Michael R. Burch

1958
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Holocaust Poetry

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

Something

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.



Survivors
by Michael R. Burch

for the victims and survivors of the Holocaust and their families

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.



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.



Frail Envelope of Flesh
by Michael R. Burch

for the mothers and children of the Holocaust

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

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



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?



Starting from Scratch with Ol’ Scratch
by Michael R. Burch

Love, with a small, fatalistic sigh
went to the ovens. Please don’t bother to cry.
You could have saved her, but you were all tied up
complaining about the Jews to Reichmeister Grupp.

*Scratch that*. You were born after World War II.
You had something more important to do:
while the children of the Nakba were perishing in Gaza
with the complicity of your government, you had a noble cause (a
religious tract against homosexual marriage
and various things gods and evangelists disparage.)

Jesus will grok you? Ah, yes, I’m quite sure
that your intentions were good and ineluctably pure.
After all, what the hell does he care about Palestinians?
Certainly, Christians were right about serfs, slaves and Indians.
*Scratch that*. You’re one of the Devil’s minions.



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...



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.



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
high above 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.'



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



Excerpts from 'Travels with Einstein'
by Michael R. Burch

I went to Berlin to learn wisdom
from Adolph. The wild spittle flew
as he screamed at me, with great conviction:
'Please despise me! I look like a Jew! '

So I flew off to 'Nam to learn wisdom
from tall Yankees who cursed 'yellow' foes.
'If we lose this small square, ' they informed me,
earth's nations will fall, dominoes! '

I then sat at Christ's feet to learn wisdom,
but his Book, from its genesis to close,
said: 'Men can enslave their own brothers! '
(I soon noticed he lacked any clothes.)

So I traveled to bright Tel Aviv
where great scholars with lofty IQs
informed me that (since I'm an Arab)
I'm unfit to lick dirt from their shoes.

At last, done with learning, I stumbled
to a well where the waters seemed sweet:
the mirage of American 'justice.'
There I wept a real sea, in defeat.



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.



Ninety-Three Daughters of Israel
a Holocaust poem by Chaya Feldman
loose translation/interpretation by Michael R. Burch

We washed our bodies
and cleansed ourselves;
we purified our souls
and became clean.
Death does not terrify us;
we are ready to confront him.
While alive we served God
and now we can best serve our people
by refusing to be taken prisoner.
We have made a covenant of the heart,
all ninety-three of us;
together we lived and learned,
and now together we choose to depart.
The hour is upon us
as I write these words;
there is barely enough time to transcribe this prayer ...
Brethren, wherever you may be,
honor the Torah we lived by
and the Psalms we loved.
Read them for us, as well as for yourselves,
and someday when the Beast
has devoured his last prey,
we hope someone will say Kaddish for us:
we ninety-three daughters of Israel.

Amen



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.



Hear, O Israel!
by Erich Fried
loose translation by Michael R. Burch

When we were the oppressed,
I was one with you,
but how can we remain one
now that you have become the oppressor?

Your desire
was to become powerful, like the nations
who murdered you;
now you have, indeed, become like them.

You have outlived those
who abused you;
so why does their cruelty
possess you now?

You also commanded your victims:
'Remove your shoes! '
Like the scapegoat,
you drove them into the wilderness,
into the great mosque of death
with its burning sands.
But they would not confess the sin
you longed to impute to them:
the imprint of their naked feet
in the desert sand
will outlast the silhouettes
of your bombs and tanks.

So hear, O Israel …
hear the whimpers of your victims
echoing your ancient sufferings …

'Hear, O Israel! ' was written in 1967, after the Six Day War.



What It Is
by Erich Fried
loose translation by Michael R. Burch

It is nonsense
says reason.
It is what it is
says Love.

It is a dangerous
says discretion.
It is terrifying
says fear.
It is hopeless
says insight.
It is what it is
says Love.

It is ludicrous
says pride.
It is reckless
says caution.
It is impractical
says experience.
It is what it is
says Love.



An Attempt
by Erich Fried
loose translation by Michael R. Burch

I have attempted
while working
to think only of my work
and not of you,
but I am encouraged
to have been so unsuccessful.



Humorless
by Erich Fried
loose translation by Michael R. Burch

The boys
throw stones
at the frogs
in jest.

The frogs
die
in earnest.



Bulldozers
by Erich Fried
loose translation by Michael R. Burch

Israel's bulldozers
have confirmed their kinship
to bulldozers in Beirut
where the bodies of massacred Palestinians
lie buried under the rubble of their former homes.

And it has been reported
that in the heart of Israel
the Memorial Cemetery
for the massacred dead of Deir Yassin
has been destroyed by bulldozers...
'Not intentional, ' it's said,
'A slight oversight during construction work.'

Also the murder
of the people of Sabra and Shatila
shall become known only as an oversight
in the process of building a great Zionist power.



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.



The Children of Gaza

Nine of my poems have been set to music by the composer Eduard de Boer and have been performed in Europe by the Palestinian soprano Dima Bawab. My poems that became 'The Children of Gaza' were written from the perspective of Palestinian children and their mothers.


Epitaph for a Child of Gaza
by Michael R. Burch

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



Frail Envelope of Flesh
by Michael R. Burch

for the mothers and children of Gaza

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

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

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



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

Where does the butterfly go
when lightning rails
when thunder howls
when hailstones scream
while 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?



I Pray Tonight
by Michael R. Burch

for the children of Gaza and their mothers

I pray tonight
the starry Light
might
surround you.

I pray
by day
that, come what may,
no dark thing confound you.

I pray ere tomorrow
an end to your sorrow.
May angels' white chorales
sing, and astound you.



Something
by Michael R. Burch

for the mothers and children of Gaza

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.



