Michael R. Burch

1958
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Early Poems: Juvenalia

EARLY POEMS: JUVENALIA by Michael R. Burch



Styx
by Michael R. Burch, age 16

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

"Styx" has been published by The Lyric, Poezii (in a Romanian translation by Petru Dimofte), The Raintown Review, Blue Unicorn, Brief Poems and Artvilla. Not too shabby for a teenage poem.



Leave Taking
by Michael R. Burch, age 14

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.

There is a sequel, "Leave Taking II," at the bottom of this page. "Leave Taking" has been published by The Lyric, Borderless Journal (Singapore), Mindful of Poetry, Glass Facets of Poetry and Silver Stork Magazine. "Leave Taking" was originally a stanza in a longer poem, "Jessamyn's Song," that I wrote around age 14 or 15.



Excerpt from "Jessamyn's Song"
by Michael R. Burch, age 14

By the window ledge where the candle begs
the night for light to live,
the deepening darkness gives
the heart good cause to shudder.
For there are curly, tousled heads
that know one use for bed
and not any other.
"Goodnight father."
"Goodnight mother."
"Goodnight sister."
"Goodnight brother."
"Tomorrow new adventures
we surely shall discover!"

"Jessamyn's Song" was a long poem I wrote in my early teens about a relationship that began when a boy and girl were very young and lasted into "old age." At the time I wrote the poem, forty seemed to be beyond superannuated, so I believe I killed off the hero at that ripe old age.



Sarjann
by Michael R. Burch, age 16

What did I ever do
to make you hate me so?
I was only nine years old,
lonely and afraid,
a small stranger in a large land.
Why did you abuse me
and taunt me?
Even now, so many years later,
the question still haunts me:
what did I ever do?

Why did you despise me and reject me,
pushing and shoving me around
when there was no one to protect me?
Why did you draw a line
in the bone-dry autumn dust,
daring me to cross it?
Did you want to see me cry?
Well, if you did, you did.

... oh, leave me alone,
for the sky opens wide
in a land of no rain,
and who are you
to bring me such pain? ...

This is a "true poem" in the sense of being about the "real me." I had a bad experience with an older girl named Sarjann (or something like that), who used to taunt me and push me around at a bus stop in Roseville, California (the "large land" of "no rain" where I was a "small stranger" because I only lived there for a few months). I believe this poem was written around age 16, but could have been written earlier. There was more to the poem, but I decided to shorten it.



Observance
by Michael R. Burch, age 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...

I wrote this early poem as a teenager, around age 17, in a McDonald's break room. It was the first poem that made me feel like a "real" poet. "Observance" was originally titled "Reckoning" and it was was one of my earliest poems to be published. "Observance/Reckoning" has been published by Nebo, Romantics Quarterly, The Chained Muse, Piedmont Literary Review, Tucumcari Literary Review, Borderless Journal (Singapore) and in the Borderless Journal anthology Monalisa No Longer Smiles and the anthology There Is Something in the Autumn.



Infinity
by Michael R. Burch, age 18

Have you tasted the bitterness of tears of despair?
Have you watched the sun sink through such pale, balmless air
that your soul sought its shell like a crab on a beach,
then scuttled inside to be safe, out of reach?

Might I lift you 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. "Infinity" has been published by Setu (India), Borderless Journal (Singapore), New Lyre, The Chained Muse, Penny Dreadful, Songs of Innocence, Artvilla and Lone Stars.



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 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...

I wrote this early poem around age 14 after seeing the ad for the movie "Summer of '42" starring a young Jacqueline Bisset. "Smoke" appeared in my high school journal, the Lantern, and my college journal, Homespun. It has since been published by The Eclectic Muse (Canada), Poezii (in a Romanian translation by Petru Dimofte), Potcake Chapbooks (UK), Love Poems and Poets, Better Than Starbucks and Fullosia Press.



In the Whispering Night
by Michael R. Burch, age 18

for George King

In the whispering night, when the stars bend low
till the hills ignite to a shining flame,
when a shower of meteors streaks the sky
as the lilies sigh in their beds, for shame,
we must steal our souls, as they once were stolen,
and gather our vigor, and all our intent.
We must heave our husks into some savage ocean
and laugh as they shatter, and never repent.
We must dance in the darkness as stars dance before us,
soar, Soar! through the night on a butterfly's breeze:
blown high, upward-yearning, twin spirits returning
to the heights of awareness from which we were seized.

Published by Songs of Innocence, Romantics Quarterly, Poetry Life & Times, The Chained Muse and New Lyre



Moon Lake
by Michael R. Burch, age 18

Starlit recorder of summer nights,
what magic spell bewitches you?
They say that all lovers love first in the dark . . .
Is it true?
Is it true?
Is it true?

Uncanny seer of all that appears
and all that has appeared . . .
what sights have you seen,
what dreams have you dreamed,
what rhetoric have you heard?

Is love an oration or is it a word?
Have you heard?
Have you heard?
Have you heard?

"Moon Lake" was published by Romantics Quarterly, then set to music by David Hamilton and performed by the Australian choir Choralation. This early poem dates to around age 14 and was part of a longer poem, "Jessamyn's Song."



Listen
by Michael R. Burch, age 17

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 you hear
the tolling of the judgment bell, and if its tone is clear,
then do not tarry,

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

Published by Penny Dreadful, Formal Verse, The HyperTexts, the Anthologise Committee and Nonsuch High School for Girls (Surrey, England)



The Communion of Sighs
by Michael R. Burch, age 18

There was a moment
without the sound of trumpets or a shining light,
but with only silence and darkness and a cool mist
felt more than seen.
I was eighteen,
my heart pounding wildly within me like a fist.
Expectation hung like a cry in the night,
and your eyes shone like the corona of a comet.

There was an instant...
without words, but with a deeper communion,
as clothing first, then inhibitions fell;
liquidly our lips met
—feverish, wet—
forgotten, the tales of heaven and hell,
in the immediacy of our fumbling union...
when the rest of the world became distant.

Then the only light was the moon on the rise,
and the only sound, the communion of sighs.



Something
by Michael R. Burch, age 18-19

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,
which denial has swept into a corner... where it lies
in dust and cobwebs and silence.

Originally published in the anthology There is Something in the Autumn, then turned into a YouTube video by Lillian Y. Wong and published by Poezii in a Romanian translation by Petru Dimofte, "Something" is the first poem I wrote that didn't rhyme.



Elegy for a little girl, lost
by Michael R. Burch, age 16

... 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.

This was my first translation, after I found the Latin prayer while sneak-reading one of my sister's historical romance novels.



The Toast
by Michael R. Burch, age 19

For longings warmed by tepid suns
(brief lusts that animated clay),
for passions wilted at the bud
and skies grown desolate and grey,
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,
for rhymes that fade as pages close,
for flames’ exhausted, drifting ash
and petals falling from the rose ...
I raise my cup before I drink,
saluting ghosts of loves long dead,
and silently propose a toast—
to joys set free, and those I fled.

