Michael R. Burch

1958
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"Auschwitz Rose" and other Holocaust Poems

These are Holocaust poems and translations by Michael R. Burch.



Epitaph for a Child of the Holocaust
by Michael R. Burch

I lived as best I could, and then I died.
Be careful where you step: the grave is wide.



Auschwitz Rose
by Michael R. Burch

There is a Rose at Auschwitz, in the briar,
a rose like Sharon's, lovely as her name.
The world forgot her, and is not the same.
I still love her and extend this sacred fire
to keep her memory exalted flame
unmolested by the thistles and the nettles.

On Auschwitz now the reddening sunset settles;
they sleep alike—diminutive and tall,
the innocent, the 'surgeons.' Sleeping, all.
Red oxides of her blood, bright crimson petals,
if accidents of coloration, gall
my heart no less. Amid thick weeds and muck
there lies a rose man's crackling lightning struck;
the only Rose I ever longed to pluck.
Soon I'll bed there and bid the world 'Good Luck.'



For a Child of the Holocaust, with Butterflies
by Michael R. Burch

Where does the butterfly go
when lightning rails, when thunder howls,
when hailstones scream, when winter scowls
and nights compound dark frosts with snow?
Where does the butterfly go?

Where does the rose hide its bloom
when night descends oblique and chill
beyond the capacity of moonlight to fill?
When the only relief's a banked fire's glow,
where does the butterfly go?

And where shall the spirit flee
when life is harsh, too harsh to face,
and hope is lost without a trace?
Oh, when the light of life runs low,
where does the butterfly go?



Frantisek "Franta" Bass was a Jewish boy deported by the Nazis to the Terezin concentration camp at age eleven. He was then sent to Auschwitz, where he was murdered by the Nazis at age fourteen.

The Garden
by Franta Bass
translation by Michael R. Burch

A small garden,
so fragrant and full of roses!
The path the little boy takes
is guarded by thorns.

A small boy, a sweet boy,
growing like those budding blossoms!
But when the blossoms have bloomed,
the boy will be no more.



Jewish Forever
by Franta Bass
translation by Michael R. Burch

I am a Jew and always will be, forever!
Even if I should starve,
I will never submit!

But I will always fight for my people,
with my honor,
to their credit!

And I will never be ashamed of them;
this is my vow.
I am so very proud of my people now!

How dignified they are, in their grief!
And though I may die, oppressed,
still I will always return to life...



Something
by Michael R. Burch

for the children of the Holocaust and the Nakba

Something inescapable is lost—
lost like a pale vapor curling up into shafts of moonlight,
vanishing in a gust of wind toward an expanse of stars
immeasurable and void.

Something uncapturable is gone—
gone with the spent leaves and illuminations of autumn,
scattered into a haze with the faint rustle of parched grass
and remembrance.

Something unforgettable is past—
blown from a glimmer into nothingness, or less,
and finality has swept into a corner where it lies
in dust and cobwebs and silence.



Frail Envelope of Flesh
by Michael R. Burch

for the mothers and children of the Holocaust and the Nakba

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...



Autumn Conundrum
by Michael R. Burch

for the mothers and children of the Holocaust and the Nakba

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



Survivors
by Michael R. Burch

for the survivors of the Holocaust and the Nakba

In truth, we do not feel the horror
of the survivors,
but what passes for horror:

a shiver of “empathy.”

We too are “survivors,”
if to survive is to snap back
from the sight of death

like a turtle retracting its neck.



Pfennig Postcard, Wrong Address
by Michael R. Burch

We saw their pictures:
tortured out of Our imaginations
like golems.

We could not believe
in their frail extremities
or their gaunt faces,
pallid as Our disbelief.

they are not
with us now;
We have:

huddled them
into the backroomsofconscience,

consigned them
to the ovensofsilence,

buried them in the mass graves
of circumstancesbeyondourcontrol.

We have
so little left
of them,
now,
to remind US...

Originally published in the Holocaust anthology "Blood to Remember"



Cleansings
by Michael R. Burch

Walk here among the walking specters. Learn
inhuman patience. Flesh can only cleave
to bone this tightly if their hearts believe
that G-d is good, and never mind the Urn.