Mother's Smile
by Michael R. Burch

for the mothers of Gaza and their children

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!



Such Tenderness
by Michael R. Burch

for the mothers of Gaza

There was, in your touch, such tenderness―as
only the dove on her mildest day has,
when she shelters downed fledglings beneath a warm wing
and coos to them softly, unable to sing.

What songs long forgotten occur to you now―
a babe at each breast? What terrible vow
ripped from your throat like the thunder that day
can never hold severing lightnings at bay?

Time taught you tenderness―time, oh, and love.
But love in the end is seldom enough...
and time? ―insufficient to life's brief task.
I can only admire, unable to ask―

what is the source, whence comes the desire
of a woman to love as no God may require?



who, US?
by Michael R. Burch

jesus was born
a palestinian child
where there's no Room
for the meek and the mild

... and in bethlehem still
to this day, lambs are born
to cries of 'no Room! '
and Puritanical scorn...

under Herod, Trump, Bibi
their fates are the same―
the slouching Beast mauls them
and WE have no shame:

'who's to blame? '



My nightmare...

I had a dream of Jesus!
Mama, his eyes were so kind!
But behind him I saw a billion Christians
hissing 'You're nothing! , ' so blind.
―The Child Poets of Gaza (written by Michael R. Burch for the children of Gaza)



I, too, have a dream...

I, too, have a dream...
that one day Jews and Christians
will see me as I am:
a small child, lonely and afraid,
staring down the barrels of their big bazookas,
knowing I did nothing
to deserve their enmity.
―The Child Poets of Gaza (written by Michael R. Burch for the children of Gaza)



Suffer the Little Children
by Nakba

I saw the carnage... saw girls' dreaming heads
blown to red atoms, and their dreams with them...

saw babies liquefied in burning beds
as, horrified, I heard their murderers' phlegm...

I saw my mother stitch my shroud's black hem,
for in that moment I was one of them...

I saw our Father's eyes grow hard and bleak
to see frail roses severed at the stem...

How could I fail to speak?
―Nakba is an alias of Michael R. Burch



Here We Shall Remain
by Tawfiq Zayyad
loose translation/interpretation by Michael R. Burch

Like twenty impossibilities
in Lydda, Ramla and Galilee...
here we shall remain.

Like brick walls braced against your chests;
lodged in your throats
like shards of glass
or prickly cactus thorns;
clouding your eyes
like sandstorms.

Here we shall remain,
like brick walls obstructing your chests,
washing dishes in your boisterous bars,
serving drinks to our overlords,
scouring your kitchens' filthy floors
in order to snatch morsels for our children
from between your poisonous fangs.

Here we shall remain,
like brick walls deflating your chests
as we face our deprivation clad in rags,
singing our defiant songs,
chanting our rebellious poems,
then swarming out into your unjust streets
to fill dungeons with our dignity.

Like twenty impossibilities
in Lydda, Ramla and Galilee,
here we shall remain,
guarding the shade of the fig and olive trees,
fermenting rebellion in our children
like yeast in dough.

Here we wring the rocks to relieve our thirst;
here we stave off starvation with dust;
but here we remain and shall not depart;
here we spill our expensive blood
and do not hoard it.

For here we have both a past and a future;
here we remain, the Unconquerable;
so strike fast, penetrate deep,
O, my roots!



Enough for Me
by Fadwa Tuqan
loose translation/interpretation by Michael R. Burch

Enough for me to lie in the earth,
to be buried in her,
to sink meltingly into her fecund soil, to vanish...
only to spring forth like a flower
brightening the play of my countrymen's children.

Enough for me to remain
in my native soil's embrace,
to be as close as a handful of dirt,
a sprig of grass,
a wildflower.



Palestine
by Mahmoud Darwish
loose translation/interpretation by Michael R. Burch

This land gives us
all that makes life worthwhile:
April's blushing advances,
the aroma of bread warming at dawn,
a woman haranguing men,
the poetry of Aeschylus,
love's trembling beginnings,
a boulder covered with moss,
mothers who dance to the flute's sighs,
and the invaders' fear of memories.

This land gives us
all that makes life worthwhile:
September's rustling end,
a woman leaving forty behind, still full of grace, still blossoming,
an hour of sunlight in prison,
clouds taking the shapes of unusual creatures,
the people's applause for those who mock their assassins,
and the tyrant's fear of songs.

This land gives us
all that makes life worthwhile:
Lady Earth, mother of all beginnings and endings!
In the past she was called Palestine
and tomorrow she will still be called Palestine.
My Lady, because you are my Lady, I deserve life!



Excerpt from 'Speech of the Red Indian'
by Mahmoud Darwish
loose translation/interpretation by Michael R. Burch

Let's give the earth sufficient time to recite
the whole truth...
The whole truth about us.
The whole truth about you.

In tombs you build
the dead lie sleeping.
Over bridges you erect
file the newly slain.

There are spirits who light up the night like fireflies.
There are spirits who come at dawn to sip tea with you,
as peaceful as the day your guns mowed them down.

O, you who are guests in our land,
please leave a few chairs empty
for your hosts to sit and ponder
the conditions for peace
in your treaty with the dead.



Existence
by Fadwa Tuqan
loose translation/interpretation by Michael R. Burch

In my solitary life, I was a lost question;
in the encompassing darkness,
my answer lay concealed.

You were a bright new star
revealed by fate,
radiating light from the fathomless darkness.

The other stars rotated around you
—once, twice —
until I perceived
your unique radiance.

Then the bleak blackness broke
and in the twin tremors
of our entwined hands
I had found my missing answer.

