deserts us,
leaving us destitute of even ourselves,
of all but pain?

How can something so essential be forgotten,
if we are more than our bodies?

How can a soul
become so unwhole?



The Bachelor Spectacular
by Michael R. Burch

One heart? Tossed aside.
The other? A bride’s.
In all his great wisdom, the bachelor decides.

Eeenie, mean-ie, mine-y, mo’,
one gal must stay and one must go.
If she hollers? That’s the show!

No heart can handle such despair!
But hearts get broken, hearts repair.
Next season? The treasoned will rule the air.



You Never Listened
by Michael R. Burch

You never listened,
though each night the rain
wove its patterns again
and trembled and glistened . . .

You were not watching,
though each night the stars
shone, brightening the tears
in her eyes palely fetching . . .

You paid love no notice,
though she lay in my arms
as the stars rose in swarms
like a legion of poets,

as the lightning recited
its opus before us,
and the hills boomed the chorus,
all strangely delighted . . .



Twice
by Michael R. Burch

Now twice she has left me
and twice I have listened
and taken her back, remembering days

when love lay upon us
and sparkled and glistened,
the brightness of dew through a gathering haze.

But twice she has left me
to start my life over,
and twice I have gathered up embers, to learn:

rekindle a fire
from ash, soot and cinder
and softly it sputters, refusing to burn.



Brief
 

“Epigram”
means cram,
then scram!



Midnight Stairclimber

Procreation
is at first great sweaty recreation,
then—long, long after the sex dies—
the source of endless exercise.



Pity Clarity
by Michael R. Burch

Pity Clarity,
and, if you should find her,
release her from the tangled webs
of dusty verse that bind her.

And as for Brevity,
once the soul of wit—
she feels the gravity
of ironic chains and massive rhetoric.

And Poetry,
before you may adore her,
must first be freed
from those who for her loveliness would whore her.

This poem expresses my unhappiness with the "state of the art" in three different poetic camps or churches.



and then i was made whole
by Michael R. Burch

... and then i was made whole,
but not a thing entire,
glued to a perch
in a gilded church,
strung through with a silver wire ...

singing a little of this and of that,
warbling higher and higher:
a thing wholly dead
till I lifted my head
and spat at the Lord and his choir.

I seem to specialize in heretical poems that most editors wouldn't touch with a ten-foot pole!



The Poet's Condition
by Michael R. Burch

The poet's condition
(bother tradition)
is whining contrition.
Supposedly sage,

his editor knows
his brain's in his toes
though he would suppose
to soon be the rage.

His readers are sure
his work's premature
or merely manure,
insipidly trite.

His mother alone
will answer the phone
(perhaps with a moan)
to hear him recite.



Premonition
by Michael R. Burch

Now the evening has come to a close and the party is over ...
we stand in the doorway and watch as they go—
each stranger, each acquaintance, each unembraceable lover.

They walk to their cars and they laugh as they go,
though we know their bright laughter’s the wine ...
then they pause at the road where the dark asphalt flows
endlessly on toward Zion ...

and they kiss one another as though they were friends,
and they promise to meet again “soon” ...
but the rivers of Jordan roll on without end,
and the mockingbird calls to the moon ...

and the katydids climb up the cropped hanging vines,
and the crickets chirp on out of tune ...
and their shadows, defined by the cryptic starlight,
seem spirits torn loose from their tombs.

And I know their brief lives are just eddies in time,
that their words are unreadable runes
unlikely to stand in this waterlogged land
when their corpses lie ravaged and ruined ...

You take my clenched fist and you give it a kiss
as though it’s something to be loved,
and the tears fill your eyes, outshining the night
and all the stars ringed high above ...

and you whisper, "It's time that we went back inside;
if you'd like, we can sit and just talk for a while."
And the hope in your eyes burns too deep, so I lie
and I say, "Yes, I would," to your small, troubled smile.

I rather vividly remember writing this poem after an office party the year I co-oped with AT&T (at that time the largest company in the world, with presumably a lot of office parties). This would have been after my sophomore year in college, making me around 20 years old. The poem is “true” except that I was not the host because the party was at the house of one of the upper-level managers. Nor was I dating anyone seriously at the time.



Modern Appetite

by Michael R. Burch

It grumbled low, insisting it would feast
on blood and flesh, etcetera, at least
three times a day. With soft lubricious grease

and pale salacious oils, it would ease
its way through life. Each day—an aperitif.
Each night—a frothy bromide, for relief.