Originally published by Contemporary Rhyme



Winter
by Michael R. Burch, age 19

The rose of love’s bright promise
lies torn by her own thorn;
her scent was sweet
but at her feet
the pallid aphids mourn.

The lilac of devotion
has felt the winter hoar
and shed her dress;
companionless,
she shivers—nude, forlorn.

Published by Songs of Innocence, The Aurorean and Contemporary Rhyme. "Winter" was inspired and influenced by William Blake's poem "The Sick Rose."



Shakespeare’s Sonnet 130 Refuted
by Michael R. Burch, age 18

My mistress' eyes are nothing like the sun;
Coral is far more red than her lips' red ...
— Shakespeare, Sonnet 130

Seas that sparkle in the sun
without its light would have no beauty;
but the light within your eyes
is theirs alone; it owes no duty.
Whose winsome flame, not half so bright,
is meant for me, and brings delight.

Coral formed beneath the sea,
though scarlet-tendriled, cannot warm me;
while your lips, not half so red,
just touching mine, at once inflame me.
Whose scorching flames mild lips arouse
fathomless oceans fail to douse.

Bright roses’ brief affairs, declared
when winter comes, will wither quickly.
Your cheeks, though paler when compared
with them?—more lasting, never prickly.
Whose tender cheeks, so enchantingly warm,
far vaster treasures, harbor no thorns.

Originally published by Romantics Quarterly. I composed this poem in my head as a college freshman, as I walked back to my dorm from an English class where I had read Shakespeare’s “Sonnet 130.” This was my first attempt at a sonnet, but I dispensed with the rules, as has always been my wont.



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 feeble 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 is one of my very earliest poems; if I remember correctly, it was written the same day as “Time,” which appeared in my high school sophomore poetry assignment booklet. If not, it was a companion piece written around the same time. The refrain “Am I” is an inversion of the biblical “I Am” supposedly given to Moses as the name of God. I was around 14 or 15 when I wrote the two poems.



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." It appeared in my high school project notebook "Poems" along with "Playmates," so I was probably around 14 or 15 when I wrote it. This seems like a pretty well-crafted poem for a teenage poet just getting started. "Time" and "Am I" were written on the same day, or within a short period of time, if I remember correctly. They were among the earliest of what I call my "I Am" and "Am I" poems.



Myth
by Michael R. Burch, age 18

after the sprung rhythm of Dylan Thomas

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.

Published by There is Something in the Autumn (an anthology) and picked as the best poem in a Dylan Thomas poetry contest by the contest’s sponsor and judge, Vatsala Radhakeesoon.



The Leveler
by Michael R. Burch, age 20

The nature of Nature
is bitter survival
from Winter’s bleak fury
till Spring’s brief revival.

The weak implore Fate;
bold men ravish, dishevel her ...
till both are cut down
by mere ticks of the Leveler.

Published by The Lyric, The Aurorean, Tucumcari Literary Review, Romantics Quarterly and in a YouTube video by Asma Masooma



Regret
by Michael R. Burch, age 19-20

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.

Published by The Chained Muse



Righteous
by Michael R. Burch, age 16-18

Come to me tonight
in the twilight, O, and the full moon rising,
spectral and ancient, will mutter a prayer.

Gather your hair
and pin it up, knowing
I will release it a moment anon.

We are not one,
nor is there a scripture
to sanctify nights you might spend in my arms,

but the swarms
of bright stars revolving above us
revel tonight, the most ardent of lovers.

Published by Writer’s Gazette, Tucumcari Literary Review and The Chained Muse



R.I.P.
by Michael R. Burch, age 19

When I am lain to rest
and my soul is no longer intact,
but dissolving, like a sunset
diminishing to the west, ...

and when at last
before His throne my past
is put to test
and the demons and the Beast

await to feast
on any morsel downward cast,
while the vapors of impermanence
cling, smelling of damask ...

then let me go, and do not weep
if I am left to sleep,
to sleep and never dream, or dream, perhaps,
only a little longer and more deep.

Published by Romantics Quarterly and The Chained Muse. This is an early poem from my “Romantic Period” that was written in my late teens.



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 earliest poems, written around age 15.



Bound,
by Michael R. Burch, age 14

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 your 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.

Published as “Why Did I Go?” in the Lantern in 1976. I have made slight changes here and there, but the poem is essentially the same as what I wrote around age 14.



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

If God
is good
half the Bible
is libel.

I read the Bible from cover to cover at age eleven, ten chapters per day, at the suggestion of my devout Christian parents. I wrote this poem to express my conclusion about the bizarre behavior of the biblical god Yahweh/Jehovah . This was my first poem, as far as I can remember, although I considered it more of an observation at the time.



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.

Published by Borderless Journal



Earthbound
by Michael R. Burch, age 20

Tashunka Witko, better known as Crazy Horse, had a vision of a red-tailed hawk at Sylvan Lake, South Dakota. In his vision he saw himself riding a spirit horse, flying through a storm, as the hawk flew above him, shrieking. When he awoke, a red-tailed hawk was perched near his horse.

Earthbound,
and yet I now fly
through these clouds that are aimlessly drifting ...
so high
that no sound
echoing by
below where the mountains are lifting
the sky
can be heard.

Like a bird,
but not meek,
like a hawk from a distance regarding its prey,
I will shriek,
not a word,
but a screech,
and my terrible clamor will turn them to clay—
the sheep,
the earthbound.

Published by Boston Poetry Magazine, Native American Indian Pride and Native American Poems, Prayers and Stories



Huntress
by Michael R. Burch, age 19

after Baudelaire

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 oft-lamented 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 The HyperTexts and Sonnetto Poesia (Canada)



Burn, Ovid
by Michael R. Burch, age 14-43

“Burn Ovid”—Austin Clarke

Sunday School,
Faith Free Will Baptist, 1973:
I sat imagining watery folds
of pale silk encircling her waist.
Explicit sex was the day’s “hot” topic
(how breathlessly I imagined hers)
as she taught us the perils of lust
fraught with inhibition.

I found her unaccountably beautiful,
rolling implausible nouns off the edge of her tongue:
adultery, fornication, masturbation, sodomy.
Acts made suddenly plausible by the faint blush
of her unrouged cheeks,
by her pale lips
accented only by a slight quiver,
a trepidation.

What did those lustrous folds foretell
of our uncommon desire?
Why did she cross and uncross her legs
lovely and long in their taupe sheaths?
Why did her breasts rise pointedly,
as if indicating a direction?

“Come unto me,
(unto me),”
together, we sang,

cheek to breast,
lips on lips,
devout, afire,

my hands
up her skirt,
her pants at her knees:

all night long,
all night long,
in the heavenly choir.