Oh you! Oh you intimate, yet distant!
Don't you remember the coalescence
Of our spirits in the flames?
Of my universe with yours?
Of the two poets?
Despite our great distance,
Existence unites us.



Nothing Remains
by Fadwa Tuqan
loose translation/interpretation by Michael R. Burch

Tonight, we're together,
but tomorrow you'll be hidden from me again,
thanks to life's cruelty.

The seas will separate us...
Oh! —Oh! —If I could only see you!
But I'll never know...
where your steps led you,
which routes you took,
or to what unknown destinations
your feet were compelled.

You will depart and the thief of hearts,
the denier of beauty,
will rob us of all that's dear to us,
will steal our happiness,
leaving our hands empty.

Tomorrow at dawn you'll vanish like a phantom,
dissipating into a delicate mist
dissolving quickly in the summer sun.

Your scent—your scent! —contains the essence of life,
filling my heart
as the earth absorbs the lifegiving rain.

I will miss you like the fragrance of trees
when you leave tomorrow,
and nothing remains.

Just as everything beautiful and all that's dear to us
is lost—lost! —when nothing remains.



Identity Card
by Mahmoud Darwish
loose translation/interpretation by Michael R. Burch

Record!
I am an Arab!
And my identity card is number fifty thousand.
I have eight children;
the ninth arrives this autumn.
Will you be furious?

Record!
I am an Arab!
Employed at the quarry,
I have eight children.
I provide them with bread,
clothes and books
from the bare rocks.
I do not supplicate charity at your gates,
nor do I demean myself at your chambers' doors.
Will you be furious?

Record!
I am an Arab!
I have a name without a title.
I am patient in a country
where people are easily enraged.
My roots
were established long before the onset of time,
before the unfolding of the flora and fauna,
before the pines and the olive trees,
before the first grass grew.
My father descended from plowmen,
not from the privileged classes.
My grandfather was a lowly farmer
neither well-bred, nor well-born!
Still, they taught me the pride of the sun
before teaching me how to read;
now my house is a watchman's hut
made of branches and cane.
Are you satisfied with my status?
I have a name, but no title!

Record!
I am an Arab!
You have stolen my ancestors' orchards
and the land I cultivated
along with my children.
You left us nothing
but these bare rocks.
Now will the State claim them
as it has been declared?

Therefore!
Record on the first page:
I do not hate people
nor do I encroach,
but if I become hungry
I will feast on the usurper's flesh!
Beware!
Beware my hunger
and my anger!

NOTE: Darwish was married twice, but had no children. In the poem above, he is apparently speaking for his people, not for himself personally.



Passport
by Mahmoud Darwish
loose translation/interpretation by Michael R. Burch

They left me unrecognizable in the shadows
that bled all colors from this passport.
To them, my wounds were novelties—
curious photos for tourists to collect.
They failed to recognize me. No, don't leave
the palm of my hand bereft of sun
when all the trees recognize me
and every song of the rain honors me.
Don't set a wan moon over me!

All the birds that flocked to my welcoming wave
as far as the distant airport gates,
all the wheatfields,
all the prisons,
all the albescent tombstones,
all the barbwired boundaries,
all the fluttering handkerchiefs,
all the eyes—
they all accompanied me.
But they were stricken from my passport
shredding my identity!

How was I stripped of my name and identity
on soil I tended with my own hands?
Today, Job's lamentations
re-filled the heavens:
Don't make an example of me, not again!
Prophets! Gentlemen! —
Don't require the trees to name themselves!
Don't ask the valleys who mothered them!
My forehead glistens with lancing light.
From my hand the riverwater springs.
My identity can be found in my people's hearts,
so invalidate this passport!



'Was gesagt werden muss' ('What must be said')
by Günter Grass
loose translation/interpretation by Michael R. Burch

Why have I remained silent, so long,
failing to mention something openly practiced
in war games which now threaten to leave us
merely meaningless footnotes?

Someone's alleged 'right' to strike first
might annihilate a beleaguered nation
whose people march to a martinet's tune,
compelled to pageants of orchestrated obedience.
Why? Merely because of the suspicion
that a bomb might be built by Iranians.

But why do I hesitate, forbidding myself
to name that other nation, where, for years
―shrouded in secrecy―
a formidable nuclear capability has existed
beyond all control, simply because
no inspections were ever allowed?

The universal concealment of this fact
abetted by my own incriminating silence
now feels like a heavy, enforced lie,
an oppressive inhibition, a vice,
a strong constraint, which, if dismissed,
immediately incurs the verdict 'anti-Semitism.'

But now my own country,
guilty of its unprecedented crimes
which continually demand remembrance,
once again seeking financial gain
(although with glib lips we call it 'reparations')
has delivered yet another submarine to Israel―
this one designed to deliver annihilating warheads
capable of exterminating all life
where the existence of even a single nuclear weapon remains unproven,
but where suspicion now serves as a substitute for evidence.
So now I will say what must be said.

Why did I remain silent so long?
Because I thought my origins,
tarred by an ineradicable stain,
forbade me to declare the truth to Israel,
a country to which I am and will always remain attached.

Why is it only now that I say,
in my advancing age,
and with my last drop of ink
on the final page
that Israel's nuclear weapons endanger
an already fragile world peace?

Because tomorrow might be too late,
and so the truth must be heard today.
And because we Germans,
already burdened with many weighty crimes,
could become enablers of yet another,
one easily foreseen,
and thus no excuse could ever erase our complicity.

Furthermore, I've broken my silence
because I'm sick of the West's hypocrisy
and because I hope many others too
will free themselves from the shackles of silence,
and speak out to renounce violence
by insisting on permanent supervision
of Israel's atomic power and Iran's
by an international agency
accepted by both governments.

