Michael R. Burch

1958
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After Cummings Poems

"AFTER CUMMINGS" POEMS

These are poems that I have written "after" e. e. cummings. Many of these poem were written during my early "Cummings Period," which started around age 14-15 when I discovered his poems in an English textbook. I have a cummings-ish type of poem that I call a "ur" poem. I will explain that modus operandi when we get to the first "ur" poem.

In these poems things that seem impossibly large are capitalized, like the Sun and Time. The big Thoughts are capitalized but the mind that holds them without being able to control them, isn't. Pronouns become diminutives: I=i, You=u, We=wee, etc.



Smoke
by michael r. burch, age 14

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 wee 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 ...

"Smoke" appeared in my high school journal, the Lantern, in 1976. It also appeared in my college literary journal, Homespun, my freshman year, 1976-1977. "Smoke" has since been published by The Eclectic Muse (Canada), Fullosia Press and Better Than Starbucks, and translated into Romanian and published by Petru Dimofte. Not too bad for a teenage poet!



have i been too long at the Fair?
by michael r. burch, age 15

have i been too long at the Fair?
the Summer has faded,
the leaves have turned brown;
the Ferris Wheel teeters ...
not up, yet not down.
have i been too long at the Fair?

This is one of my very earliest poems, written around age 15 before my sophomore year of high school. It was published in my high school literary journal, the Lantern.



leave taking
by michael r. burch, age 14-16

brilliant leaves abandon battered limbs
to waltz upon ecstatic winds
until they die.

but the barren and embittered trees,
lament the frolic of the leaves
and curse the bleak November Sky ...

now, as I watch the leaves' high flight
before the fading Autumn Light,
I think that, perhaps, at last I may

have learned what it means to say—
goodbye.

This poem started out as a stanza in a much longer poem, "Jessamyn's Song," that dates to around age 14-16. "Leave Taking" has been published by The Lyric, Mindful of Poetry, Silver Stork Magazine and There is Something in the Autumn (an anthology).



bound
by michael r. burch, age 14-15

now it is Winter—the coldest Night.
and as the light of the streetlamp casts strange shadows to the ground,
i have lost what i once found
in ur arms.

now it is Winter—the coldest Night.
and as the light of distant Venus fails to penetrate dark panes,
i have remade all my chains
and am bound.

This poem appeared in my high school journal, the Lantern. I seem to remember writing "Bound" around age 14 or 15. It was originally titled "Why Did I Go?" I have made slight changes but the poem is essentially the same as what I wrote in my early teens.



an ill(u)sion
by michael r. burch, age 15-16

the Sky was as hushed as the breath of a bee
and the World was bathed in shades of palest gold
when i awoke.

she came to me with the sound of falling leaves
and the scent of new-mown grass;
i held out my arms to her and she passed

into Oblivion ...

This little dream-poem appeared in my high school literary journal, the Lantern. I believe I wrote it around age 15-16 during my early Romantic period.



hey pete!
by michael r. burch, age 16-18

for Pete Rose

hey pete,
it's baseball season
and the sun ascends the sky,
encouraging a schoolboy’s dreams
of winter whizzing by;
go out, go out and catch it,
put it in a jar,
set it on a shelf
and then
you'll be a Superstar.

Pete Rose was my favorite baseball player as a boy; this poem is not a slam at him, but rather ironic commentary on the term “superstar.”



when last my love left me
by michael r. burch, age 15-16

the Sun was a smoldering ember
when last my love left me;
the Sunset cast curious Shadows
over green arcs of the Sea;
she spoke sad words, departing,
and teardrops drenched the Trees.

This poem was published by my college literary journal, Homespun, my freshman year. I believe I wrote the original version around age 15-16 during my early Cumings period.



elegy for a little girl, lost
by michael r. burch, age 16-17

... qui laetificat juventutem meam ...
she was the joy of my youth,
and now she is gone
... requiescat in pace ...
may she rest in peace
... amen ...
amen.

I was touched by this Latin prayer, which I discovered in a novel I read as a teenager. This was my first translation. I revised the translation slightly in 2001 after realizing I had “misremembered” one of the words in the Latin prayer. I dedicated the poem to my mother, Christine Ena Burch, after her death, because she was always a little giggly girl at heart.