“Sex 101” and “Burn, Ovid” were written about my experiences during ninth grade at Faith Christian Academy, circa age 14-15 in 1972-1973. However, these poems were not completed until 2001 and are in a more mature voice and style than most of my other early poems.



Sex 101
by Michael R. Burch, age 14-43

That day the late spring heat
steamed through the windows of a Crayola-yellow schoolbus
crawling its way up the backwards slopes
of Nowheresville, North Carolina ...

Where we sat exhausted
from the day’s skulldrudgery
and the unexpected waves of muggy,
summer-like humidity ...

Giggly first graders sat two abreast
behind senior high students
sprouting their first sparse beards,
their implausible bosoms, their stranger affections ...

The most unlikely coupling—

Lambert, 18, the only college prospect
on the varsity basketball team,
the proverbial talldarkhandsome
swashbuckling cocksman, grinning ...

Beside him, Wanda, 13,
bespectacled, in her primproper attire
and pigtails, staring up at him,
fawneyed, disbelieving ...

And as the bus filled with the improbable musk of her,
as she twitched impaled on his finger
like a dead frog jarred to life by electrodes,
I knew ...

that love is a forlorn enterprise,
that I would never understand it.

“Sex 101” and “Burn, Ovid” were written about my experiences during ninth grade at Faith Christian Academy, circa age 14-15 in 1972-1973. However, these poems were not completed until 2001 and are in a more mature voice and style than most of my other early poems.



Because You Came to Me
by Michael R. Burch, age 18

for Beth

Because you came to me with sweet compassion
and kissed my furrowed brow and smoothed my hair,
I do not love you after any fashion,
but wildly, in despair.

Because you came to me in my black torment
and kissed me fiercely, blazing like the sun
upon parched desert dunes, till in dawn’s foment
they melt ... I am undone.

Because I am undone, you have remade me
as suns bring life, as brilliant rains endow
the earth below with leaves, where you now shade me
and bower me, somehow.

I wrote the first version of this poem around age 18, then revised it 30 years later and dedicated the new version to my wife Beth.



Ambition
by Michael R. Burch, age 18-19

Men speak of their “Ambition”
and I smile to hear them say
that within them burns such fire,
such a longing to be great ...

For I laugh at their “Ambition”
as their wistfulness amasses;
I seek Her tongue’s indulgence
and Her parted legs’ crevasses.

I was very ambitious about my poetry, even as a teenager! I wrote this one around age 18 or 19.



An Illusion
by Michael R. Burch, age 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 is one of my early poems, written around age 16 and published in my high school literary journal.



Describing You
by Michael R. Burch, age 16

How can I describe you?

The fragrance of morning rain
mingled with dew
reminds me of you;

the warmth of sunlight
stealing through a windowpane
brings you back to me again.

This is an early poem of mine, written around age 16.



Analogy
by Michael R. Burch, age 18-19

Our embrace is like a forest
lying blanketed in snow;
you, the lily, are enchanted
by each shiver trembling through;
I, the snowfall, cling in earnest
as I press so close to you.
You dream that you now are sheltered;
I dream that I may break through.

I believe I wrote this poem around age 18 or 19.



Of You
by Michael R. Burch, age 16

There is little to write of in my life,
and little to write off, as so many do . . .
so I will write of you.

You are the sunshine after the rain,
the rainbow in between;
you are the joy that follows fierce pain;
you are the best that I've seen
in my life.

You are the peace that follows long strife;
you are tranquility.
You are an oasis in a dry land
and
you are the one for me!

You are my love; you are my life; you are my all in all.
Your hand is the hand that holds me aloft . . .
without you I would fall.

I have tried to remember when I wrote this poem, but that memory remains elusive. It was definitely written by 1976 because the poem was published in the Lantern then. But many of those poems were written earlier and this one feels “younger” to me, so I will guess a composition date in 1974, around age 16.



49th Street Serenade
by Michael R. Burch, age 16

It's four o'clock in the mornin'
and we're alone, all alone in the city . . .
your sneakers 're torn
and your jeans 're so short
that your ankles show, but you're pretty.

I wish I had five dollars;
I'd pay your bus fare home,
but how far canya go
through the sleet 'n' the snow
for a fistful of change?
'Bout the end of Childe’s Lane.

Right now my old man is sleepin'
and he don't know the hell where I am.
Why he still goes to bed
when he's already dead,
I don't understand,
but I don't give a damn.

Bein' sixteen sure is borin'
though I guess for a girl it's all right . . .
if you'd let your hair grow
and get some nice clothes,
I think you'd look outta sight.

And I wish I had ten dollars;
I'd ask you if you would . . .
but wishin's no good
and you'd think I'm a hood,
so I guess I'll be sayin' good night.

This is one of my earliest poems; I actually started out writing songs when some long-haired friends of mine started a band around 1974. But I was too introverted and shy to show them to anyone. This one was too racy for my high school journal.



Having Touched You
by Michael R. Burch, age 18

What I have lost
is not less
than what I have gained.

And for each moment passed
like the sun to the west,
another remained

suspended in memory
like a flower
in crystal

so that eternity
is but an hour
and fall

is no longer a season
but a state
of mind.

I have no reason
to wait;
the wind

does not pause
for remembrance
or regret

because
there is only fate and chance.
And so then, forget . . .

Forget that we were very happy
for a day.
That day was my lifetime.

Before that day I was empty
and the sky was grey.
You were the sunshine,

the sunshine that gave me life.
I took root
and I grew.

Now the touch of death is like a terrible knife,
and yet I can bear it,
having touched you.

Odd, the things that inspire us! I wrote this poem after watching The Boy in the Bubble: a made-for-TV movie, circa 1976, starring John Travolta. So I would have been around 18 at the time.



Hymn to Apollo
by Michael R. Burch, age 16

something of sunshine attracted my i
as it lazed on the afternoon sky,
golden, splashed on the easel of god;
what, i thought,
could this airy stuff be,
to, phantomlike, flit
through tall trees
on fall days, such as these?

and the breeze
whispered a dirge
to the vanishing light;
enchoired with the evening, it sang;
its voice enchantedly rang
chanting "Night! "...

till all the bright light
retired,
expired.

This poem appeared in my high school literary journal, the Lantern.



as Time walked by
by michael r. burch, age 16

yesterday i dreamed of us again,
when
the air, like honey,
trickled through cushioning grasses,
softly flowing, pouring itself upon the masses
of dreaming flowers...
and the hours
were tentative, coy and shy
while the sky
swirled all its colors together,
giving pleasure to the appreciative eye
as Time walked by.

then your smile
could fill the darkest night
with brilliant light
or thrill the dullest day
with ecstasy
so long as Time led leisurely our way;
as It did,
It did.

but soon the summer hid
her sunny smile...
the honeyed breaths of wind
became cold,
biting to the bone
as Time sped on,
fled from us
to be gone
forevermore.

this morning i awakened to the thought
that you were near
with honey hair and happy smile
lying sweetly by my side,
but then i remembered—you were gone,
that you toppled long ago
like an orchid felled by snow
as the thing called "us" sank slowly down to die
and Time roared by.