It lived on TV fare, wore pinafores,
slurped sugar-coated gumballs, gobbled S’mores.
When gas ensued, it burped and farted. ’Course,

it thought aloud, my wife will leave me. Whores
are not so damn particular. Divorce
is certainly a settlement, toujours!


A Tums a day will keep the shrink away,
recalcify old bones, keep gas at bay.
If Simon says, etcetera, Mother, may

I have my hit of calcium today?



Instruction
by Michael R. Burch

Toss this poem aside
to the filigree and the wild tide
of sunset.

Strike my name,
and still it is all the same.
The onset

of night is in the despairing skies;
each hut shuts its bright bewildered eyes.
The wind sighs

and my heart sighs with her—
my only companion, O Lovely Drifter!
Still, men are not wise.

The moon appears; the arms of the wind lift her,
pooling the light of her silver portent,
while men, impatient,

are beings of hurried and harried despair.
Now willows entangle their fragrant hair.
Men sleep.

Cornsilk tassels the moonbright air.
Deep is the sea; the stars are fair.
I reap.



Mending

I am besieged with kindnesses;
sometimes I laugh,
delighted for a moment,
then resume
the more seemly occupation of my craft.

I do not taste the candies;
the perfume
of roses is uplifted
in a draft
that vanishes into the ceiling’s fans

that spin like old propellers
till the room
is full of ghostly bits of yarn . . .
My task
is not to knit,

but not to end too soon.



Break Time

for those who lost loved ones on 9-11

Intrude upon my grief; sit; take a spot
of milk to cloud the blackness that you feel;
add artificial sweeteners to conceal
the bitter aftertaste of loss. You’ll heal
if I do not. The coffee’s hot. You speak:
of bundt cakes, polls, the price of eggs. You glance
twice at your watch, cough, look at me askance.
The TV drones oeuvres of high romance
in syncopated lip-synch. Should I feel
the underbelly of Love’s warm Ideal,
its fuzzy-wuzzy tummy, and not reel
toward some dark conclusion? Disappear
to pale, dissolving atoms. Were you here?
I brush you off: like saccharine, like a tear.

 

911 Carousel

“And what rough beast ... slouches towards Bethlehem to be born?”—W. B. Yeats

They laugh and do not comprehend, nor ask
which way the wind is blowing, no, nor why
the reeling azure fixture of the sky
grows pale with ash, and whispers “Holocaust.”

They think to seize the ring, life’s tinfoil prize,
and, breathless with endeavor, shriek aloud.
The voice of terror thunders from a cloud
that darkens over children adult-wise,

far less inclined to error, when a step
in any wrong direction is to fall
a JDAM short of heaven. Decoys call,
their voices plangent, honking to be shot . . .

Here, childish dreams and nightmares whirl, collide,
as East and West, on slouching beasts, they ride.



Snap Shots

Our daughters must be celibate,
die virgins. We triangulate
their early paths to heaven (for
the martyrs they’ll soon conjugate).

We like to hook a little tail.
We hope there’s decent ass in jail.
Don’t fool with us; our bombs are smart!
(We’ll send the plans, ASAP, e-mail.)

The soul is all that matters; why
hoard gold if it offends the eye?
A pension plan? Don’t make us laugh!
We have your plan for sainthood. (Die.)



Recursion

In a dream I saw boys lying
under banners gaily flying
and I heard their mothers sighing
from some dark distant shore.

For I saw their sons essaying
into fields—gleeful, braying—
their bright armaments displaying;
such manly oaths they swore!

From their playfields, boys returning
full of honor’s white-hot burning
and desire’s restless yearning
sired new kids for the corps.

In a dream I saw boys dying
under banners gaily lying
and I heard their mothers crying
from some dark distant shore.



An Ecstasy of Fumbling

The poets believe
everything resolves to metaphor—
a distillation,
a vapor
beyond filtration,
though perhaps not quite as volatile as before.

The poets conceive
of death in the trenches
as the price of art,
not war,
fumbling with their masque-like
dissertations
to describe the Hollywood-like gore

as something beyond belief,
abstracting concrete bunkers to Achaemenid bas-relief.



Drones
by Michael R. Burch

“Intellectual” poets remind me of drones
chasing the Classical queen's aging bones.
With bottle-thick glasses they still see to write,
droning on, endlessly buzzing all night.
Yet still in our classrooms their tomes are decreed . . .
Perhaps they're too busy with buzzing to breed.