A lentil and a bean might plump their skin
with mothers' bounteous, soft-dimpled fat
(and call it 'health') , might quickly build again
the muscles of dead menfolk. Dream, like that,

and call it courage. Cry, and be deceived,
and so endure.
Or burn, made wholly pure.
One's prayer is answered, 'god' thus unbelieved.

No holy pyre this—death's hissing chamber.
Two thousand years ago—a starlit manger,
weird Herod's cries for vengeance on the meek,
the children slaughtered. Fear, when angels speak,

the prophesies of man.
Do what you can,
not what you must, or should.
They call you 'good, '

dead eyes devoid of tears; how shall they speak
except in blankness? Fear, then, how they weep.
Escape the gentle clutching stickfolk. Creep
away in shame to retch and flush away

your vomit from their ashes. Learn to pray.



First They Came for the Muslims
by Michael R. Burch

after Martin Niemoller

First they came for the Muslims
and I did not speak out
because I was not a Muslim.

Then they came for the homosexuals
and I did not speak out
because I was not a homosexual.

Then they came for the feminists
and I did not speak out
because I was not a feminist.

Now when will they come for me
because I was too busy and too apathetic
to defend my sisters and brothers?

Published in Amnesty International's "Words That Burn" anthology



The Burning of the Books
by Bertolt Brecht
loose translation by Michael R. Burch

When the Regime
commanded the unlawful books to be burned,
teams of dull oxen hauled huge cartloads to the bonfires.

Then a banished writer, one of the best,
scanning the list of excommunicated texts,
became enraged — he'd been excluded!

He rushed to his desk, full of contemptuous wrath,
to write fiery letters to the morons in power —
Burn me! he wrote with his blazing pen
Haven't I always reported the truth?
Now here you are, treating me like a liar!
Burn me!



Parting
by Bertolt Brecht
loose translation by Michael R. Burch

We embrace;
my fingers trace
rich cloth
while yours encounter only moth-
eaten fabric.
A quick hug:
you were invited to the gay soiree
while the minions of the 'law' relentlessly pursue me.
We talk about the weather
and our eternal friendship's magic.
Anything else would be too bitter,
too tragic.



The Mask of Evil
by Bertolt Brecht
loose translation by Michael R. Burch

A Japanese carving hangs on my wall —
the mask of an ancient demon, limned with golden lacquer.
Not altogether unsympathetically, I observe
the bulging veins of its forehead, noting
the grotesque effort it takes to be evil.



Radio Poem
by Bertolt Brecht
loose translation by Michael R. Burch

You, little box, held tightly
to me,
escaping,
so that your delicate tubes do not break;
carried from house to house, from ship to train,
so that my enemies may continue communicating with me
on land and at sea
and even in my bed, to my pain;
the last thing I hear at night, the first when I awake,
recounting their many conquests and my litany of cares,
promise me not to go silent all of a sudden,
unawares.



Postcard 1
by Miklós Radnóti
written August 30,1944
translated by Michael R. Burch

Out of Bulgaria, the great wild roar of the artillery thunders,
resounds on the mountain ridges, rebounds, then ebbs into silence
while here men, beasts, wagons and imagination all steadily increase;
the road whinnies and bucks, neighing; the maned sky gallops;
and you are eternally with me, love, constant amid all the chaos,
glowing within my conscience — incandescent, intense.
Somewhere within me, dear, you abide forever —
still, motionless, mute, like an angel stunned to silence by death
or a beetle hiding in the heart of a rotting tree.



Postcard 2
by Miklós Radnóti
written October 6,1944 near Crvenka, Serbia
translated by Michael R. Burch

A few miles away they're incinerating
the haystacks and the houses,
while squatting here on the fringe of this pleasant meadow,
the shell-shocked peasants sit quietly smoking their pipes.
Now, here, stepping into this still pond, the little shepherd girl
sets the silver water a-ripple
while, leaning over to drink, her flocculent sheep
seem to swim like drifting clouds.



Postcard 3
by Miklós Radnóti
written October 24,1944 near Mohács, Hungary
translated by Michael R. Burch

The oxen dribble bloody spittle;
the men pass blood in their piss.
Our stinking regiment halts, a horde of perspiring savages,
adding our aroma to death's repulsive stench.