Infinity
by michael r. burch, age 18

have u tasted the bitterness of tears of despair?
have u watched the Sun sink through such pale, balmless air
that ur heart sought its shell like a crab on a beach,
then scuttled inside to be safe, out of reach?

might i lift u tonight from earth’s wreckage and damage
on these waves gently rising to pay the Moon homage?
or better, perhaps, let me say that i, too,
have dreamed of Infinity ... windswept and blue.

This is the second poem that made me feel like a "real" poet. I remember reading the poem and asking myself, "Did I really write that?"



Styx
by michael r. burch, age 18

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

"Styx" is another of the early poems that made me feel like a "real poet."



will there be Starlight
by michael r. burch, age 18-19

will there be Starlight
tonight
while she gathers
damask
and lilac
and sweet-scented heathers?

and will she find flowers,
or will she find thorns
guarding the petals
of roses unborn?

will there be Starlight
tonight
while she gathers
seashells
and mussels
and albatross feathers?

and will she find treasure
or will she find pain
at the end of this rainbow
of moonlight on rain?

David Hamilton, an award-winning Australian composer, has set these lyrics to music. Once again, not bad for a teenage poet.



Myth
by michael r. burch, age 18

Here the recalcitrant wind
sighs with grievance and remorse
over fields of wayward gorse
and thistle-throttled lanes.

And she is the myth of the scythed wheat
hewn and sighing, complete,
waiting, lain in a low sheaf—
full of faith, full of grief.

Here the immaculate dawn
requires belief of the leafed earth
and she is the myth of the mown grain—
golden and humble in all its weary worth.

I believe I wrote the first version of this poem toward the end of my senior year of high school, around age 18, under the influence of the sprung rhythm of Dylan Thomas.



am i
by michael r. burch, age 14-15

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, age 14-15

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?

"Time" is a companion piece to "am i." Both appeared in my high school project notebook "Poems" along with "Playmates," so I was probably around 14 or 15 when I wrote them. They were among the earliest of what I call my "I Am" and "Am I" poems.



observance
by michael r. burch, age 16-17

here the hills are old and rolling
carefully in their old age;
on the horizon youthful mountains
bathe themselves in windblown fountains ...

by dying leaves and falling raindrops,
i have Traced time's starts and stops,
and i have known the Years to pass
almost unnoticed, whispering through treetops ...

for here the valleys fill with sunlight
to the brim, then empty again,
and it seems that only i notice
how the Years flood out, and in ...

This is an early poem that made me feel like a "real poet." I vividly remember writing it in the break room of the McDonald's where I worked as a high school student. I believe that was around age 16-17.



gone
by michael r. burch, age 14

tonight, it is dark
and the Stars do not shine.

a man who is gone
was a good friend of mine.

we were friends.

and the Sky was the strangest shade of orange on gold
when I awoke to find him gone ...



davenport tomorrow
by michael r. burch, age 17

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.

I believe I wrote the first version of "Davenport Tomorrow" with regular capitalization around age 17, but my memory of the poem is a bit hazy. This is one of my earliest poems that might be called "slant-rhymed free verse" with life/survived/mind/science/life.



shadows
by michael r. burch, age 18

alone again as Evening falls,
i join gaunt shadows and wee crawl
up and down my room's dark walls.

up and down and up and down,
against Starlight—strange, hopeless clowns—
wee merge, emerge, submerge ... then drown.

wee drown in shadows starker still—
shadows of the moonlit Hills,
shadows of the souls wee spill,

tumbling, to the ground below.
there, caked in grimy, clinging snow,
wee flutter feebly, moaning low

for days dreamed once an Age ago
when wee weren't shadows, but were men ...
when wee were men, or almost so.

"Shadows" was published in my college literary journal, Homespun, my sophomore year. I believe I started it in high school and finished it at either age 18 or 19 in college.



don’t forget
by michael r. burch

for Beth

don’t forget to remember
that Space is curved
(like your Heart)
and that even Light is bent
by your Gravity.

The opening lines of my poem were inspired by a famous love poem by e. e. cummings.



teacher
by michael r. burch, age 16-17

teacher, take a look at my life,
for it has just begun
u consider my i “misinformed”
merely because i'm young;

but the truth is often hidden
(lies lurk behind ur [a][e]yes)
and maybe Puff can tell u
where the Dragon flies.

teacher, take a look at my life:
urs is a dull-edged knife
(the white-hot blade long blunted).
now ur as cold as ice.

still, when u come to class,
act like u know it all,
for if u were ever honest,
surely wee'd all folderol.