This poem appeared in my high school journal and was probably written around age 16.



teacher
by michael r. burch, age 17

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

but the truth is often hidden
(what lies lurk behind ur eyes?)
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 show insecurity,
surely wee will folderol.

I wrote "teacher" during my "Cummings Period" around age 17 after hearing the song "Old Man" by Neil Young.



Playmates
by Michael R. Burch, age 13-14

WHEN you were my playmate and I was yours,
we spent endless hours with simple toys,
and the sorrows and cares of our indentured days
were uncomprehended... far, far away...
for the temptations and trials we had yet to face
were lost in the shadows of an unventured maze.

Then simple pleasures were easy to find
and if they cost us a little, we didn't mind;
for even a penny in a pocket back then
was one penny too many, a penny to spend.

Then feelings were feelings and love was just love,
not a strange, complex mystery to be understood;
while "sin" and "damnation" meant little to us,
since forbidden batter was our only lust!

Then we never worried about what we had,
and we were both sure-what was good, what was bad.
And we sometimes quarreled, but we didn't hate;
we seldom gave thought to injustice, or fate.

Then we never thought about the next day,
for tomorrow seemed hidden—adventures away.
Though sometimes we dreamed of adventures past,
and wondered, at times, why things didn't last.

Still, we never worried about getting by,
and we didn't know that we were to die...
when we spent endless hours with simple toys,
and I was your playmate, and we were boys.

This is, I believe, my second "real" poem. I believe I was around 13 or 14 when I wrote it.



hey pete
by Michael R. Burch, age 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.



Floating
by Michael R. Burch, age 19

Memories flood the sand's unfolding scroll;
they pour in with the long, cursive tides of night.

Memories of revenant blue eyes and wild lips
moist and frantic against my own.

Memories of ghostly white limbs...
of soft sighs
heard once again in the surf's strangled moans.

We meet in the scarred, fissured caves of old dreams,
green waves of algae billowing about you,
becoming your hair.

Suspended there,
where pale sunset discolors the sea,
I see all that you are
and all that you have become to me.

Your love is a sea,
and I am its trawler—
harbored in dreams,
I ride out night's storms.

Unanchored, I drift through the hours before morning,
dreaming the solace of your warm breasts,
pondering your riddles, savoring the feel
of the explosions of your hot, saline breath.

And I rise sometimes
from the tropical darkness
to gaze once again out over the sea...
You watch in the moonlight
that brushes the water;

bright waves throw back your reflection at me.



Mare Clausum
by Michael R. Burch, age 19

These are the narrows of my soul—
dark waters pierced by eerie, haunting screams.
And these uncharted islands bleakly home
wild nightmares and deep, strange, forbidding dreams.

Please don't think to find pearls' pale, unearthly glow
within its shoals, nor corals in its reefs.
For, though you seek to salvage Love, I know
that vessel lists, and night brings no relief.

Pause here, and look, and know that all is lost;
then turn, and go; let salt consume, and rust.
This sea is not for sailors, but the damned
who lingered long past morning, till they learned

why it is named:
Mare Clausum.

Mare Clausum is Latin for "Closed Sea." I believe this poem was written around age 19.



Nevermore!
by Michael R. Burch, age 19

Nevermore! O, nevermore!
shall the haunts of the sea
—the swollen tide pools
and the dark, deserted shore—
mark her passing again.

And the salivating sea
shall never kiss her lips
nor caress her breasts and hips,
as she dreamt it did before,
once, lost within the uproar.

The waves will never rape her,
nor take her at their leisure;
the sea gulls shall not claim her,
nor could she give them pleasure ...
She sleeps, forevermore!

She sleeps forevermore,
a virgin save to me
and her other lover,
who lurks now, safely covered
by the restless, surging sea.

And, yes, they sleep together,
but never in that way ...
For the sea has stripped and shorn
the one I once adored,
and washed her flesh away.

He does not stroke her honey hair,
for she is bald, bald to the bone!
And how it fills my heart with glee
to hear them sometimes cursing me
out of the depths of the demon sea ...

their skeletal love—impossibility!

Published by Romantics Quarterly and Penny Dreadful



Shock
by Michael R. Burch, age 18

It was early in the morning of the forming of my soul,
in the dawning of desire, with passion at first bloom,
with lightning splitting heaven to thunder's blasting roll
and a sense of welling fire and, perhaps, impending doom—
that I cried out through the tumult of the raging storm on high
for shelter from the chaos of the restless, driving rain...
and the voice I heard replying from a rift of bleeding sky
was mine, I'm sure, and, furthermore, was certainly insane.



The Communion of Sighs
by Michael R. Burch, age 18

There was a moment
without the sound of trumpets or a shining light,
but with only silence and darkness and a cool mist
felt more than seen.
I was eighteen,
my heart pounding wildly within me like a fist.
Expectation hung like a cry in the night,
and your eyes shone like the corona of a comet.

There was an instant...
without words, but with a deeper communion,
as clothing first, then inhibitions fell;
liquidly our lips met
—feverish, wet—
forgotten, the tales of heaven and hell,
in the immediacy of our fumbling union...
when the rest of the world became distant.

Then the only light was the moon on the rise,
and the only sound, the communion of sighs.



In the Whispering Night
by Michael R. Burch, age 18

for George King

In the whispering night, when the stars bend low
till the hills ignite to a shining flame,
when a shower of meteors streaks the sky
while the lilies sigh in their beds, for shame,
we must steal our souls, as they once were stolen,
and gather our vigor, and all our intent.
We must heave our bodies to some famished ocean
and laugh as they shatter, and never repent.
We must dance in the darkness as stars dance before us,
soar, Soar! through the night on a butterfly's breeze...
blown high, upward-yearning, twin spirits returning
to the heights of awareness from which we were seized.



alien
by michael r. burch, age 19

there are mornings in england
when, riddled with light,
the Blueberries gleam at us—
plump, sweet and fragrant.

but i am so small ...
what do i know
of the ways of the Daffodils?
“beware of the Nettles!”

we go laughing and singing,
but somehow, i, ...
i know i am lost. i do not belong
to this Earth or its Songs.

and yet i am singing ...
the sun—so mild;
my cheeks are like roses;
my skin—so fair.

i spent a long time there
before i realized: They have no faces,
no bodies, no voices.
i was always alone.

and yet i keep singing:
the words will come
if only i hear.

I believe I wrote this poem around age 19, then revised it nearly a half-century later. One of my earliest memories is picking blueberries amid the brambles surrounding the tiny English hamlet, Mattersey, where I and my mother lived with her parents while my American father was stationed in Thule, Greenland, where dependents were not allowed. Was that because of the weather or the nukes? In any case, England is free of dangerous animals, but one must be wary of the copious thorns and nettles.