Postcard 4
by Miklós Radnóti
his final poem, written October 31,1944 near Szentkirályszabadja, Hungary
translated by Michael R. Burch

I toppled beside him — his body already taut,
tight as a string just before it snaps,
shot in the back of the head.
'This is how you'll end too; just lie quietly here, '
I whispered to myself, patience blossoming from dread.
'Der springt noch auf, ' the voice above me jeered;
I could only dimly hear
through the congealing blood slowly sealing my ear.

Translator's note: 'Der springt noch auf' means something like 'That one is still twitching.'



Letter to My Wife
by Miklós Radnóti
translated by Michael R. Burch

Written in Lager Heidenau, in the mountains above Zagubica, August-September,1944

Deep down in the darkness hell waits—silent, mute.
Silence screams in my ears, so I shout,
but no one hears or answers, wherever they are;
while sad Serbia, astounded by war,
and you are so far,
so incredibly distant.

Still my heart encounters yours in my dreams
and by day I hear yours sound in my heart again;
and so I am still, even as the great mountain
ferns slowly stir and murmur around me,
coldly surrounding me.

When will I see you? How can I know?
You who were calm and weighty as a Psalm,
beautiful as a shadow, more beautiful than light,
the One I could always find, whether deaf, mute, blind,
lie hidden now by this landscape; yet from within
you flash on my sight like flickering images on film.

You once seemed real but now have become a dream;
you have tumbled back into the well of teenage fantasy.
I jealously question whether you'll ever adore me;
whether—speak! —
from youth's highest peak
you will yet be my wife.

I become hopeful again,
as I awaken on this road where I formerly had fallen.
I know now that you are my wife, my friend, my peer—
but, alas, so far! Beyond these three wild frontiers,
fall returns. Will you then depart me?
Yet the memory of our kisses remains clear.

Now sunshine and miracles seem disconnected things.
Above me I see a bomber squadron's wings.
Skies that once matched your eyes' blue sheen
have clouded over, and in each infernal machine
the bombs writhe with lust to dive.
Despite them, somehow I remain alive.



Death Fugue
by Paul Celan
loose translation by Michael R. Burch

Black milk of daybreak, we drink it every morning;
we drink it every midday; we drink it every night;
we drink it and drink it.
We are digging a grave like a hole in the sky; there's sufficient room to lie there.
The man of the house plays with vipers; he writes
in the Teutonic darkness, 'Your golden hair Margarete...'
He writes poems by the stars, whistles hounds to stand by,
whistles Jews to dig graves, where together they'll lie.
He commands us to strike up lively tunes for the dance!

Black milk of daybreak, we drink you every morning;
we drink you every midday; we drink you every night;
we drink you and drink you.
The man of the house plays with serpents; he writes...
he writes when the night falls, 'Your golden hair Margarete...
Your ashen hair Shulamith...'
We are digging dark graves where there's more room, on high.
His screams, 'You dig there! ' and 'Hey you, dance and sing! '
He grabs his black nightstick; his eyes are pallid blue;
he cries, 'Hey you, dig more deeply! You others, keep on dancing! '

Black milk of daybreak, we drink you every morning;
we drink you every midday, we drink you every night;
we drink you and drink you.
The man of the house writes, 'Your golden hair Margarete...
Your ashen hair Shulamith.' He toys with our lives.
He screams, 'Play for me! Death's a master of Germany! '
His screams, 'Stroke dark strings, soon like black smoke you'll rise
to your graves in the clouds; there's sufficient room for Jews there! '

Black milk of daybreak, we drink you every midnight;
we drink you at noon; Death's the master of Germany!
We drink you come evening; we drink you and drink you.
He's a master of Deutschland, with eyes pale deathly blue,
with dull bullets of lead our pallid master murders you!
He writes when the night falls, 'Your golden hair Margarete...'
He unleashes his hounds, grants us graves in the skies.
He plays with his serpents; he's a master of Germany...

Your golden hair Margarete...
Your ashen hair Shulamith.



O, Little Root of a Dream
by Paul Celan
loose translation by Michael R. Burch

O, little root of a dream
you enmire me here;
I'm undermined by blood —
no longer seen,
enslaved by death.

Touch the curve of my face,
that there may yet be an earthly language of ardor,
that someone's eyes
may see yet see me,
though I'm blind,
here where you
deny me voice.