Lay Down Your Arms
by Michael R. Burch

Lay down your arms; come, sleep in the sand.
The battle is over and night is at hand.
Our voyage has ended; there's nowhere to go . . .
the earth is a cinder still faintly aglow.

Lay down your pamphlets; let's bicker no more.
Instead, let us sleep here upon this charred shore.
The sea is still boiling; the air is wan, thin . . .
lay down your pamphlets; now no one will “win.”

Lay down your hymnals; abandon all song.
If God was to save us, He waited too long.
A new world emerges, but this world is through . . .
so lay down your hymnals, or write something new.



Your e-Verse
by Michael R. Burch

—for the posters and posers on www.fillintheblank.com

I cannot understand a word you’ve said
(and this despite an adequate I.Q.);
it must be some exotic new haiku
combined with Latin suddenly undead.

It must be hieroglyphics mixed with Greek.
Have Pound and T. S. Eliot been cloned?
Perhaps you wrote it on the pot, so stoned
you spelled it backwards, just to be oblique.

I think you’re very funny—so, “Yuk! Yuk!”
I know you must be kidding; didn’t we
write crap like this and call it “poetry,”
a form of verbal exercise, P.E.,
in kindergarten, when we ran “amuck?”

Oh, sorry, I forgot to “make it new.”
Perhaps I still can learn a thing or two
from someone tres original, like you.



Relative Theories
by Michael R. Burch

Hawking, who makes my head spin,
says time may flow backward. I grin,
imagining the surprise
in my mother’s eyes
when I head for the womb once again!

Hawking’s Brief History of Time
is such a relief! How sublime
that time, in reverse,
may un-write this verse
and un-spend my last thin dime!

Einstein the frizzy-haired
claimed E equals MC squared.
Thus all mass decreases
as activity ceases?
Not my mass, my ass declared!

Relativity, the theorists’ creed,
claims mass increases with speed.
My (m)ass grows when I sit it.
Mr. Einstein, get with it;
equate its deflation, I plead!

Einstein’s theory is really quite silly—
it says masses increase willy-nilly
at speeds close to light.
Well, his relatives’ might,
but mine grow their (m)asses more stilly.

Einstein’s relative theory
says masses increase, all too clearly,
at speeds close to light.
Well, his relatives’ might,
but mine grow their m(asses) more stilly.



The Poet
by Michael R. Burch

He walks to the sink,
takes out his teeth,
rubs his gums.
He tries not to think.

In the mirror, on the mantle,
Time—the silver measure—
does not stare or blink,
but in a wrinkle flutters,
in a hand upon the brink
of a second, hovers.

Through a mousehole,
something scuttles
on restless incessant feet.
There is no link

between life and death
or from a fading past
to a more tenuous present
that a word uncovers
in the great wink.

The white foam lathers
at his thin pink
stretched neck
like a tightening noose.
He tries not to think.



Distances
by Michael R. Burch

There is a small cleanness about her,
as though she has always just been washed,
and there is a dull obedience to convention
in her accommodating slenderness
as she feints at her salad.

She has never heard of Faust, or Frost,
and she is unlikely to have been seen
rummaging through bookstores
for mementos of others
more difficult to name.

She might imagine “poetry”
to be something in common between us,
as we write, bridging the expanse
between convention and something . . .
something the world calls “art”
for want of a better word.

At night I scream
at the conventions of both our worlds,
at the distances between words
and their objects: distances
come lately between us,
like a clean break.



Mother of Cowards
by Michael R. Burch

So unlike the brazen giant of Greek fame
With conquering limbs astride from land to land,
Showering gold, spread-eagled, a strumpet stands:
A much-used trollop with a torch, whose flame
Has long since been extinguished. And her name?
"Mother of Cowards!" From her enervate hand
Soft ash descends. Her furtive eyes demand
allegiance to her Pimp's repulsive game.

"Keep, ancient lands, your wretched poor!" cries she
With scarlet lips. "Give me your hale, your whole,
Your huddled tycoons, yearning to be pleased!
The wretched refuse of your toilet hole?
Oh, never send one unwashed child to me!
I await Trump's pleasure by the gilded bowl!"



Recursion
by Michael R. Burch

In a dream I saw men lying
under banners gaily flying
and I heard their mothers
sighing from some dark distant shore.

Then I saw their sons essaying
into fields—gleeful, braying—
their proud armaments displaying;
such manly oaths they swore!