Be that Rock
by Michael R. Burch, age 18

for my grandfather George Edwin Hurt Sr.

When I was a child
I never considered man’s impermanence,
for you were a mountain of adamant stone:
a man steadfast, immense,
and your words rang.

And when you were gone,
I still heard your voice, which never betrayed,
"Be strong and of a good courage,
neither be afraid ..."
as the angels sang.

And, O!, I believed
for your words were my truth, and I tried to be brave
though the years slipped away
with so little to save
of that talk.

Now I'm a man—
a man ... and yet Grandpa ... I'm still the same child
who sat at your feet
and learned as you smiled.
Be that rock.

I don't remember when I wrote this poem, but I will guess around age 18 in 1976. The verse quoted is from an old, well-worn King James Bible my grandfather gave me after his only visit to the United States, as he prepared to return to England with my grandmother. I was around eight at the time and didn't know if I would ever see my grandparents again, so I was heartbroken – destitute, really.



Desdemona
by Michael R. Burch, age 22

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.

Published by Penny Dreadful, Carnelian, Romantics Quarterly, Grassroots Poetry and Poetry Life & Times



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 ...

This is one of my very earliest poems, one that was lost when I destroyed all the poems I had written in a fit of frustration and despair. The opening lines and "the strangest shade of orange on gold" are all of the original poem that I have been able to remember. I believe I wrote the original poem around age 14.



Ince St. Child
by Michael R. Burch, age 19

When she was a child
in a dark forest of fear,
imagination cast its strange light
into secret places,
scattering traces
of illumination so bright,
years later, they might suddenly reappear,
their light undefiled.

When she was young,
the shafted light of her dreams
shone on her uplifted face
as she prayed;
though she strayed
into a night fallen like mildewed lace
shrouding the forest of screams,
her faith led her home.

Now she is old
and the light that was flame
is a slow-dying ember . . .
What she felt then
she would explain;
she would if she could only remember
that forest of shame,
faith beaten like gold.

Published by Piedmont Literary Review, Songs of Innocence, Romantics Quarterly and Poetry Life & Times.

This is an unusual poem that I wrote in my late teens, and it took me some time to figure out who the elderly woman was. She was a victim of childhood incest, hence the title I eventually chose.



The Beautiful People
by Michael R. Burch, age 18

They are the beautiful people,
and their shadows dance through the valleys of the moon
to the listless strains of an ancient tune.

Oh, no ... please don't touch them,
for their smiles might fade.
Don’t go ... don’t approach them
as they promenade,
for they waltz through a vacuum
and dream they're not made
of the dust and the dankness
to which men degrade.

They are the beautiful people,
and their spirits sighed in their mothers’ wombs
as the distant echoings of unearthly tunes.

Winds do not blow there
and storms do not rise,
and each hair has its place
and each gown has its price.
And they whirl through the darkness
untouched by our cares
as we watch them and long for
a "life" such as theirs.



Burn
by Michael R. Burch, age 19

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.

This was one of my early poems, written around age 19. I dedicated the poem to Trump after he pulled the United States out of the Paris climate change accords.



as Time walked by
by Michael R. Burch, age 16

yesterday i dreamed of u(s) again,
when
the air, like honey,
trickled through cushioning grasses,
softly flowing, pouring itself upon the masses
of dreaming flowers . . .

then the sly impish Hours
were tentative, coy and shy
while the sky
swirled all its colors together,
giving pleasure to the appreciative eye
as Time walked by.

sunbright, ur smile
could fill the darkest night
with brilliant light
or thrill the dullest day
with ecstasy
so long as Time did not impede our way;
until It did,
as It did.

for soon the summer hid
her sunny smile . . .
the honeyed breaths of wind
became cold,
biting to the bone
as Time sped on,
fled from u(s)
to be gone
Forevermore.

this morning i awakened to the thought
that u were near
with honey hair and happy smile
lying sweetly by my side,
but then i remembered—u were gone,
that u’d been toppled long ago
like an orchid felled by snow
as the bloom called “us” sank slowly down to die
and Time roared by.

This poem was written around age 16 and appeared in my high school journal the Lantern in 1976.



Dust (I)
by Michael R. Burch, age 14

God, keep them safe until
I join them, as I will.

God, guard their tender dust
until I meet them, as I must.

This is one of my earliest poems, written circa 1972 at age 14, around the same time as “Jessamyn’s Song” but probably a bit earlier. “Dust” was at one time the closing stanza of “All My Children.”



Dust (II)
by Michael R. Burch, age 15

We are dust
and to dust we must
return ...
but why, then,
life’s pointless sojourn?

I’m not sure when I wrote my second “Dust” poem but I will keep the poems together due to the shared title and theme.



Dust (III)
by Michael R. Burch, age 19

Flame within flame,
we burned and burned relentlessly
till there was nothing left to be consumed.
Only ash remained, the smoke plumed
like a spirit leaving its corpse, and we
were left with only a name
ever common between us.
We had thought to love “eternally,”
but the wick sputtered, the candle swooned,
the flame subsided, the smoke ballooned,
and our communal thought was: flee, flee, flee
the choking dust.

This is one of my early poems in the “Dust” series, but unfortunately I have no recollection of writing it, nor any notes about its composition. I will guess that I wrote this one in my late teens.



Love Unfolded Like a Flower
by Michael R. Burch, age 19

Love unfolded
like a flower;
Pale petals pinked and blushed to see the sky.
I came to know you
and to trust you
in moments lost to springtime slipping by.

Then love burst outward,
leaping skyward,
and untamed blossoms danced against the wind.
All I wanted
was to hold you;
though passion tempted once, we never sinned.

Now love's gay petals
fade and wither,
and winter beckons, whispering a lie.
We were friends,
but friendships end . . .
yes, friendships end and even roses die.

This is a love poem I wrote in my late teens for a girl I had a serious crush on. The poem was originally titled "Christy."



Unfoldings
by Michael R. Burch, age 19

for Vicki

Time unfolds ...
Your lips were roses.
... petals open, shyly clustering ...
I had dreams
of other seasons.
... ten thousand colors quiver, blossoming.

Night and day ...
Dreams burned within me.
... flowers part themselves, and then they close ...
You were lovely;
I was lonely.
... a virgin yields herself, but no one knows.

Now time goes on ...
I have not seen you.
... within ringed whorls, secrets are exchanged ...
A fire rages;
no one sees it.
... a blossom spreads its flutes to catch the rain.

Seasons flow ...
A dream is dying.
... within parched clusters, life is taking form ...
You were honest;
I was angry.
... petals fling themselves before the storm.

Time is slowing ...
I am older.
... blossoms wither, closing one last time ...
I'd love to see you
and to touch you.
... a flower crumbles, crinkling, worn and dry.

Time contracts ...
I cannot touch you.
... a solitary flower cries for warmth ...
Life goes on as
dreams lose meaning.
... the seeds are scattered, lost within a storm.