You Were My Death
by Paul Celan
loose translation by Michael R. Burch

You were my death;
I could hold you
when everything abandoned me —
even breath.



Shema
by Primo Levi
translation by Michael R. Burch

You who live secure
in your comfortable houses,
who return each evening to find
warm food,
welcoming faces...

consider whether this is a man:
who toils in the mud,
who knows no peace,
who fights for crusts of bread,
who dies at another man's whim,
at his 'yes' or his 'no.'

Consider whether this is a woman:
bereft of hair,
of a recognizable name
because she lacks the strength to remember,
her eyes as void
and her womb as frigid
as a frog's in winter.

Consider that such horrors have been:
I commend these words to you.
Engrave them in your hearts
when you lounge in your house,
when you walk outside,
when you go to bed,
when you rise.
Repeat them to your children,
or may your house crumble
and disease render you helpless
so that even your offspring avert their faces from you.



Buna
by Primo Levi
translation by Michael R. Burch

Wasted feet, cursed earth,
the interminable gray morning
as Buna smokes corpses through industrious chimneys.

A day like every other day awaits us.
The terrible whistle shrilly announces dawn:
'You, O pale multitudes with your sad, lifeless faces,
welcome the monotonous horror of the mud...
another day of suffering has begun.'

Weary companion, I see you by heart.
I empathize with your dead eyes, my disconsolate friend.
In your breast you carry cold, hunger, nothingness.
Life has broken what's left of the courage within you.

Colorless one, you once were a strong man,
A courageous woman once walked at your side.
But now you, my empty companion, are bereft of a name,
my forsaken friend who can no longer weep,
so poor you can no longer grieve,
so tired you no longer can shiver with fear.

O, spent once-strong man,
if we were to meet again
in some other world, sweet beneath the sun,
with what kind faces would we recognize each other?

Note: Buna was the largest Auschwitz sub-camp.



Excerpts from 'A Page from the Deportation Diary'
by Wladyslaw Szlengel
translation by Michael R. Burch

I saw Janusz Korczak walking today,
leading the children, at the head of the line.
They were dressed in their best clothes—immaculate, if gray.
Some say the weather wasn't dismal, but fine.

They were in their best jumpers and laughing (not loud) ,
but if they'd been soiled, tell me—who could complain?
They walked like calm heroes through the haunted crowd,
five by five, in a whipping rain.

The pallid, the trembling, watched high overhead,
through barely cracked windows—pale, transfixed with dread.

And now and then, from the high, tolling bell
a strange moan escaped, like a sea gull's torn cry.
Their 'superiors' looked on, their eyes hard as stone.
So let us not flinch, as they march on, to die.

Footfall... then silence... the cadence of feet...
O, who can console them, their last mile so drear?
The church bells peal on, over shocked Leszno Street.
Will Jesus Christ save them? The high bells career.

No, God will not save them. Nor you, friend, nor I.
But let us not flinch, as they march on, to die.

No one will offer the price of their freedom.
No one will proffer a single word.
His eyes hard as gavels, the silent policeman
agrees with the priest and his terrible Lord:
'Give them the Sword! '

At the town square there is no intervention.
No one tugs Schmerling's sleeve. No one cries
'Rescue the children! ' The air, thick with tension,
reeks with the odor of vodka, and lies.

How calmly he walks, with a child in each arm:
Gut Doktor Korczak, please keep them from harm!

A fool rushes up with a reprieve in hand:
'Look Janusz Korczak—please look, you've been spared! '
No use for that. One resolute man,
uncomprehending that no one else cared
enough to defend them,
his choice is to end with them.



Girl Without Soap
by Miryam Ulinover
loose translation by Michael R. Burch

As I sat so desolate,
threadbare with poverty,
the inspiration came to me
to make a song of my need!

My blouse is heavy with worries,
so now it's time to wash:
the weave's become dull yellow
close to my breast.

It wrings my brain with old worries
and presses it down like a canker.
If only some kind storekeeper
would give me detergent on credit!

But no, he did not give it!
Instead, he was stiffer than starch!
Despite my dark, beautiful eyes
he remained aloof and arch.

I am estranged from fresh white wash;
my laundry's gone gray with old dirt;
but my body still longs to sing the song
of a clean and fresh white shirt.