Only thus can we find the path to peace
for Israelis and Palestinians and everyone else
living in a region currently consumed by madness
―and ultimately, for ourselves.



Piercing the Shell

for the mothers and children of Gaza

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



Veiled
by Michael R. Burch

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

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

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

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

and we might agree:
seeing her mutilations.



War is Obsolete
by Michael R. Burch

'An eye for an eye leaves the whole world blind.' ― Gandhi

War is obsolete;
even the strange machinery of dread
weeps for the child in the street
who cannot lift her head
to reprimand the Man
who failed to countermand
her soft defeat.

But war is obsolete;
even the cold robotic drone
that flies far overhead
has sense enough to moan
and shudder at her plight
(only men bereft of Light
with hearts indurate stone
embrace war's Siberian night.)

For war is obsolete;
man's tribal 'gods, ' long dead,
have fled his awakening sight
while the true Sun, overhead,
has pity on her plight.
O sweet, precipitate Light! ―
embrace her, reject the night
that leaves gentle fledglings dead.

For each brute ancestor lies
with his totems and his 'gods'
in the slavehold of premature night
that awaited him in his tomb;
while Love, the ancestral womb,
still longs to give birth to the Light.
So which child shall we murder tonight,
or which Ares condemn to the gloom?



Children of Gaza Lyrics

(adapted in places to the music by Michael R. Burch and Eduard de Boer)

World premiere, April 22,2017, in the Oosterkerk in the Dutch town of Hoorn. Dima Bawab, soprano; Eduard de Boer, piano.

I. Prologue:

Where does the Butterfly go?
I'd love to sing about things of beauty,
like a butterfly, fluttering amid flowers,
but I can't, I can't …

Where does the butterfly go
when lightning rails
when thunder howls
when hailstones scream
while 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 power of moonlight to fill?
When the only relief's a banked fire's glow,
where does the butterfly go?

Where does the butterfly go
when mothers cry
while children die
and politicians lie, politicians lie?

When the darkness of grief blots out all that we know:
when love and life are running low,
where does the butterfly go?

And how shall the spirit take wing
when life is harsh, too harsh to face,
and hope is flown without a trace?

Oh, when the light of life runs low,
where does the butterfly go,
where does the butterfly go?

II. The Raid

When the soldiers came to our house,
I was quiet, quiet as a mouse…

But when they beat down our door with a battering ram,
and I heard their machine guns go 'Blam! Blam! Blam! '
I ran! I ran! I ran!

First I ran to the cupboard and crept inside;
then I fled to my bed and crawled under, to hide.

I could hear my mother shushing my sister…
How I hoped and prayed that the bullets missed her!
My sister! My sister! My sister!

Then I ran next door, to my uncle's house,
still quiet, quiet as a mouse...

Young as I am,
I did understand
that they had come to take our land!
Our land! Our land! Our land!
They've come to take our land!

They shot my father, they shot my mother,
they shot my dear sister, and my big brother!
They shot down my hopes, they shot down my dreams!
I still hear their screams! Their screams! Their screams!

Now I am here: small, and sad, and still...
no mother, no father, no family, no will.

They took everything I ever had.
Now how can I live, with no mom and no dad?
How can I live, with no mom and no dad?
How can I live? How can I live?

III. For God's Sake, I'm only a Child

For God's sake, ah, for God's sake, I'm only a child―
and all you've allowed me to learn are these tears scalding my cheeks,
this ache in my gut at the sight of so many corpses, so much horrifying blood!

For God's sake, I'm only a child―
you talk about your need for 'security, '
but what about my right to play in streets
not piled with dead bodies still smoking with white phosphorous!

Ah, for God's sake, I'm only a child―
for me there's no beauty in the world
and peace has become an impossible dream;
destruction is all I know because of your deceptions.

For God's sake, I'm only a child―
fear and terror surround me stealing my breath
as I lie shaking like a windblown leaf.

For God's sake, for God's sake, I'm only a child,
I'm only a child, I'm only a child.

IV. King of the World

If I were King of the World,
I would make every child free, for my people's sake.
And once I had freed them, they'd all run and scream
straight to my palace, for free ice cream!
Directly to the audience, spoken:
Why are you laughing? Can't a young king dream?

If I were King of the World, I would banish
hatred and war, and make mean men vanish.
Then, in their place, I'd bring in a circus
with lions and tigers (but they'd never hurt us!)

If I were King of the World, I would teach
the preachers to always do as they preach;
and so they could practice being of good cheer,
we'd have Christmas ―and sweets―each day of the year!

Directly to the audience, spoken:
Why are you laughing? Some dreams do appear!

If I were King of the World, I would send
my couns'lors of peace to the wide world's end...
spoken: But all this hard dreaming is making me thirsty!
I proclaim lemonade; please spoken bring it in a hurry!

If I were King of the World, I would fire
racists and bigots, with their message so dire.
And we wouldn't build walls, to shut people out.
I would build amusement parks, have no doubt!

If I were King of the World, I would make
every child blessed, for my people's sake,
and every child safe, and every child free,
and every child happy, especially me!
Directly to the audience, spoken:
Why are you laughing? Appoint me and see!

V. Mother's Smile

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...

VI. In the Shelter

Mother:
Hush my darling, please don't cry.
The bombs will stop dropping, by and by.
Hush, I'll sing you a lullaby…

Child:
Mama, I know that I'm safe in your arms.
Your sweet love protects me from all harms,
but still I fear the sirens' alarms!

Mother:
Hush now my darling, don't say a word.
My love will protect you, whatever you heard.
Hush now…

Child:
But what about pappa, you loved him too.

Mother: My love will protect you.
My love will protect you!

Child:
I know that you love me, but pappa is gone!