From their playfields, some returning
full of honor’s white-hot burning
and desire’s restless yearning
sired new kids for the corps.

In a dream I saw men dying
under banners gaily lying
and I heard their mothers crying
from some dark distant shore.



Second Sight

by Michael R. Burch

Newborns see best at a distance of 8 to 14 inches.

Wiser than we know, the newborn screams,
red-faced from breath, and wonders what life means
this close to death, amid the arctic glare
of warmthless lights above.
Beware! Beware!—
encrypted signals, codes? Or ciphers, noughts?

Interpretless, almost, as his own thoughts—
the brilliant lights, the brilliant lights exist.
Intruding faces ogle, gape, insist—
this madness, this soft-hissing breath, makes sense.
Why can he not float on, in dark suspense,
and dream of life? Why did they rip him out?

He frowns at them—small gnomish frowns, all doubt—
and with an ancient mien, O sorrowful!,
re-closes eyes that saw in darkness null
ecstatic sights, exceeding beautiful.



Winter
by Michael R. Burch

The rose of lost potential
lies tattered by the thorn;
her scent was sweet
but at her feet
the pallid lilies mourn.

The lilac of devotion
has felt the winter hoar
and shed her dress;
companionless,
she shivers at the door.



To Please The Poet
by Michael R. Burch

To please the poet, words must dance—
staccato, brisk, a two-step:
so!
Or waltz in elegance to time
of music—mild,
adagio.

To please the poet, words must chance
emotion in catharsis—
flame.
Or splash into salt seas, descend
in sheets of silver-shining
rain.

To please the poet, words must prance
and gallop, gambol, revel,
rail.
Or muse upon a moment—mute,
obscure, unsure, imperfect,
pale.

To please the poet, words must sing,
or croak, wart-tongued, imagining.



Jerusalem
by Michael R. Burch

City in golden flames, exist
only in dreams and foregone time.
How can you burn, and yet persist
like the flame itself, sublime?

City in golden flames, long lost
to tarnishing mists—and yet such Light?
From cloud to cloud the moon is tossed
like a child’s farfetched delight.

City in golden flames, ignite!
Unless you burn, how can men see?
For all the world’s landlocked in night,
tears, fears, lies’ dull monotony.

City in golden flames, arise!—
Salvation tonight in your burning skies.



Whose Woods
by Michael R. Burch

Whose woods these are, I think I know.
Dick Cheney’s in the White House, though.
He will not see me stopping here
To watch his chip mills overflow.

My sterile horse must think it queer
To stop without a ’skeeter near
Beside this softly glowing “lake”
Of six-limbed frogs gone nuclear.

He gives his hairless tail a shake;
I fear he’s made his last mistake—
He took a sip of water blue
(Blue-slicked with oil and HazMat waste).

Get out your wallets; Dick’s not through—
Enron’s defunct, the bill comes due . . .
Which he will send to me, and you.
Which he will send to me, and you.



Psycho Analysis
by Michael R. Burch

This is not what I need . . .
analysis,
paralysis,
as though I were a seed
to be planted,
supported
with a stick and some string
until I emerge.
Your words
are not water. I need something
more nourishing,
like cherishing,
something essential, like love
so that when I climb
out of the lime
and the mulch. When I shove
myself up
from the muck . . .
we can fuck.



Sailing to My Grandfather, for George Hurt
by Michael R. Burch

This distance between us
—this vast sea
of remembrance—
is no hindrance,
no enemy.

I see you out of the shining mists
of memory.
Events and chance
and circumstance
are sands on the shore of your legacy.

I find you now in fits and bursts
of breezes time has blown to me,
while waves, immense,
now skirt and glance
against the bow unceasingly.

I feel the sea's salt spray—light fists,
her mists and vapors mocking me.
From ignorance
to reverence,
your words were sextant stars to me.

Bright stars are strewn in silver gusts
back, back toward infinity.
From innocence
to senescence,
now you are mine increasingly.

Note: Under the Sextant’s Stars is a painting by Benini.



Sanctuary at Dawn
by Michael R. Burch

I have walked these thirteen miles
just to stand outside your door.
The rain has dogged my footsteps
for thirteen miles, for thirty years,
through the monsoon seasons . . .
and now my tears
have all been washed away.

Through thirteen miles of rain I slogged,
I stumbled and I climbed
rainslickened slopes
that led me home
to the hope that I might find
a life I lived before.

The door is wet; my cheeks are wet,
but not with rain or tears . . .
as I knock I sweat
and the raining seems
the rhythm of the years.