Meydl on Kam
Girl Without Comb
by Miryam Ullinover
loose translation by Michael R. Burch

The note preceding the poem:
'Sitting where the night makes its nest
are my songs like boarders, awaiting flight's quests.'

The teeth of the comb are broken
A comb is necessary―more necessary than bread.
O, who will come to comb my braid,
or empty the gray space occupying my head?



Der Himmel
'The Heavens'
by Ber Horvitz
loose translation by Michael R. Burch

These skies
are leaden, heavy, gray...
I long for a pair
of deep blue eyes.

The birds have fled
far overseas;
tomorrow I'll migrate too,
I said...

These gloomy autumn days
it rains and rains.
Woe to the bird
Who remains...



Doctorn
'Doctors'
by Ber Horvitz
loose translation by Michael R. Burch

Early this morning I bandaged
the lilac tree outside my house;
I took thin branches that had broken away
and patched their wounds with clay.

My mother stood there watering
her window-level flower bed;
The morning sun, quite motherly,
kissed us both on our heads!

What a joy, my child, to heal!
Finished doctoring, or not?
The eggs are nicely poached
And the milk's a-boil in the pot.



Broit
'Bread'
by Ber Horvitz
loose translation by Michael R. Burch

Night. Exhaustion. Heavy stillness. Why?
On the hard uncomfortable floor the exhausted people lie.

Flung everywhere, scattered over the broken theater floor,
the exhausted people sleep. Night. Late. Too tired to snore.

At midnight a little boy cries wildly into the gloom:
'Mommy, I'm afraid! Let's go home! '

His mother, reawakened into this frightful palace,
presses her frightened child even closer to her breast …

'If you cry, I'll leave you here, all alone!
A little boy must sleep... now this is our new home.'

Night. Exhaustion. Heavy stillness all around,
exhausted people sleeping on the hard ground.



'My Lament'
by Ber Horvitz
loose translation by Michael R. Burch

Nothingness enveloped me
as tender green toadstools
are enveloped by snow
with its thick, heavy prayer shawl …
After that, nothing could hurt me …



Let it be Quiet in my Room!
by Yitzkhak Viner
loose translation by Michael R. Burch

Let it be quiet in my room!
Let me hear the birds outside singing,
And let their innocent trilling
Lull away my heart's interior gloom…

Listen, outside, drayman's horse and cart,
If you scare the birds away,
You will wake me from my dream-play
And wring the last drop of joy from my heart…

Don't cough mother! Father, no words!
It'd be a shame to spoil the calm
And silence the sweet-sounding balm
of the well-fed little birds…

Hush, little sisters and brothers! Be strong!
Don't weep and cry for drink and food;
Try to remember in silence the good.
Please do not disturb my weaving of songs…



My Childhood
by Yitzkhak Viner
loose translation by Michael R. Burch

In the years of my childhood, in Balut's yards,
Living with my parents in an impoverished day,
I remember my hunger; with my friends I would play
And bake loaves of bread out of muddy clay…

By baking mud-breads, we dreamed away hunger:
the closest and worst of the visitors kids know;
so passed the summer's heat through the gutters,
so winters passed with their freezing snow.

Outside today all is gray, sunk in snow,
Though the roofs and the gate are silvered and white.
I lie on a bed warmed now only by rags
and look through grim windows brightened by ice.

Father left early to try to find work;
In an unlit room I and my mother stay.
It's cold, we're hungry, we have nothing to eat:
How I lust to bake one tiny bread-loaf of clay…

Balut (Baluty) was a poor Jewish suburb of Lodz, Poland which became a segregated ghetto under the Nazis.



It Is Good to Have Two Eyes
by Yitzkhak Viner
loose translation by Michael R. Burch

I.
It is good to have two eyes.
Anything I want, they can see:
Boats, trains, horses and cars,
everything around me.

But sometimes I just want to see
Someone's laughter, sweet…
Instead I see his corpse outstretched,
Lying in the street…

When I want to see his laughter
his eyes are closed forever…

II.
It is good to have two ears.
Anything I want, they can hear:
Songs, plays, concerts, kind words,
Street cars, bells, anything near.

