Michael R. Burch

1958
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Romantic Poetry (II)

Infinity
by Michael R. Burch

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

Might I lift you tonight from earth’s wreckage and damage
on these waves gently rising to pay the moon homage?
Or better, perhaps, let me say that I, too,
have dreamed of infinity … windswept and blue.

This is one of the first poems that made me feel like a "real" poet. I remember reading the poem and asking myself, "Did I really write that?" I believe I wrote it around age 18.



POEMS OF RECANTED BACHELORHOOD



Once
by Michael R. Burch

for Beth

Once when her kisses were fire incarnate
and left in their imprint bright lipstick, and flame,
when her breath rose and fell over smoldering dunes,
leaving me listlessly sighing her name …

Once when her breasts were as pale, as beguiling,
as wan rivers of sand shedding heat like a mist,
when her words would at times softly, mildly rebuke me
all the while as her lips did more wildly insist …

Once when the thought of her echoed and whispered
through vast wastelands of need like a Bedouin chant,
I ached for the touch of her lips with such longing
that I vowed all my former vows to recant …

Once, only once, something bloomed, of a desiccate seed—
this implausible blossom her wild rains of kisses decreed.

Originally published by The Lyric



Twice
by Michael R. Burch

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

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

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

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



Are You the Thief

for Beth

When I touch you now,
O sweet lover,
full of fire,
melting like ice
in my embrace,

when I part the delicate white lace,
baring pale flesh,
and your face
is so close
that I breathe your breath
and your hair surrounds me like a wreath …

tell me now,
O sweet, sweet lover,
in good faith:
are you the thief
who has stolen my heart?

Originally published as "Baring Pale Flesh" by Poetic License/Monumental Moments



Warming Her Pearls

for Beth

Warming her pearls, her breasts
gleam like constellations.
Her belly is a bit rotund …
she might have stepped out of a Rubens.

Originally published by Erosha



What Goes Around, Comes
by Michael R. Burch

This is a poem about loss
so why do you toss your dark hair—
unaccountably glowing?

How can you be sure of my heart
when it’s beyond my own knowing?

Or is it love’s pheromones you trust,
my eyes magnetized by your bust
and the mysterious alchemies of lust?

Now I am truly lost!



Disconcerted
by Michael R. Burch

Beth, my sweet,
fresh as a daisy,
when I’m with you
my heart beats like crazy
& my future gets hazy …



bachelorhoodwinked
by Michael R. Burch

u
are
charming
& disarming,
but mostly alarming
since all my resolve
dissolved!

u
are
chic
as a sheikh's
harem girl in the sheets
but my castle’s no longer my own
and my kingdom's been overthrown!

Originally published by Brief Poems



Let Me Give Her Diamonds

for Beth
Let me give her diamonds
for my heart’s
sharp edges.

Let me give her roses
for my soul’s
thorn.

Let me give her solace
for my words
of treason.

Let the flowering of love
outlast a winter
season.

Let me give her books
for all my lack
of reason.

Let me give her candles
for my lack
of fire.

Let me kindle incense,
for our hearts
require

the breath-fanned
flaming perfume
of desire.



Indestructible, for Johnny Cash
by Michael R. Burch

What is a mountain, but stone?
Or a spire, but a trinket of steel?
Johnny Cash is gone,
black from his hair to his bootheels.

Can a man out-endure mountains’ stone
if his songs lift us closer to heaven?
Can the steel in his voice vibrate on
till his words are our manna and leaven?

Then sing, all you mountains of stone,
with the rasp of his voice, and the gravel.
Let the twang of thumbed steel lead us home
through these weary dark ways all men travel.

For what is a mountain, but stone?
Or a spire, but a trinket of steel?
Johnny Cash lives on—
black from his hair to his bootheels.