Now you stand outlined in the doorway
—a man as large as I left—
and with bated breath
I take a step
into the accusing light.

Your eyes are grayer
than I remembered;
your hair is grayer, too.
As the red rust runs
down the dripping drains,
our voices exclaim—

"My father!"
"My son!"

NOTE: “Sanctuary at Dawn” appeared in my Just a Dream manuscript, so it was written either in high school or during my first two years of college. While 1976 is an educated guess, it was definitely written sometime between 1974 and 1978. At that time thirty seemed “old” to me and I used that age more than once to project my future adult self. For instance, in the poem “You.”



Hearthside
by Michael R. Burch

“When you are old and grey and full of sleep...” — W. B. Yeats

For all that we professed of love, we knew
this night would come, that we would bend alone
to tend wan fires’ dimming bars—the moan
of wind cruel as the Trumpet, gelid dew
an eerie presence on encrusted logs
we hoard like jewels, embrittled so ourselves.

The books that line these close, familiar shelves
loom down like dreary chaperones. Wild dogs,
too old for mates, cringe furtive in the park,
as, toothless now, I frame this parchment kiss.

I do not know the words for easy bliss
and so my shriveled fingers clutch this stark,
long-unenamored pen and will it: Move.
I loved you more than words, so let words prove.



Happily Never After (the Second Curse of the Horny Toad)
by Michael R. Burch

He did not think of love of Her at all
frog-plangent nights, as moons engoldened roads
through crumbling stonewalled provinces, where toads
(nee princes) ruled in chinks and grew so small
at last to be invisible. He smiled
(the fables erred so curiously), and thought
bemusedly of being reconciled
to human flesh, because his heart was not
incapable of love, but, being cursed
a second time, could only love a toad’s . . .
and listened as inflated frogs rehearsed
cheekbulging tales of anguish from green moats . . .
and thought of her soft croak, her skin fine-warted,
his anemic flesh, and how true love was thwarted.



Upon a Frozen Star
by Michael R. Burch

Oh, was it in this dark-Decembered world
we walked among the moonbeam-shadowed fields
and did not know ourselves for weight of snow
upon our laden parkas? White as sheets,
as spectral-white as ghosts, with clawlike hands
thrust deep into our pockets, holding what
we thought were tickets home: what did we know
of anything that night? Were we deceived
by moonlight making shadows of gaunt trees
that loomed like fiends between us, by the songs
of owls like phantoms hooting: Who? Who? Who?

And if that night I looked and smiled at you
a little out of tenderness . . . or kissed
the wet salt from your lips, or took your hand,
so cold inside your parka . . . if I wished
upon a frozen star . . . that I could give
you something of myself to keep you warm . . .
yet something still not love . . . if I embraced
the contours of your face with one stiff glove . . .

How could I know the years would strip away
the soft flesh from your face, that time would flay
your heart of consolation, that my words
would break like ice between us, till the void
of words became eternal? Oh, my love,
I never knew. I never knew at all,
that anything so vast could curl so small.



Melting

for Beth

Entirely, as spring consumes the snow,
the thought of you consumes me: I am found
in rivulets, dissolved to what I know
of former winters’ passions. Underground,
perhaps one slender icicle remains
of what I was before, in some dark cave—
a stalactite, long calcified, now drains
to sodden pools, whose milky liquid laves
the colder rock, thus washing something clean
that never saw the light, that never knew
the crust could break above, that light could stream:
so luminous, so bright, so beautiful . . .
I lie revealed, and so I stand transformed,
and all because you smiled on me, and warmed.



Shock and Awe
by Michael R. Burch

With megatons of “wonder,”
we make our godhead clear:
Death. Destruction. Fear.

The world’s heart ripped asunder,
its dying pulse we hear:
Death. Destruction. Fear.

Strange Trinity! We ponder
this God we hold so dear:
Death. Destruction. Fear.

The vulture and the condor
proclaim: The feast is near!
Death. Destruction. Fear.

Soon He will plow us under;
the Anti-Christ is here:
Death. Destruction. Fear.

We love to hear Him thunder!
With Shock and Awe, appear!—
Death. Destruction. Fear.

For God can never blunder;
we know He holds US dear:
Death. Destruction. Fear.



Keep Up
by Michael R. Burch

Keep Up!
Daddy, I’m walking as fast as I can;
I’ll move much faster when I’m a man . . .