I want to hear kids' voices sing,
but my ears only hear the shrill cries
and fear
of two children watching a man as he dies…

When I long for a youthful song
I hear children weeping hard and long…

III.
It is good to have two hands.
Every year I can till the land.
Banging iron night and day
Fashions wheels to plow the clay…

But now wheels are silent and still
And people's hands are obsolete;
The houses grow cold and dark
As hands dig a grave in defeat…

Still it is good to have two hands:
I write poems in which the truth still stands.



After My Death
by Chaim Nachman Bialik
translation by Michael R. Burch

Say this when you eulogize me:
Here was a man — now, poof, he's gone!
He died before his time.
The music of his life suddenly ground to a halt..
Such a pity! There was another song in him, somewhere,
But now it's lost,
forever.
What a pity! He had a violin,
a living, voluble soul
to which he uttered
the secrets of his heart,
setting its strings vibrating,
save the one he kept inviolate.
Back and forth his supple fingers danced;
one string alone remained mesmerized,
yet unheard.
Such a pity!
All his life the string quivered,
quavering silently,
yearning for its song, its mate,
as a heart saddens before its departure.
Despite constant delays it waited daily,
mutely beseeching its savior, Love,
who lingered, loitered, tarried incessantly
and never came.
Great is the pain!
There was a man — now, poof, he is no more!
The music of his life suddenly interrupted.
There was another song in him
But now it is lost
forever.



On The Slaughter
by Chaim Nachman Bialik
translation by Michael R. Burch

Merciful heavens, have pity on me!
If there is a God approachable by men
as yet I have not found him—
Pray for me!

For my heart is dead,
prayers languish upon my tongue,
my right hand has lost its strength
and my hope has been crushed, undone.

How long? Oh, when will this nightmare end?
How long? Hangman, traitor,
here's my neck—
rise up now, and slaughter!

Behead me like a dog—your arm controls the axe
and the whole world is a scaffold to me
though we—the chosen few—
were once recipients of the Pacts.

Executioner! , my blood's a paltry prize—
strike my skull and the blood of innocents will rain
down upon your pristine uniform again and again,
staining your raiment forever.

If there is Justice—quick, let her appear!
But after I've been blotted out, should she reveal her face,
let her false scales be overturned forever
and the heavens reek with the stench of her disgrace.

You too arrogant men, with your cruel injustice,
suckled on blood, unweaned of violence:
cursed be the warrior who cries 'Avenge! ' on a maiden;
such vengeance was never contemplated even by Satan.

Let innocents' blood drench the abyss!
Let innocents' blood seep down into the depths of darkness,
eat it away and undermine
the rotting foundations of earth.



Credo
by Saul Tchernichovsky
loose translation by Michael R. Burch

Laugh at all my silly dreams!
Laugh, and I'll repeat anew
that I still believe in man,
just as I believe in you.

By the passion of man's spirit
ancient bonds are being shed:
for his heart desires freedom
as the body does its bread.

My noble soul cannot be led
to the golden calf of scorn,
for I still believe in man,
as every child is human-born.

Life and love and energy
in our hearts will surge and beat,
till our hopes bring forth a heaven
from the earth beneath our feet.



Mother's Smile
by Michael R. Burch

for the mothers of the Holocaust and the Nakba

There never was a fonder smile
than mother's smile, no softer touch
than mother's touch. So sleep awhile
and know she loves you more than 'much.'

So more than 'much, ' much more than 'all.'
Though tender words, these do not speak
of love at all, nor how we fall
and mother's there, nor how we reach
from nightmares in the ticking night
and she is there to hold us tight.

There never was a stronger back
than father's back, that held our weight
and lifted us, when we were small,
and bore us till we reached the gate,
then held our hands that first bright mile
till we could run, and did, and flew.
But, oh, a mother's tender smile
will leap and follow after you!

Originally published by TALESetc



Springtime Prayer
by Michael R. Burch

They'll have to grow like crazy,
the springtime baby geese,
if they're to fly to balmier climes
when autumn dismembers the leaves...

And so I toss them loaves of bread,
then whisper an urgent prayer:
'Watch over these, my Angels,
if there's anyone kind, up there.'



Will There Be Starlight
by Michael R. Burch

for the seekers

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?