Mother:
Your pappa's in heaven, where nothing goes wrong.
Come, rest at my breast and I'll sing you a song.

Child:
But pappa was strong, and now he's not here.

Mother:
He's where he must be, and yet ever-near.
Now we both must be strong; there's nothing to fear.

Child:
The bombs are still falling! Will this night never end?

Mother:
The deep darkness hides us; the night is our friend.
Hush, I'll sing you a lullaby.

Child:
Yes, mama, I'm sure you are right.
We will be safe under cover of night.
spoken But what is that sound?
screamed Mama! I am fri(ghtened) ….!

VII. Frail Envelope of Flesh

Frail envelope of flesh,
lying 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 five artless years…
Now your mother's lips seal up your lips
from the Deluge of her tears…

VIII. Among the Angels

Child:
There is peace where I am now,
I reside in a heavenly land
that rests safe in the palm
of a loving Being's hand;
where the butterfly finds shelter
and the white dove glides to rest
in the bright and shining sands
of those shores all men call Blessed.

Mother:
My darling, how I long to touch your face,
to see your smile, to hear your laughter's grace.
Great Allah, hear my plea.
Return my child to me.

Child:
My darling mother, here beyond the stars
where I now live,
I see and feel your tears,
but here is peace and joy, and no more pain.
Here is where I will remain.

Mother:
My darling, do not leave me here alone!
Come back to me!
Why did you turn to stone?
Great Allah, hear my plea.
Please send my child back to me...

Child:
Dear mother, to your wonderful love I bow.
But I can't return...
I am among the Angels now.
Do not worry about me.
Here is where I long to be.

Mother:
My darling, it is as if I hear your voice consoling me.
Oh, can this be your choice?
Great Allah, hear my plea.
Impart wisdom to me.

Child:
Dear mother, I was born of your great love,
a gentle spirit...
I died a slaughtered dove,
that I might bring this message from the stars:
it is time to end earth's wars.

Remember―in both Bible and Koran
how many times each precious word is used―
'Mercy. Compassion. Justice.'
Let each man, each woman live by the Law
that rules both below and above:
reject all hate and embrace Love.

IX. Epilogue: I have a dream

I have a dream...
that one day all the world
will see me as I am:
a small child, lonely and afraid,
a small child, lonely and afraid.

Look at me... I am flesh...
I laugh, I bleed, I cry.
Look at me; I dare you
to look me in the eye
and tell me and my mother
how I deserve to die.

I only ask to live
in a world where things are fair;
I only ask for love
in a world where people share,
I only ask for love
in a world where people share.

Oh, I have a dream...
that one day all the world
will see me as I am:
a small child, lonely and afraid,
a small child, lonely and afraid.



The Desk
by Michael R. Burch

for Jeremy

There is a child I used to know
who sat, perhaps, at this same desk
where you sit now, and made a mess
of things sometimes.I wonder how
he learned at all...

He saw T-Rexes down the hall
and dreamed of trains and cars and wrecks.
He dribbled phantom basketballs,
shot spitwads at his schoolmates' necks.

He played with pasty Elmer's glue
(and sometimes got the glue on you!) .
He earned the nickname 'teacher's PEST.'

His mother had to come to school
because he broke the golden rule.
He dreaded each and every test.

But something happened in the fall—
he grew up big and straight and tall,
and now his desk is far too small;
so you can have it.

One thing, though—

one swirling autumn, one bright snow,
one gooey tube of Elmer's glue...
and you'll outgrow this old desk, too.

Originally published by TALESetc



A True Story
by Michael R. Burch

for Jeremy

Jeremy hit the ball today,
over the fence and far away.
So very, very far away
a neighbor had to toss it back.
(She thought it was an air attack!)

Jeremy hit the ball so hard
it flew across our neighbor's yard.
So very hard across her yard
the bat that boomed a mighty 'THWACK! '
now shows an eensy-teensy crack.

Originally published by TALESetc



Mother's Smile
by Michael R. Burch

for my mother Christine Ena Burch and my wife Beth Harris Burch

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



Sappho's Lullaby
by Michael R. Burch

for Jeremy

Hushed yet melodic, the hills and the valleys
sleep unaware of the nightingale's call
while the dew-laden 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.

Originally published by The HyperTexts



Lullaby
by Michael R. Burch

for Jeremy

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

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

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

Will wake together, by and by.

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

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

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

Know nothing but this lullaby.




Oh, let me sing you a lullaby
by Michael R. Burch

for Jeremy (written from his mother's perspective)

Oh, let me sing you a lullaby
of a love that shall come to you by and by.

Oh, let me sing you a lullaby
of a love that shall come to you by and by.

Oh, my dear son, how you're growing up!
You're taller than me, now I'm looking up!
You're a long tall drink and I'm half a cup!
And so let me sing you this lullaby.

Oh, my sweet son, as I watch you grow,
there are so many things that I want you to know.
Most importantly this: that I love you so.
And so let me sing you this lullaby.

Soon a tender bud will thrust forth and grow
after the winter's long virgin snow;
and because there are things that you have to know...
Oh, let me sing you this lullaby.

Soon, in a green garden a new rose will bloom
and fill all the world with its wild perfume.
And though it's hard for me, I must give it room.
And so let me sing you this lullaby.



Success
by Michael R. Burch

for Jeremy

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

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

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

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



Precipice
by Michael R. Burch

for Jeremy

They will teach you to scoff at love
from the highest, windiest precipice of reason.

Do not believe them.

There is no place safe for you to fall
save into the arms of love.



Love’s Extreme Unction
by Michael R. Burch

Lines composed during Jeremy’s first high school football game (he played tuba), while I watched his mother watch him.