Originally published by Strong Verse



Kissin’ ’n’ buzzin’
by Michael R. Burch

Kissin’ ’n’ buzzin’
the bees rise
in a dizzy circle of two.
Oh, when I’m with you,
I feel like kissin’ ’n’ buzzin’ too.



honeybee
by Michael R. Burch

love was a little treble thing—
prone to sing
and (sometimes) to sting



don’t forget …
by Michael R. Burch

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

The opening lines were inspired by a famous love poem by e. e. cummings. I have dedicated this poem to my wife Beth, but you're welcome to dedicate it to the light-bending person of your choice, as long as you credit me as the author.



Sudden Shower
by Michael R. Burch

The day’s eyes were blue
until you appeared
and they wept at your beauty.

This is a "rainy day" love poem you're welcome to share, perhaps when bad weather cancels outdoor romantic plans, as long as you credit me as the author.



Afterglow
by Michael R. Burch

for Beth

The night is full of stars. Which still exist?
Before time ends, perhaps one day we’ll know.
For now I hold your fingers to my lips
and feel their pulse … warm, palpable and slow …

once slow to match this reckless spark in me,
this moon in ceaseless orbit I became,
compelled by wilder gravity to flee
night’s universe of suns, for one pale flame …

for one pale flame that seemed to signify
the Zodiac of all, the meaning of
love’s wandering flight past Neptune. Now to lie
in dawning recognition is enough …

enough each night to bask in you, to know
the face of love … eyes closed … its afterglow.



All Afterglow
by Michael R. Burch

Something remarkable, perhaps …
the color of her eyes … though I forget
the color of her eyes … perhaps her hair
the way it blew about … I do not know
just what it was about her that has kept
her thought lodged deep in mine … unmelted snow
that lasted till July would be less rare,
clasped in some frozen cavern where the wind
sculpts bright grotesqueries, ignoring springs’
and summers’ higher laws … there thawing slow
and strange by strange degrees, one tick beyond
the freezing point which keeps all things the same
… till what remains is fragile and unlike
the world above, where melted snows and rains
form rivulets that, inundate with sun,
evaporate, and in life’s cyclic stream
remake the world again … I do not know
that we can be remade—all afterglow.

[Note: “inundate with snow” is not a typo.]



The Shape of Mourning
by Michael R. Burch

The shape of mourning
is an oiled creel
shining with unuse,

the bolt of cold steel
on a locker
shielding memory,

the monthly penance
of flowers,
the annual wake,

the face in the photograph
no longer dissolving under scrutiny,
becoming a keepsake,

the useless mower
lying forgotten
in weeds,

rings and crosses and
all the paraphernalia
the soul no longer needs.



The Princess and the Pauper
by Michael R. Burch

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

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

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



I Learned Too Late
by Michael R. Burch

“Show, don’t tell!”

I learned too late that poetry has rules,
although they may be rules for greater fools.

In any case, by dodging rules and schools,
I avoided useless duels.

I learned too late that sentiment is bad—
that Blake and Keats and Plath had all been had.

In any case, by following my heart,
I learned to walk apart.

I learned too late that “telling” is a crime.
Did Shakespeare know? Is Milton doing time?

In any case, by telling, I admit:
I think such rules are shit.



Burn, Ovid
by Michael R. Burch

“Burn Ovid”—Austin Clarke

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

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

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

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

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

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

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



Sex 101
by Michael R. Burch

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

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

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

The most unlikely coupling—

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

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

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

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



Elemental
by Michael R. Burch

for Beth

There is within her a welling forth
of love unfathomable.
She is not comfortable
with the thought of merely loving:
but she must give all.

At night, she heeds the storm's calamitous call;
nay, longs for it. Why?
O, if a man understood, he might understand her.
But that never would do!
Beth, as you embrace the storm,

so I embrace elemental you.



Radiance
by Michael R. Burch

for Dylan Thomas

The poet delves earth’s detritus—hard toil—
for raw-edged nouns, barbed verbs, vowels’ lush bouquet;
each syllable his pen excretes—dense soil,
dark images impacted, rooted clay.

The poet sees the sea but feels its meaning—
the teeming brine, the mirrored oval flame
that leashes and excites its turgid surface …
then squanders years imagining love’s the same.