Ah! Sunflower
by Michael R. Burch

after William Blake

O little yellow flower
like a star...
how beautiful,
how wonderful
we are!



Reflex
by Michael R. Burch

for parents who have lost children

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.



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.



Neglect
by Michael R. Burch

What good are your tears?
They will not spare the dying their anguish.
What good is your concern
to a child sick of living, waiting to perish?

What good, the warm benevolence of tears
without action?
What help, the eloquence of prayers,
or a pleasant benediction?

Before this day is gone,
how many more will die
with bellies swollen, wasted limbs,
and eyes too parched to cry?

I fear for our souls
as I hear the faint lament
of their souls departing...
mournful, and distant.

How pitiful our 'effort, '
yet how fatal its effect.
If they died, then surely we killed them,
if only with neglect.



Leaf Fall
by Michael R. Burch

Whatever winds encountered soon resolved
to swirling fragments, till chaotic heaps
of leaves lay pulsing by the backyard wall.
In lieu of rakes, our fingers sorted each
dry leaf into its place and built a high,
soft bastion against earth's gravitron—
a patchwork quilt, a trampoline, a bright
impediment to fling ourselves upon.

And nothing in our laughter as we fell
into those leaves was like the autumn's cry
of also falling. Nothing meant to die
could be so bright as we, so colorful—
clad in our plaids, oblivious to pain
we'd feel today, should we leaf-fall again.



The Folly of Wisdom
by Michael R. Burch

She is wise in the way that children are wise,
looking at me with such knowing, grave eyes
I must bend down to her to understand.
But she only smiles, and takes my hand.

We are walking somewhere that her feet know to go,
so I smile, and I follow...

And the years are dark creatures concealed in bright leaves
that flutter above us, and what she believes—
I can almost remember—goes something like this:
the prince is a horned toad, awaiting her kiss.

She wiggles and giggles, and all will be well
if only we find him! The woodpecker's knell
as he hammers the coffin of some dying tree
that once was a fortress to someone like me

rings wildly above us. Some things that we know
we are meant to forget. Life is a bloodletting, maple-syrup-slow.



Just Smile
by Michael R. Burch

We'd like to think some angel smiling down
will watch him as his arm bleeds in the yard,
ripped off by dogs, will guide his tipsy steps,
his doddering progress through the scarlet house
to tell his mommy 'boo-boo! , ' only two.

We'd like to think his reconstructed face
will be as good as new, will often smile,
that baseball's just as fun with just one arm,
that God is always Just, that girls will smile,
not frown down at his thousand livid scars,
that Life is always Just, that Love is Just.

We do not want to hear that he will shave
at six, to raze the leg hairs from his cheeks,
that lips aren't easily fashioned, that his smile's
lopsided, oafish, snaggle-toothed, that each
new operation costs a billion tears,
when tears are out of fashion. O, beseech
some poet with more skill with words than tears
to find some happy ending, to believe
that God is Just, that Love is Just, that these
are Parables we live, Life's Mysteries...

Or look inside his courage, as he ties
his shoelaces one-handed, as he throws
no-hitters on the first-place team, and goes
on dates, looks in the mirror undeceived
and smiling says, 'It's me I see. Just me.'

He smiles, if life is Just, or lacking cures.
Your pity is the worst cut he endures.



Child of 9-11
by Michael R. Burch

a poem for Christina-Taylor Green, who was born
on September 11,2001 and died at the age of nine,
shot to death...

Child of 9-11, beloved,
I bring this lily, lay it down
here at your feet, and eiderdown,
and all soft things, for your gentle spirit.
I bring this psalm — I hope you hear it.

Much love I bring — I lay it down
here by your form, which is not you,
but what you left this shell-shocked world
to help us learn what we must do
to save another child like you.

Child of 9-11, I know
you are not here, but watch, afar
from distant stars, where angels rue
the vicious things some mortals do.
I also watch; I also rue.

And so I make this pledge and vow:
though I may weep, I will not rest
nor will my pen fail heaven's test
till guns and wars and hate are banned
from every shore, from every land.

Child of 9-11, I grieve
your tender life, cut short... bereaved,
what can I do, but pledge my life
to saving lives like yours? Belief
in your sweet worth has led me here...

I give my all: my pen, this tear,
this lily and this eiderdown,
and all soft things my heart can bear;
I bear them to your final bier,
and leave them with my promise, here.