Time unwinds
as the heart reels,
as cares and loss and grief plummet,
as faith unfailing ascends the summit
and heartache wheels
like a leaf in the wind.

Like a rickety cart wheel
time revolves through the yellow dust,
its creakiness revoking trust,
its years emblazoned in cold hard steel.

Keep Up!
Son, I’m walking as fast as I can;
take it easy on an old man.



One-Liners
by Michael R. Burch

If the US consulted a competent headshrinker, it might boil down to nothing more than hot air and delusions.—Michael R. Burch

Thanks to politicians like George W. Bush, Sarah Palin, Michelle Bachmann, Steve Bannon and Donald Trump, we now have a
duh-mock-racy.—Michael R. Burch


Q: What do you call it when a Man-Baby takes over the American government?
A: Coup d'Tot.

Teddy Roosevelt spoke softly and carried a big stick; Donald Trump speaks loudly and carries a big shtick.—Michael R. Burch

Sarah Palin is truly unique: she alone can make us appreciate Bush Junior's vastly superior intellect.—Michael R. Burch

I believe God is using Michelle Bachmann to conclusively prove that man did not evolve.—Michael R. Burch

 

Advice for Evangelicals

“... so let your light shine before men ...”

Consider the example of the woodland anemone:
she preaches no sermons but — immaculate — shines,
and rivals the angels in bright innocence and purity —
the sweetest of divines.

And no one has heard her engage in hypocrisy
since the beginning of time — an oracle so mute,
so profound in her silence and exemplary poise
she makes lessons moot.

So consider the example of the saintly anemone
and if you’d convince us Christ really exists,
then let him be just as sweet, just as guileless
and equally as gracious to bless.



Eerie Dearie
by Michael R. Burch

A trembling young auditor, white
as a sheet, like a ghost in the night,
saw his dreams, his career
in a poof!, disappear,
and then, strangely Enronic, his wife.



Our Sweet Ecologist

Our sweet ecologist —
what will she do with the ants
and the cockroaches, bedbugs and lice
when they want to live in her pants?



Generation Gap
by Michael R. Burch

A quahog clam,
age 405,
said, “Hey, it’s great
to be alive!”

I disagreed,
not feeling nifty,
babe though I am,
just pushing fifty.

Note: A quahog clam found off the coast of Ireland is the longest-lived animal on record, at an estimated age of 405 years.



Dog Daze
by Michael R. Burch

Sweet Oz is a soulful snuggler;
he really is one of the best.
Sometimes in bed
he snuggles my head,
though mostly he plops on my chest.

I think Oz was made to love
from the first ray of light to the dark,
but his great love for me
is exceeded (oh gee!)
by his Truly Great Passion: to Bark.



Questionable Credentials

Poet? Critic? Dilettante?
Do you know what’s good, or merely flaunt?

(for Unclever Trevor and Mor the Inch-Roarer)



Lines in Favor of Female Muses
by Michael R. Burch

I guess Asses of Parnassus are okay ...
But those Lasses of Parnassus? My! Olé!

Published by Asses of Parnassus



Heaven Bent

This life is hell; it can get no worse.
Summon the coroner, the casket, the hearse!
I’m upwardly mobile; this one thing I know:
I can only go up; I’m already below!



Intimations
by Michael R. Burch

Let mercy surround us
with a sweet persistence.

Let love propound to us
that life is infinitely more than existence.

Published by Katrina Anthology



Altared Spots

The mother leopard buries her cub,
then cries three nights for his bones to rise
clad in new flesh, to celebrate the sunrise.

Good mother leopard, pensive thought
and fiercest love’s wild insurrection
yield no certainty of a resurrection.

Man’s tried them both, has added tears,
chants, dances, drugs, séances, tombs’
white alabaster prayer-rooms, wombs

where dead men’s frozen genes convene ...
there is no answer—death is death.
So bury your son, and save your breath.

Or emulate earth’s “highest species”—
write a few strange poems and odd treatises.



Flight
by Michael R. Burch

Poetry captures
less than reality
the spirit of things

being the language
not of the lordly falcon
but of the dove with broken wings

whose heavenward flight
though brutally interrupted
is ever towards the light.

Published by Katrina Anthology



Winter Night
by Michael R. Burch

Who will be damned,
who embalmed
for all eternity?

The night weighs heavy on me—
leaden, sullen, cold.
O, but my thoughts are light,

like the weightless windblown snow.