Within the intimate chapels of her eyes—
devotions, meditations, reverence.
I find in them Love’s very residence
and hearing the ardent rapture of her sighs
I prophesy beatitudes to come,
when Love like hers commands us, “All be One!”



Passages on Fatherhood
by Michael R. Burch

for Jeremy

He is my treasure,
and by his happiness I measure
my own worth.

Four years old,
with diamonds and gold
bejeweled in his soul.

His cherubic beauty
is felicity
to simplicity and passion—

for a baseball thrown
or an ice-cream cone
or eggshell-blue skies.

It's hard to be 'wise'
when the years
career through our lives

and bees in their hives
test faith
and belief

while Time, the great thief,
with each falling leaf
foreshadows grief.

The wisdom of the ages
and prophets and mages
and doddering sages

is useless
unless
it encompasses this:

his kiss.



What does it mean?
by Michael R. Burch

for Jeremy

His little hand, held fast in mine.
What does it mean? What does it mean?

If he were not here, the sun would not shine,
nor the grass grow half as green.

What does it mean?

His arms around my neck, his cheek
snuggling so warm against my own...

What does it mean?

If life's a garden, he's the fairest
flower ever sown,
the sweetest ever seen.

What does it mean?

And when he whispers sweet and low,
'What does it mean? '
It means, my son, I love you so.
Sometimes that's all we need to know.



Boundless
by Michael R. Burch

for Jeremy

Every day we whittle away at the essential solidity of him,
and every day a new sharp feature emerges:
a feature we'll spend creative years: planing, smoothing, refining,

trying to find some new Archaic Torso of Apollo, or Thinker...

And if each new day a little of the boisterous air of youth is deflated
in him, if the hours of small pleasures spent chasing daffodils
in the outfield as the singles become doubles, become triples,
become unconscionable errors, become victories lost,

become lives wasted beyond all possible hope of repair...

if what he was becomes increasingly vague—like a white balloon careening
into clouds; like a child striding away aggressively toward manhood,
hitching an impressive rucksack over sagging, sloping shoulders,
shifting its vaudevillian burden back and forth,

then pausing to look back at us with an almost comical longing...

if what he wants is only to be held a little longer against a forgiving bosom;
to chase after daffodils in the outfield regardless of scores;
to sail away like a balloon
on a firm string, always sure to return when the line tautens,

till he looks down upon us from some removed height we cannot quite see,

bursting into tears over us:
what, then, of our aspirations for him, if he cannot breathe,
cannot rise enough to contemplate the earth with his own vision,
unencumbered, but never untethered, forsaken...

cannot grow brightly, steadily, into himself—flying beyond us?



With a child's wonder
by Michael R. Burch

for Jeremy

With a child's wonder,
pausing to ponder
a puddle of water,

for only a moment,
needing no comment

but bright eyes
and a wordless cry,
he launches himself to fly...

then my two-year-old lands
on his feet and his hands
and water explodes all around.

(From the impact and sound
you'd have thought that he'd drowned,
but the puddle was two inches deep.)

Later that evening, as he lay fast asleep
in that dreamland where two-year-olds wander,
I watched him awhile and smilingly pondered
with a father's wonder.



Picturebook Princess
by Michael R. Burch

for Keira

We had a special visitor.
Our world became suddenly brighter.
She was such a charmer!
Such a delighter!

With her sparkly diamond slippers
and the way her whole being glows,
Keira's a picturebook princess
from the points of her crown to the tips of her toes!



The Aery Faery Princess
by Michael R. Burch

for Keira

There once was a princess lighter than fluff
made of such gossamer stuff—
the down of a thistle, butterflies' wings,
the faintest high note the hummingbird sings,
moonbeams on garlands, strands of bright hair...
I think she's just you when you're floating on air!



Tallen the Mighty Thrower
by Michael R. Burch

Tallen the Mighty Thrower
is a hero to turtles, geese, ducks...
they splash and they cheer
when he tosses bread near
because, you know, eating grass sucks!



On Looking into Curious George's Mirrors
by Michael R. Burch

for Maya McManmon, granddaughter of the poet Jim McManmon aka Seamus Cassidy

Maya was made in the image of God;
may the reflections she sees in those curious mirrors
always echo back Love.

Amen



Maya's Beddy-Bye Poem
by Michael R. Burch

for Maya McManmon, granddaughter of the poet Jim McManmon aka Seamus Cassidy

With a hatful of stars
and a stylish umbrella
and her hand in her Papa's
(that remarkable fella!)
and with Winnie the Pooh
and Eeyore in tow,
may she dance in the rain
cheek-to-cheek, toe-to-toe
till each number's rehearsed...
My, that last step's a leap! —
the high flight into bed
when it's past time to sleep!

Note: 'Hatful of Stars' is a lovely song and image by Cyndi Lauper.



Love has a gentle grace
by Michael R. Burch

for Beth on Mother's Day

Love has a gentle grace; you have not seen her
unless you've looked into your mother's eyes
and seen her faith
—serene, composed and wise—
that you're the center of her very being
(as once, indeed, she carried you inside.)

Love has no wilder beauty than the thought
that you're the best of all she ever sought.

(And if, perhaps, you don't believe my song,
can your mother be wrong?)

Keywords/Tags: Mothers Day, mother, child, children, family, love, grace, faith, beauty, wise, wisdom, courage, gentle, tender, tenderness, care, caring, nurture, nurturing, mom, maternal



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

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?