For a Sandy Hook Child, with Butterflies
by Michael R. Burch

Where does the butterfly go
when lightning rails,
when thunder howls,
when hailstones scream,
when winter scowls,
when nights compound dark frosts with snow...
Where does the butterfly go?

Where does the rose hide its bloom
when night descends oblique and chill
beyond the capacity of moonlight to fill?
When the only relief's a banked fire's glow,
where does the butterfly go?

And where shall the spirit flee
when life is harsh, too harsh to face,
and hope is lost without a trace?
Oh, when the light of life runs low,
where does the butterfly go?



Children
by Michael R. Burch

There was a moment
suspended in time like a swelling drop of dew about to fall,
impendent, pregnant with possibility...

when we might have made...
anything,
anything we dreamed,
almost anything at all,
coalescing dreams into reality.

Oh, the love we might have fashioned
out of a fine mist and the nightly sparkle of the cosmos
and the rhythms of evening!

But we were young,
and what might have been is now a dark abyss of loss
and what is left is not worth saving.

But, oh, you were lovely,
child of the wild moonlight, attendant tides and doting stars,
and for a day,

what little we partook
of all that lay before us seemed so much,
and passion but a force
with which to play.



Reflections on the Loss of Vision
by Michael R. Burch

The sparrow that cries from the shelter of an ancient oak tree and the squirrels
that dash in delight through the treetops as the first snow glistens and swirls,
remind me so much of my childhood and how the world seemed to me then,
that it seems if I tried
and just closed my eyes,
I could once again be nine or ten.

The rabbits that hide in the bushes where the snowflakes collect as they fall,
hunch there, I know, in the flurrying snow, yet now I can't see them at all.
For time slowly weakened my vision; while the patterns seem almost as clear,
some things that I saw
when I was a boy,
are lost to me now in my advancing years.

The chipmunk who seeks out his burrow and the geese in their unseen reprieve
are there as they were, and yet they are not; and though it seems childish to grieve,
who would condemn a blind man for bemoaning the vision he lost?
Well, in a small way,
through the passage of days,
I have learned some of his loss.

As a keen-eyed young lad I endeavored to see things most adults could not―
the camouflaged nests of the hoot owls, the woodpecker's favorite haunts.
But now I no longer can find them, nor understand how I once could,
and it seems such a waste
of those far-sighted days,
to end up near blind in this wood.



Kindergarten
by Michael R. Burch

Will we be children as puzzled tomorrow—
our lessons still not learned?
Will we surrender over to sorrow?
How many times must our fingers be burned?

Will we be children sat in the corner
over and over again?
How long will we linger, playing Jack Horner?
Or will we learn, and when?

Will we be children wearing the dunce cap,
giggling and playing the fool,
re-learning our lessons forever and ever,
never learning the golden rule?



Life Sentence or Fall Well
by Michael R. Burch

... I swim, my Daddy's princess, newly crowned,
toward a gurgly Maelstrom... if I drown
will Mommy stick the Toilet Plunger down

to suck me up? ... She sits upon Her Throne,
Imperious (denying we were one) ,
and gazes down and whispers 'precious son'...

... the Plunger worked; i'm two, and, if not blessed,
still Mommy got the Worst Stuff off Her Chest;
a Vacuum Pump, They say, will do the rest...

... i'm three; yay! whee! oh good! it's time to play!
(oh no, I think there's Others on the way;
i'd better pray) ...

... i'm four; at night I hear the Banging Door;
She screams; sometimes there's Puddles on the Floor;
She wants to kill us, or, She wants some More...

... it's great to be alive if you are five (unless you're me) :
my Mommy says: 'you're WRONG! don't disagree!
don't make this HURT ME! '...

... i'm six; They say i'm tall, yet Time grows Short;
we have a thriving Family; Abort! ;
a tadpole's ripping Mommy's Room apart...

... i'm seven; i'm in heaven; it feels strange;
I saw my life go gurgling down the Drain;
another Noah built a Mighty Ark;
God smiled, appeased, a Rainbow split the Dark;

... I saw Bright Colors also, when She slammed
my head against the Tub, and then I swam
toward the magic tunnel... last, I heard...

is that She feels Weird.
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