I wrote this poem for a college girlfriend, circa age 18-19.



Each Color a Scar
by Michael R. Burch, age 21

What she left here,
upon my cheek,
is a tear.

She did not speak,
but her intention
was clear,

and I was meek,
far too meek, and, I fear,
too sincere.

What she can never take
from my heart
is its ache;

for now we, apart,
are like leaves
without weight,

scattered afar
by love, or by hate,
each color a scar.



The Tender Weight of Her Sighs
by Michael R. Burch, age 21

The tender weight of her sighs
lies heavily upon my heart;
apart from her, full of doubt,
without her presence to revolve around,
found wanting direction or course,
cursed with the thought of her grief,
believing true love is a myth,
with hope as elusive as tears,
hers and mine, unable to lie,
I sigh ...

I believe “The Tender Weight of Her Sighs” and “Each Color a Scar” are companion poems, probably written around the same time at age 21. This poem has an unusual rhyme scheme, with the last word of each line rhyming with the first word of the next line. The final line is a “closing couplet” in which both words rhyme with the last word of the preceding line. I believe I invented the nonce form, which I will dub the “End-First Curtal Sonnet.”



Impotent
by Michael R. Burch, age 22

Tonight my pen
is barren
of passion, spent of poetry.

I hear your name
upon the rain
and yet it cannot comfort me.

I feel the pain
of dreams that wane,
of poems that falter, losing force.

I write again
words without end,
but I cannot control their course . . .

Tonight my pen
is sullen
and wants no more of poetry.

I hear your voice
as if a choice,
but how can I respond, or flee?

I feel a flame
I cannot name
that sends me searching for a word,

but there is none
not over-done,
unless it's one I never heard.

I believe this poem was written in my late teens or early twenties.



Cameo
by Michael R. Burch, age 21

Breathe upon me the breath of life;
gaze upon me with sardonyx eyes.
Here, where times flies
in the absence of light,
all ecstasies are intimations of night.

Hold me tonight in the spell I have cast;
promise what cannot be given.
Show me the stairway to heaven.
Jacob's-ladder grows all around us;
Jacob's ladder was fashioned of onyx.

So breathe upon me the breath of life;
gaze upon me with sardonic eyes . . .
and, if in the morning I am not wise,
at least then I’ll know if this dream we call life
was worth the surmise.

My notes say that I copied and filed this poem in 1979, around age 21. Since I don’t have an earlier recollection of this poem, I will stick with that date. This one does feel a bit more mature than some of my teenage poems, so the date seems about right.



The Last Enchantment
by Michael R. Burch, age 20

Oh, Lancelot, my truest friend,
how time has thinned your ragged mane
and pinched your features; still you seem
though, much, much changed—somehow unchanged.

Your sword hand is, as ever, ready,
although the time for swords has passed.
Your eyes are fierce, and yet so steady
meeting mine ... you must not ask.

The time is not, nor ever shall be,
for Merlyn’s words were only words;
and now his last enchantment wanes,
and we must put aside our swords ...

Originally published by Trinacria



Lay Down Your Arms
by Michael R. Burch, age 21

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 on this ravaged 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.

I wrote “Lay Down Your Arms” around age 21 and it became my first published poem, possibly. Can an acceptance be a rejection? I never received a copy of the first journal that accepted one of my poems, The Romantist, so I don’t know if my first “published poem” was actually published! In any case, poems that I wrote from (circa) ages 11 to 16 were eventually published, so I now consider those my “earliest” publications.

/Y/

This is a poem about a discussion between a young poet and an older poet – the very poetic Dr. Martin Luther King Jr. I wrote this poem as a teenager under the spell of Dr. King’s famous “I Have a Dream” speech, which for me is also a compelling poem. In the poem he is the upper-case Poet and I am the lower-case poet.

Poet to poet
by Michael R. Burch, age 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...

Published by Borderless Journal (Singapore) and Love Poems and Poets



Fairest Diana
by Michael R. Burch, age 22

Fairest Diana, princess of dreams,
born to be loved and yet distant and lone,
why did you linger—so solemn, so lovely—
an orchid ablaze in a crevice of stone?

Was not your heart meant for tenderest passions?
Surely your lips—for wild kisses, not vows!
Why then did you languish, though lustrous, becoming
a pearl of enchantment cast before sows?

Fairest Diana, fragile as lilac,
as willful as rainfall, as true as the rose;
how did a stanza of silver-bright verse
come to be bound in a book of dull prose?

Published by Tucumcari Literary Journal and Night Roses

I believe this poem was written in the late 1970s or very early 1980s, around the time it became apparent that the lovely Diana Spencer was going to marry into the British royal family.



Flight
by Michael R. Burch, age 16

Eagle, raven, blackbird, crow . . .
What you are I do not know.
Where you go I do not care.
I’m unconcerned whose meal you bear.
But as you mount the sun-splashed sky,
I only wish that I could fly.
I only wish that I could fly.

Robin, hawk or whippoorwill . . .
Should men care if you hunger still?
I do not wish to see your home.
I do not wonder where you roam.
But as you scale the sky's bright stairs,
I only wish that I were there.
I only wish that I were there.

Sparrow, lark or chickadee . . .
Your markings I disdain to see.
Where you fly concerns me not.
I scarcely give your flight a thought.
But as you wheel and arc and dive,
I, too, would feel so much alive.
I, too, would feel so much alive.

This poem was influenced by William Cullen Bryant’s “To a Waterfowl.”



Flying
by Michael R. Burch, age 16-17

i shall rise
and try the bloody wings of thought
ten thousand times
before i fly ...

and then i'll sleep
and waste ten thousand nights
before i dream;
but when at last ...

i soar the distant heights of undreamt skies
where never hawks nor eagles dared to go,
as i laugh among the meteors flashing by
somewhere beyond the bluest earth-bound seas ...

if i'm not told
i’m just a man,
then i shall know
just what I AM.

This is a poem written around age 16-17. According to my notes I may have revised the poem later, around 1978, but if so the changes were minor and the poem remains very close to the original.



Sanctuary at Dawn
by Michael R. Burch, age 18

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!"

“Sanctuary at Dawn” appeared in my poetry contest manuscript, so it was written either in high school or during my first two years of college: 1976 is an educated guess. In my teens, thirty was a generic age for adulthood.



Shadows
by Michael R. Burch, age 18-19

Alone again as evening falls,
I join gaunt shadows and we crawl
up and down my room's dark walls.

Up and down and up and down,
against starlight—strange, mirthless clowns—
we merge, emerge, submerge . . . then drown.

We drown in shadows starker still,
shadows of the somber hills,
shadows of sad selves we spill,

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

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

Published by Homespun and Mind in Motion

This poem was written either in high school or my first two years of college because it appeared in the 1979-1980 issue of my college literary journal, Homespun.