Published by Nisqually Delta Review



Tonight, Let’s Remember

July 7, 2007 (7-7-7)

Tonight, let’s remember the fond ways
our fingers engendered new methods to praise
the gray at my temples, your thinning hair.
Tonight, let’s remember, and let us draw near ...

Tonight, let’s remember, as mortals do,
how cutely we chortled when work was through,
society sated, all gods put to rest,
and you in my arms, and I at your breast ...

Tonight, let’s remember how daring, how free
the Madeira made us, recumbently.
Our inhibitions?—we laid them to rest.
Earth, heaven or hell—we knew we were blessed.

Tonight, let’s remember the dwindling days
we’ve spent here together—the sun’s rays
spending their power beyond somber hills.
Soon we’ll rest together; there’ll be no more bills.

Tonight, let’s remember: we’ve paid all our dues,
we’ve suffered our sorrows, we’ve learned how to lose.
What’s left now to take, only God can tell.
Be with me in heaven, or “bliss” will be hell!

I do not want God; I want to see you
free from all sorrow, your labor through,
a song on your tongue, a smile on your lips,
sweet, sultry and vagrant, a child at your hips,
laughing and beaming and ready to frolic
in a world free from cancer and gout and colic.
For you were courageous, and kind, and true.
There must be a heaven for someone like you.



I, Lazarus

I, Lazarus, without a heart,
devoid of blood and spiritless,
lay in the darkness, meritless:
my corpse—a thing cold, dead, apart.

But then I thought I heard—a Voice,
a Voice that called me from afar.
And so I stood and laughed, bizarre:
a thing embalmed, made to rejoice!

I ran ungainly-legged to see
who spoke my name, and then I knew
him by the light. His name is True,
and now he is the life in me!

I never died again! Believe!
(Oops! Seems it was a brief reprieve.)



To Know You as Mary

To know You as Mary,
when You spoke her name
and her world was never the same ...
beside the still tomb
where the spring roses bloom.


O, then I would laugh
and be glad that I came,
never minding the chill, the disconsolate rain ...
beside the still tomb
where the spring roses bloom.


I might not think this earth
the sharp focus of pain
if I heard You exclaim—
beside the still tomb
where the spring roses bloom


my most unexpected, unwarranted name!
But you never spoke. Explain?



Gethsemane in Every Breath

LORD, we have lost our way, and now
we have mislaid love—earth’s fairest rose.
We forgot hope’s song—the way it goes.
Help us reclaim their gifts, somehow.

LORD, we have wondered long and far
in search of Bethlehem’s retrograde star.
Now in night’s dead cold grasp, we gasp:
our lives one long-drawn rattling rasp

of misspent breath ... before we drown.
LORD, help us through this spiral down
because we faint, and do not see
above or beyond despair’s trajectory.

Remember that You, too, once held
imperiled life within your hands
as hope withdrew ... that where You knelt
—a stranger in a stranger land—
the chalice glinted cold afar
and red with blood as hellfire.

Did heaven ever seem so far?

Remember—we are as You were,
but all our lives, from birth to death—
Gethsemane in every breath.

NOTE: I no longer believe in Jesus as “god” or “savior” but on the chance that he still exists in some other dimension, I will side with A. E. Housman in reminding him to use whatever powers he has for good, and not for the dark purposes of the religion that bears his name.

What Immense Silence
by Michael R. Burch

What immense silence
comforts those who kneel here
beneath these vaulted ceilings
cavernous and vast?

What luminescence stained
by patchwork panels of bright glass
illuminates drained faces
as the crouching gargoyles leer?

What brings them here—
pale, tearful congregations,
knowing all Hope is past,
faithfully, year upon year?

Or could they be right? Perhaps
Love is, implausibly, near
and I alone have not seen It . . .
But, if so, still, I must ask:

why is it God that they fear?

Published in The Bible of Hell



East End, 1888
by Michael R. Burch

He slouched East
through a steady downpour,
a slovenly beast
befouling each puddle
with bright footprints of blood.

Outlined in a pub door,
lewdly, wantonly, she stood . . .
mocked and brazenly offered.
He took what he could
till she afforded no more.

Now a single bright copper
glints becrimsoned by the door
of the pub where he met her.
He holds to his breast the one part
of her body she was unable to whore,

grips her heart to his wildly stammering heart . . .
unable to forgive or forget her.