Originally published by Grassroots Poetry, Poetry Webring, TALESetc, The Word (UK)



Limericks

There once was a leopardess, Dot,
who indignantly answered: 'I'll not!
The gents are impressed
with the way that I'm dressed.
I wouldn't change even one spot.'
—Michael R. Burch

There once was a dromedary
who befriended a crafty canary.
Budgie said, 'You can't sing,
but now, here's the thing—
just think of the tunes you can carry! '
—Michael R. Burch



Generation Gap
by Michael R. Burch

A quahog clam,
age 405,
said, 'Hey, it's great
to be alive! '

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

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



Lance-Lot
by Michael R. Burch

Preposterous bird!
Inelegant! Absurd!

Until the great & mighty heron
brandishes his fearsome sword.



Keep Up
by Michael R. Burch

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

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

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

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



First Steps
by Michael R. Burch

for Caitlin Shea Murphy

To her a year is like infinity,
each day—an adventure never-ending.
She has no concept of time,
but already has begun the climb—
from childhood to womanhood recklessly ascending.

I would caution her, 'No! Wait!
There will be time enough another day...
time to learn the Truth
and to slowly shed your youth,
but for now, sweet child, go carefully on your way! ...'

But her time is not a time for cautious words,
nor a time for measured, careful understanding.
She is just certain
that, by grabbing the curtain,
in a moment she will finally be standing!

Little does she know that her first few steps
will hurtle her on her way
through childhood to adolescence,
and then, finally, pubescence...
while, just as swiftly, I'll be going gray!



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

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

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

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

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

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

Note: Under the Sextant's Stars is a painting by Bernini.



Ah! Sunflower
by Michael R. Burch

after William Blake

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



Haiku

The butterfly
perfuming its wings
fans the orchid
― Matsuo Basho, loose translation by Michael R. Burch

A kite floats
at the same place in the sky
where yesterday it floated...
― Buson Yosa, loose translation by Michael R. Burch

An ancient pond,
the frog leaps:
the silver plop and gurgle of water
― Matsuo Basho, loose translation by Michael R. Burch



Poems for Older Children



Reflex
by Michael R. Burch

for Jeremy

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

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

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

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



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

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



Limericks

There once was a mockingbird, Clyde,
who bragged of his prowess, but lied.
To his new wife he sighed,
'When again, gentle bride? '
'Nevermore! ' bright-eyed Raven replied.
—Michael R. Burch



Autumn Conundrum

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



Epitaph for a Palestinian Child

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



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.



Chip Off the Block
by Michael R. Burch

for Jeremy

In the fusion of poetry and drama,
Shakespeare rules! Jeremy's a ham: a
chip off the block, like his father and mother.
Part poet? Part ham? Better run for cover!
Now he's Benedick — most comical of lovers!

NOTE: Jeremy's father is a poet and his mother is an actress; hence the fusion, or confusion, as the case may be.



Tall Tails
by Michael R. Burch

for Jeremy

Irony
is the base perception
alchemized by deeper reflection,
the paradox
of the wagging tails of dog-ma
torched by sly Reynard the Fox.

These are lines written as my son Jeremy was about to star as Benedick in Much Ado About Nothing at his ultra-conservative high school, Nashville Christian. Benedick is rather obvious wordplay but it apparently flew over the heads of the Puritan headmasters. Samson lit the tails of foxes and set them loose amid the Philistines. Reynard the Fox was a medieval trickster who bedeviled the less wily. 'Irony lies / in a realm beyond the unseeing, / the unwise.'



The Watch
by Michael R. Burch

for Jeremy

I have come to watch my young son,
his blonde ringlets damp with sleep...
and what I know is that he loves me
beyond all earthly understanding,
that his life is like clay in my unskilled hands.

And I marvel this bright ore does not keep—
unrestricted in form, more content than shape,
but seeking a form to become, to express
something of itself to this wilderness
of eyes watching and waiting.

What do I know of his wonder, his awe?
To his future I will matter less and less,
but in this moment, as he is my world, I am his,
and I stand, not understanding, but knowing—
in this vast pageant of stars, he is more than unique.

There will never be another moment like this.
Studiously quiet, I stroke his fine hair
which will darken and coarsen and straighten with time.
He is all I bequeath of myself to this earth.
His fingers curl around mine in his sleep...

I leave him to dreams—calm, untroubled and deep.



The Tapestry of Leaves
by Michael R. Burch

for Jeremy

Leaves unfold
as life is sold,
or bartered, for a moment in the sun.

The interchange
of lives is strange:
what reason—life—when death leaves all undone?

O, earthly son,
when rest is won
and wrested from this ground, then through my clay's

soft mortal soot
thrust forth your root
until your leaves embrace the sun's bright rays.



The Long Days Lengthening Into Darkness
by Michael R. Burch

for Jeremy

Today, I can be his happiness,
and if he delights
in hugs and smiles,
in baseball and long walks
talking about Rug Rats, Dinosaurs and Pokemon

(noticing how his face lights up
at my least word,
how tender his expression,
gazing up at me in wondering adoration)

... O, son,
these are the long days
lengthening into darkness.

Now over the earth
(how solemn and still their processions)
the clouds
gather to extinguish the sun.

And what I can give you is perhaps no more nor less
than this brief ray dazzling our faces,
seeing how soon the night becomes my consideration.



Renown
by Michael R. Burch

for Jeremy

Words fail us when, at last,
we lie unread amid night's parchment leaves,
life's chapter past.

Whatever I have gained of life, I lost,
except for this bright emblem
of your smile...

and I would grasp
its meaning closer for a longer while...
but I am glad

with all my heart to be unheard,
and smile,
bound here, still strangely mortal,

instructed by wise Love not to be sad,
when to be the lesser poet
meant to be 'the world's best dad.'

Every night, my son Jeremy tells me that I'm 'the world's best dad.' Now, that's all poetry, all music and the meaning of life wrapped up in four neat monosyllables! The time I took away from work and poetry to spend with my son was time well spent.