Sappho’s Lullaby
by Michael R. Burch, age 19

for Jeremy

Hushed yet melodic, the hills and the valleys
sleep unaware of the nightingale's call
as the pale calla lilies lie
listening,
glistening ...
this is their night, the first night of fall.

Son, tonight, a woman awaits you;
she is more vibrant, more lovely than spring.
She'll meet you in moonlight,
soft and warm,
all alone ...
then you'll know why the nightingale sings.

Just yesterday the stars were afire;
then how desire flashed through my veins!
But now I am older;
night has come,
I’m alone ...
for you I will sing as the nightingale sings.

The calla lily symbolizes beauty, purity, innocence, faithfulness and true devotion. According to Greek mythology, when the Milky Way was formed by the goddess Hera’s breast milk, the drops that fell to earth became calla lilies. After my son Jeremy was born, I dedicated this poem to him.



Tell me what i am
by michael r. burch, age 15

Tell me what i am,
for i have often wondered why i live.
Do u know?—
please tell me so;
drive away this darkness from within.

For my heart is black with sin
and i have often wondered why i am.
And my thoughts are lacking light
though i have often sought what was right.

Now it is night;
please drive away the darkness from without,
for i doubt that i will see
the coming of the day
without ur help.

This is one of my early “I am/am I” poems. It was published in my high school journal, the Lantern. I believe I wrote the original version around age 15 or 16.



Say You Love Me
by Michael R. Burch, age 18-19

Joy and anguish surge within my soul;
contesting there, they cannot be controlled;
now grinding yearnings grip me like a vise.
Stars are burning;
it's almost morning.

Dreams of dreams of dreams that I have dreamed
dance before me, forming formless scenes;
and now, at last, the feeling grows
as stars, declining,
bow to morning.

And you are music in my undreamt dreams,
rising from some far-off lyric spring;
oh, somewhere in the night I hear you sing.
Stars on fire
form a choir.

Now dawn's fierce brightness burns within your eyes;
you laugh at me as dancing starlets die.
You touch me so and still I don't know why . . .
But say you love me.
Say you love me.

This poem is dated 1983 in my notes, but it could have been written earlier and revised then. This one feels earlier to me, so I will guess it was written around age 18 during my late Romantic period. The original poem did not have “forming formless scenes” or “undreamt dreams.” I chose those revisions, not to be confusing, but in an attempt to capture the moment when, awakening from dreams, we briefly inhabit both worlds simultaneously. I came up with “starlets” because, as the sun eclipses ethereal starlight in our eyes, the reality of a lover in bed eclipses all vague, ethereal fantasies of dream lovers.



Stewark Island (Ambiguity)
by Michael R. Burch, age 17-18

“Take your child, your only child, whom you love...”

Seas are like tears—
they are never far away.
I have fled them now these eighteen years,
but I am nearer them today
than I ever have been.

Oh, I never could bear
the warm, salty water
or the cool comfort here
in the shade of an altar
sweeter than sin ...

Sweeter than sin,
yet cleansing, like love;
still its feel to doomed skin
either too little or too much
of whatever it is.

Seas and tears
are like life—
ridiculous,
ambiguous.



“Sea Dreams” is one of my longer and more ambitious early poems, along with the full version of “Jessamyn’s Song.” To the best of my recollection, I wrote “Sea Dreams” around age 18 in high school my senior year, then worked on in college. It appeared in my poetry contest notebook and thus was substantially complete by 1978.

Sea Dreams
by Michael R. Burch, age 18-19

I.
In timeless days
I've crossed the waves
of seaways seldom seen ...

By the last low light of evening
the breakers that careen
then dive back to the deep
have rocked my ship to sleep,
and so I've known the peace
of a soul at last at ease
there where Time's waters run
in concert with the sun.

With restless waves
I've watched the days’
slow movements, as they hum
their antediluvian songs.

Sometimes I've sung along,
my voice as soft and low
as the sea's, while evening slowed
to waver at the dim
mysterious moonlit rim
of dreams no man has known.

In thoughtless flight,
I've scaled the heights
and soared a scudding breeze
over endless arcing seas
of waves ten miles high.

I've sheared the sable skies
on wings as soft as sighs
and stormed the sun-pricked pitch
of sunset’s scarlet-stitched,
ebullient dark demise.

I've climbed the sun-cleft clouds
ten thousand leagues or more
above the windswept shores
of seas no vessel’s sailed
— great seas as grand as hell's,
shores littered with the shells
of men's "immortal" souls —
and I've warred with dark sea-holes
whose open mouths implored
their depths to be explored.

And I've grown and grown and grown
till I thought myself the king
of every silver thing . . .

But sometimes late at night
when the sorrowing wavelets sing
sad songs of other times,
I’ll taste the windborne rime
of a well-remembered day
on the whipping ocean spray,
then I’ll bow my head to pray . . .

II.
It's been a long, hard day;
sometimes I think I work too hard.
Tonight I'd like to take a walk
down by the sea —
down by those salty waves
brined with the scent of Infinity,
down by that rocky shore,
down by those cliffs I’d so often climb
when the wind was tart with a taste of lime
and every dream was a sailor's dream.

Then small waves broke light,
all frothy and white,
over the reefs in the ramblings of night,
and the pounding sea
—a mariner’s dream—
was bound to stir a boy's delight
to such a pitch
that he couldn't desist,
but was bound to splash through the surf in the light
of ten thousand stars, all shining so bright!

Christ, those nights were fine,
like a well-aged wine,
yet more scalding than fire
with the marrow’s desire.

Then desire was a fire
burning wildly within my bones,
fiercer by far than the frantic foam . . .
and every wish was a moan.
Oh, for those days to come again!
Oh, for a sea and sailing men!
Oh, for a little time!

It's almost nine
and I must be back home by ten,
and then . . . what then?
I have less than an hour to stroll this beach,
less than an hour old dreams to reach . . .
And then, what then?

Tonight I'd like to play old games—
games that I used to play
with the somber, sinking waves.
When their wraithlike fists would reach for me,
I'd dance between them gleefully,
mocking their witless craze
—their eager, unchecked craze—
to batter me to death
with spray as light as breath.

Oh, tonight I'd like to sing old songs—
songs of the haunting moon
drawing the tides away,
songs of those sultry days
when the sun beat down
till it cracked the ground
and the sea gulls screamed
in their agony
to touch the cooling clouds.
The distant cooling clouds.

Then the sun shone bright
with a different light
over different lands,
and I was always a pirate in flight.

Oh, tonight I'd like to dream old dreams,
if only for a while,
and walk perhaps a mile
along this windswept shore,
a mile, perhaps, or more,
remembering those days,
safe in the soothing spray
of the thousand sparkling streams
that rush into this sea.
I like to slumber in the caves
of a sailor's dark sea-dreams . . .
oh yes, I'd love to dream,
to dream
and dream
and dream.