Originally published by Penny Dreadful



Huntress
by Michael R. Burch

Lynx-eyed, cat-like and cruel, you creep
across a crevice dropping deep
into a dark and doomed domain.
Your claws are sheathed. You smile, insane.
Rain falls upon your path, and pain
pours down. Your paws are pierced. You pause
and heed the antediluvian laws
which bid you not begin again
till night returns. You wail like wind,
the sighing of a soul for sin,
and give up hunting for a heart.
Till sunset falls again, depart,
though hate and hunger urge you—On!
Heed, hearts, your hope—the break of dawn.

Published by Sonnetto Poesia



In My House
by Michael R. Burch

When you were in my house
you were not free—
in chains bound.
Manifest Destiny?
I was wrong;
my plantation burned to the ground.
I was wrong.
This is my song,
this is my plea:
I was wrong.

When you are in my house,
now, I am not free.
I feel the song
hurling itself back at me.
We were wrong.
This is my history.
I feel my tongue
stilting accordingly.
We were wrong;
brother, forgive me.

Published by Black Medina



Quanta

The stars shine fierce and hard across the Abyss
and only seem to twinkle from such distance
we scarcely see at all. But sheer persistence
in seeing what makes “sense” to us, is man’s
best art and science. BIG, he comprehends.
Love’s photons are too small, escape the lens.

Who dares to look upon familiar things
will find them alien. True distance reels.
Less what he knows than what his finger feels,
the lightning of the socket sparks and sings,
then stings him into comic reverie.
Cartoonish lightbulbs overhead, do we

not “think” because we feel there must be More,
as less and less we know what we explore?

Published by The Neovictorian/Cochlea



Fly’s Eyes

Inhibited, dark agile fly along
paint-peeling sills, up to the bright glass drawn
by radiance compounded thousandfold,—
I do not see the same as you, but hold
antenna to the brilliant pane of life
and buzz bewilderedly.
                                    In your belief
the world outside is “as it is” because
you see it clearly, windowed without flaws,
you err.
             I see strange terrors in the glass—
dead airless bubbles light can never pass
without distortion, fingerprints that blur
the sun itself. No, nothing here is clear.
You see the earth distinct, eyes “open wide.”
It only seems that way, unmagnified.

Published by The Neovictorian/Cochlea



Peers

These thoughts are alien, as through green slime
smeared on some lab tech’s brilliant slide, I grope,
positioning my bright oscilloscope
for better vantage, though I cannot see,
but only peer, as small things disappear—
these quanta strange as men, as passing queer.

And you, Great Scientist, are you the One,
or just an intern, necktie half undone,
white sleeves rolled up, thick documents in hand
(dense manuals you don’t quite understand),
exposing me, perhaps, to too much Light?
Or do I escape your notice, quick and bright?

Perhaps we wield the same dull Instrument
(and yet the Thesis will be Eloquent!).

Published by The Neovictorian/Cochlea



Bio: Michael R. Burch is an American poet who lives in Nashville, Tennessee with his wife Beth, their son Jeremy, and three outrageously spoiled puppies. His poems, epigrams, translations, essays, articles, reviews, short stories and letters have appeared more than 4,000 times in publications which include TIME, USA Today, The Hindu, BBC Radio 3, CNN.com, Daily Kos, The Washington Post, Light Quarterly, The Lyric, Measure, Writer's Digest—The Year's Best Writing, The Best of the Eclectic Muse, Unlikely Stories and hundreds of other literary journals, websites and blogs. Mike Burch is also the founder and editor-in-chief of The HyperTexts, a former columnist for the Nashville City Paper and, according to Google, a relevant online publisher of poems about the Holocaust, Hiroshima, the Trail of Tears, Darfur, Haiti, Gaza and the Palestinian Nakba. He has two published books, Violets for Beth (White Violet Press, 2012) and O, Terrible Angel (Ancient Cypress Press, 2013). A third book, Auschwitz Rose, is still in the chute but long delayed. Burch's poetry has been translated into eleven languages and set to music by the composers Mark Buller, Alexander Comitas and Seth Wright. One of his poems, "First They Came for the Muslims," has been adopted by Amnesty International for its Words That Burn anthology, a free online resource for students and educators. He has also served as editor of International Poetry and Translations for the literary journal Better Than Starbucks.

For an expanded bio, circum vitae and career timeline of the author, please click here: Michael R. Burch Expanded Bio.

Michael R. Burch Related Pages: Early Poems, Rejection Slips, Epigrams and Quotes, Free Love Poems by Michael R. Burch, Romantic Poems by Michael R. Burch

The HyperTexts