Miracle
by Michael R. Burch

for Jeremy

The contrails of galaxies mingle, and the dust of that first day still shines.
Before I conceived you, before your heart beat, you were mine,

and I see

infinity leap in your bright, fluent eyes.
And you are the best of all that I am. You became
and what will be left of me is the flesh you comprise,

and I see

whatever must be—leaves its mark, yet depends
on these indigo skies, on these bright trails of dust,
on a veiled, curtained past, on some dream beyond knowing,
on the mists of a future too uncertain to heed.

And I see

your eyes—dauntless, glowing—
glowing with the mystery of all they perceive,
with the glories of galaxies passed, yet bestowing,
though millennia dead, all this pale feathery light.

And I see

all your wonder—a wonder to me, for, unknowing,
of all this portends, still your gaze never wavers.
And love is unchallenged in all these vast skies,
or by distance, or time. The ghostly moon hovers;

I see; and I see

all that I am reflected in all that you have become to me.



Always
by Michael R. Burch

for Jeremy

Know in your heart that I love you as no other,
and that my love is eternal.
I keep the record of your hopes and dreams
in my heart like a journal,
and there are pages for you there that no one else can fill:
none one else, ever.
And there is a tie between us, more than blood,
that no one else can sever.

And if we're ever parted,
please don't be broken-hearted;
until we meet again on the far side of forever
and walk among those storied shining ways,
should we, for any reason, be apart,
still, I am with you... always.



The Gift
by Michael R. Burch

for Beth and Jeremy

For you and our child, unborn, though named
(for we live in a strange, fantastic age,
and tomorrow, when he is a man,
perhaps this earth will be a cage

from which men fly like flocks of birds,
the distant stars their helpless prey) ,
for you, my love, and you, my child,
what can I give you, each, this day?

First, take my heart, it's mine alone;
no ties upon it, mine to give,
more precious than a lifetime's objects,
once possessed, more free to live.

Then take these poems, of little worth,
but to show you that which you receive
holds precious its two dear possessors,
and makes each lien a sweet reprieve.



This poem was written after a surprising comment from my son, Jeremy.

The Onslaught
by Michael R. Burch

'Daddy, I can't give you a hug today
because my hair is wet.'

No wet-haired hugs for me today;
no lollipopped lips to kiss and say,
Daddy, I love you! with such regard
after baseball hijinks all over the yard.

The sun hails and climbs
over the heartbreak of puppies and daffodils
and days lost forever to windowsills,
over fortune and horror and starry climes;

and it seems to me that a child's brief years
are springtimes and summers beyond regard
mingled with laughter and passionate tears
and autumns and winters now veiled and barred,
as elusive as snowflakes here white, bejeweled,
gaily whirling and sweeping across the yard.



To My Child, Unborn
by Michael R. Burch

for Jeremy

How many were the nights, enchanted
with despair and longing, when dreams recanted
returned with a restless yearning,
and the pale stars, burning,
cried out at me to remember
one night... long ere the September
night when you were conceived.

Oh, then, if only I might have believed
that the future held such mystery
as you, my child, come unbidden to me
and to your mother,
come to us out of a realm of wonder,
come to us out of a faery clime...

If only then, in that distant time,
I had somehow known that this day were coming,
I might not have despaired at the raindrops drumming
sad anthems of loneliness against shuttered panes;
I might not have considered my doubts and my pains
so carefully, so cheerlessly, as though they were never-ending.
If only then, with the starlight mending
the shadows that formed
in the bowels of those nights, in the gussets of storms
that threatened till dawn as though never leaving,
I might not have spent those long nights grieving,
lamenting my loneliness, cursing the sun
for its late arrival. Now, a coming dawn
brings you unto us, and you shall be ours,
as welcome as ever the moon or the stars
or the glorious sun when the nighttime is through
and the earth is enchanted with skies turning blue.



Transition
by Michael R. Burch

for Jeremy

With his cocklebur hugs
and his wet, clinging kisses
like a damp, trembling thistle
catching, thwarting my legs—

he reminds me that life begins with the possibility of rapture.

Was time this deceptive
when my own childhood begged
one last moment of frolic
before bedtime's firm kisses—

when sleep was enforced, and the dark window ledge

waited, impatient, to lure
or to capture
the bright edge of morning
within a clear pane?

Was the sun then my ally—bright dawn's greedy fledgling?

With his joy he reminds me
of joys long forgotten,
of play's endless hours
till the haggard sun sagged

and everything changed.

I gather him up and we trudge off to bed.



Pan
by Michael R. Burch

... Among the shadows of the groaning elms,
amid the darkening oaks, we fled ourselves...

... Once there were paths that led to coracles
that clung to piers like loosening barnacles...

... where we cannot return, because we lost
the pebbles and the playthings, and the moss...

... hangs weeping gently downward, maidens' hair
who never were enchanted, and the stairs...

... that led up to the Fortress in the trees
will not support our weight, but on our knees...

... we still might fit inside those splendid hours
of damsels in distress, of rustic towers...

... of voices of the wolves' tormented howls
that died, and live in dreams' soft, windy vowels...

Originally published by Sonnet Scroll



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.

Originally published by The Neovictorian/Cochlea



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.

Originally published by Romantics Quarterly



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.

Originally published by Lucid Rhythms



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.

Originally published by The Flea



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?



Frail Envelope of Flesh
by Michael R. Burch

―for the mothers and children of the Holocaust and Gaza

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

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

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



This is, I believe, the second poem I wrote. Or at least it's the second one that I can remember. I believe I was around 13 or 14 when I wrote it.

Playmates
by Michael R. Burch

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.



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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