I wrote this poem in high school, around age 16-17 after hearing the song “Old Man” by Neil Young. In the last line “wee” is not a typo, but a pun on size and “wee-wee” (in conjunction, akin to “little shits”). The last line still makes me chuckle at my adolescent cleverness. This is as close as I ever came to the shenanigans of Cummings’ grasshopper poem.



Martin Luther King Jr. was a poet in his famous "I Have A Dream" poem-sermon-speech. I recognized this as a boy in a poem I wrote in which an older Poet (with a capital "P") speaks to a younger poet (with a lower-case "p") who echoes his thoughts.

Poet to poet
by michael r. burch, age 16-17

I have a dream
...pebbles in a sparkling sand...
of wondrous things.

I see children
...variations of the same man...
playing together.

Black and yellow, red and white,
...stone and flesh, a host of colors...
together at last.

I see a time
...each small child another's cousin...
when freedom shall ring.

I hear a song
...sweeter than the sea sings...
of many voices.

I hear a jubilation
...respect and love are the gifts we must bring...
shaking the land.

I have a message,
...sea shells echo, the melody rings...
the message of God.

I have a dream
...all pebbles are merely smooth fragments of stone...
of many things.

I live in hope
...all children are merely small fragments of One...
that this dream shall come true.

I have a dream!
...but when you're gone, won't the dream have to end?...
Oh, no, not as long as you dream my dream too!

Here, hold out your hand, let's make it come true.
...i can feel it begin...
Lovers and dreamers are poets too.
...poets are lovers and dreamers too...



THE "ur" POEMS

In my "ur" poems the pronoun "ur" connotes Ur of the Chaldees and primitive religion as well as primitivism in general. God becomes GAUD and the GAUD-Father, an egomaniacal entity who, for some unfathomable reason, needs belief and worship from otherwise insignificant human beings whom he slaughters at the drop of a hat according to his witchdoctors (er, pastors, popes and priests). After he's murdered his victims, GAUD sends them to a purposeless "eternal hell" for guessing wrong about which religion to believe. The closest corollaries in literature to my GAUD are William Blake's Nobodaddy (his nickname for the biblical Jehovah) and John Milton's Satan.



The first poem I remember writing, sometime between age 11 and 13, is "Bible Libel." I gave it the "cummings treatment" later.

Bible Libel
by Michael R. Burch, age 11-13

if ur GAUD
is good
half the Bible
is libel.

I read the Bible from cover to cover at age 11, at the suggestion of my devout Christian parents. But I was more of a doubting Thomas. The so-called "word of God" left me aghast. How could anyone possibly claim the biblical god Yahweh/Jehovah was good, wise, loving, or just? I came up with this epigram to express my conclusions.



ur-Gent
by michael r. burch

if u would be a good Father to us all,
revoke the Curse,
extract the Gall;

but if the abuse continues,
look within
into ur Mindless Soulless Emptiness Grim,

& admit ur sin,
heartless Jehovah,
slayer of widows and orphans ...

quick, begin!

In my humble opinion the ur-Gent is no gentleman!



un-i-verse-all love
by michael r. burch

there is a Gaud, it’s true!
and furthermore, tHeSh(e)It loves u!
unfortunately
the
He
Sh(e)
It
,even more adorably,
loves cancer, aids and leprosy.



Listen!
by michael r. burch, age 17-18

Listen to me now and heed my voice;
i am a madman, alone, screaming in the Wilderness,
but Listen now.

Listen to me now, and if i say
that black is black, and white is white, and in between lies gray,
i have no choice.

does a madman choose his words? they come to him,
the Moon’s illuminations, intimations of the Wind,
and he must speak.

but Listen to me now, and if u hear
the tolling of the Judgment Bell, and if its tone is clear,
then do not tarry,

but listen, or cut off ur ears, for I Am weary.



stock-home sin-drone
by michael r. burch

ur GAUD created this hellish earth;
thus u FANTAsize heaven
(an escape from rebirth).

ur GUAD is a monster,
butt ur RELIGION lied
and called u his frankensteinian bride!

now, like so many others cruelly abused,
u look for salve-a-shun
to the AUTHOR of ur pain’s selfish creation.

cons preach the “TRUE GOSPEL”
and proudly shout it,
but if ur GAUD were good
he would have to doubt it.

why doesn’t he out it?

ah-men!
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