“Sea Dreams” is one of my longer and more ambitious early poems, along with the full version of “Jessamyn’s Song.” For years I thought I had written “Sea Dreams” around age 19 or 20. But then I remembered a conversation I had with a friend about the poem in my freshman dorm, so the poem must have been started by age 18 or earlier. Dating my early poems has been a bit tricky, because I keep having little flashbacks that help me date them more accurately, but often I can only say, “I know this poem was written by about such-and-such a date, because ...”

***

“Son” is a companion poem to “Sea Dreams” that was written around the same time and discussed in the same freshman dorm conversation. Ron, the other student, asked me how on earth I came up with a poem about being a father who abandoned his son to live on an island! I think the meter is pretty good for the age at which it was written.

Son
by Michael R. Burch, age 18-19

An island is bathed in blues and greens
as a weary sun settles to rest,
and the memories singing
through the back of my mind
lull me to sleep as the tide flows in.

Here where the hours pass almost unnoticed,
my heart and my home will be till I die,
but where you are is where my thoughts go
when the tide is high.

[etc., see handwritten version, the father laments abandoning his son]

So there where the skylarks sing to the sun
as the rain sprinkles lightly around,
understand if you can
the mind of a man
whose conscience unconsciously drowned.



Thoughts of the Everglades in Ontario
by Michael R. Burch, age 20

We burned wildfire of September in a distant grass,
watching the many variations of light devour the blades.

All night long I tended the smoldering campfire
remembering those sweat-drenched nights we spent in the ’glades
listening as gators sang love songs to one another,
curious serenades,
their huge tails lashing the shallow swampland water.

That night, camped out distantly beyond the closest farm,
I did not hold you, as I so often have, to keep you warm,
but rather to feel the restless movements of our unborn daughter.

Now she’s three and the Everglades are in her eyes—
dark and swampy, all muddled green and gray,
and they seem to knowingly say,
“It’s time to be on our way.”

I wrote this poem as a college sophomore, age 20, in 1978.



When last my love left me
by Michael R. Burch, age 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, issue 1976-1977. I believe I wrote the original version in 1974, around age 16.



War
by Michael R. Burch, age 17

lysander lies in lauded greece
and sleeps and dreams, a stone for a pillow,
unseeing as sunset devours limp willows,
but War glares on.

and joab's sightless gaze is turned
beyond the jordan's ravaged shore;
his war-ax lies to be hurled no more,
but War hacks on.

and roland sleeps in poppied fields
with flowers flowing at his feet;
their fragrance lulls his soul to sleep,
but War raves on.

and patton sighs an unheard sigh
for sorties past and those to come;
he does not heed the battle drum,
but War rolls on.

for now new heroes grab up guns
and rush to fight their fathers' wars,
as warriors' children must, of course,
while War laughs on.

I believe I wrote the first version of this poem around age 17. I was never fully happy with the poem, although I liked some of the lines and revised it 46 years later, on 4-27-2021.



Stryx: An Astronomer’s Report
by Michael R. Burch, age 18

Yesterday
(or was is an eon ago?)
a sun spit out its last remnants of light
over a planet long barren of life,
and died.

It was not a solitary occasion,
by any stretch of the imagination,
this decoronation
of a planet conceived out of desolation.

For her to die as she was born
—amidst the glory of galactic upheaval—
is not strange,
but fitting.

Fitting in that,
shorn of all her preposterous spawn
that had littered her surface like horrendous hair,
she died her death bare
and alone.

Once she was home to all living,
but she died home to the dead
who bereaved her of life.

Unfit for life she died that night
as her seas shone fatal, dark and blue.

Unfit for life she met her end
as mountains fell and lava spewed.

Unfit she died, agleam with death
whose radiance she wore.

Unfit she died as raging waves
obliterated every shore.

Unfit! Unfit! Unfit! Unfit!
Contaminated with the rays
that smoldered in her radiant swamps
and seared her lifeless bays.

Unfit! Unfit! Unfit! Unfit!
a virgin world no more,
but a planet raped and left to face
her death as she was born—
alone, so all alone.

Yesterday,
a planet green and lovely was no more.

Yesterday,
the whitecaps crashed against her shores
and then they were no more.

Yesterday,
a soft green light
no longer brushed the moon's dark heights . . .

There was no moon,
there was no earth;
there were only the bastards she had given birth
watching from their next raped world.

I wrote this poem around age 18 and it was published in the 1976-1977 issue of my college literary journal, Homespun.



With my daughter, by a waterfall
by Michael R. Burch, age 18-19

By a fountain that slowly shed
its rainbows of water, I led
my youngest daughter.

And the rhythm of the waves
that casually lazed
made her sleepy as I rocked her.

By that fountain I finally felt
fulfillment of which I had dreamt
feeling May’s warm breezes pelt

petals upon me.
And I held her close in the crook of my arm
as she slept, breathing harmony.

By a river that brazenly rolled,
my daughter and I strolled
toward the setting sun,

and the cadence of the cold,
chattering waters that flowed
reminded us both of an ancient song,

so we sang it together as we walked along
—unsure of the words, but sure of our love—
as a waterfall sighed and the sun died above.

This poem was published by my college literary journal, Homespun, in 1977. I believe I wrote it the year before, around age 18.



You didn't have time
by Michael R. Burch, age 17

You didn't have time to love me,
always hurrying here and hurrying there;
you didn't have time to love me,
and you didn't have time to care.

You were playing a reel like a fiddle half-strung:
too busy for love, "too old" to be young . . .
Well, you didn't have time, and now you have none.
You didn't have time, and now you have none.

You didn't have time to take time
and you didn't have time to try.
Every time I asked you why, you said,
"Because, my love; that's why." And then
you didn't have time at all, my love.
You didn't have time at all.

You were wheeling and diving in search of a sun
that had blinded your eyes and left you undone.
Well, you didn't have time, and now you have none.
You didn't have time, and now you have none.

This is a song-poem that I wrote during my early songwriter phase, around age 17.



So little time
by Michael R. Burch, age 14

There is so little time left to summer,
to run through the fields or to swim in the ponds . . .
to be young.
There is so little time left till autumn shall come.
There is so little time left for me to be free . . .
so little time, just so, so little time.

If I were handsome and brawny and brave,
a love I would make and the time I would save.
If I were happy — not hamstrung, but free —
surely there would be one for me . . .
Perhaps there'd be one.

There is so little left of the sunshine
although there’s much left of the rain . . .
there is so little left in my life not of strife and of pain.

I seem to remember writing this poem around age 14, in 1972. It was published in my high school journal, the Lantern, in 1976. The inversion in L8 makes me think this was a very early poem. That’s something I weaned myself of pretty quickly. Also, I was extremely depressed from age 14 to 15 because my family moved twice and I had trouble making friends because I was so shy and introverted.

Keywords/Tags: early, juvenilia, child, childhood, boy, boyhood, romantic
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