Belatedly he turns to what lies broken—
the scarred and furrowed plot he fiercely sifts,
among death’s sicksweet dungs and composts seeking
one element that scorches and uplifts.



Downdraft
by Michael R. Burch

for Dylan Thomas

We feel rather than understand what he meant
as he reveals a shattered firmament
which before him never existed.

Here, there are no images gnarled and twisted
out of too many words,
but only flocks of white birds

wheeling and flying.

Here, as Time spins, reeling and dying,
the voice of a last gull
or perhaps some spirit no longer whole,

echoes its lonely madrigal
and we feel its strange pull
on the astonished soul.

O My Prodigal!

The vents of the sky, ripped asunder,
echo this wild, primal thunder—
now dying into undulations of vanishing wings …

and this voice which in haggard bleak rapture still somehow downward sings.




Nightingale
by Michael R. Burch

Write me some gorgeous rhythm
about the gently falling night
in words with similar cadences
and a moon as occultly bright,
and if your lullaby pleases
and if your charms persist,
then I will gladly add you
to my bookmarked favorites list.

But as for pay or hire
and as for fortune and fame —
they seem unlikely, minstrel,
and while that might seem a shame,
are nightingales “rewarded”
for their sweetly pensive songs?
Your poems are too damn expensive —
add that to your warbled wrongs!



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.



Breakings
by Michael R. Burch

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

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



Performing Art
by Michael R. Burch

Who teaches the wren
in its drab existence
to explode into song?

What parodies of irony
does the jay espouse
with its sharp-edged tongue?

What instinctual memories
lend stunning brightness
to the strange dreams

of the dull gray slug
—spinning its chrysalis,
gluing rough seams—

abiding in darkness
its transformation,
till, waving damp wings,

it applauds its performance?
I am done with irony.
Life itself sings.



At the Natchez Trace
by Michael R. Burch

for Beth

I.
Solitude surrounds me
though nearby laughter sounds;
around me mingle men who think
to drink their demons down,
in rounds.

Beside me stands a woman,
a stanza in the song
that plays so low and fluting
and bids me sing along.

Beside me stands a woman
whose eyes reveal her soul,
whose cheeks are soft as eiderdown,
whose hips and breasts are full.

Beside me stands a woman
who scarcely knows my name;
but I would have her know my heart
if only I knew where to start.

II.
Not every man is as he seems;
not all are prone to poems and dreams.
Not every man would take the time
to meter out his heart in rhyme.
But I am not as other men—
my heart is sentenced to this pen.

III.
Men speak of their "ambition"
but they only know its name …
I never say the word aloud,
but I have felt the Flame.

IV.
Now, standing here, I do not dare
to let her know that I might care;
I never learned the lines to use;
I never worked the wolves' bold ruse.
But if she looks my way again,
perhaps I will, if only then.

V.
How can a man have come so far
in searching after every star,
and yet today,
though years away,
look back upon the winding way,
and see himself as he was then,
a child of eight or nine or ten,
and not know more?

VI.
My life is not empty; I have my desire …
I write in a moment that few men can know,
when my nerves are on fire
and my heart does not tire
though it pounds at my breast—
wrenching blow after blow.

VII.
And in all I attempted, I also succeeded;
few men have more talent to do what I do.
But in one respect, I stand now defeated;
In love I could never make magic come true.

VIII.
If I had been born to be handsome and charming,
then love might have come to me easily as well.
But if had that been, then would I have written?
If not, I'd remain; damn that demon to hell!

IX.
Beside me stands a woman,
but others look her way
and in their eyes are eagerness …
for passion and a wild caress?
But who am I to say?

Beside me stands a woman;
she conjures up the night
and wraps itself around her
till others flit about her
like moths drawn to firelight.

X.
And I, myself, am just as they,
wondering when the light might fade,
yet knowing should it not dim soon
that I might fall and be consumed.

XI.
I write from despair
in the silence of morning
for want of a prayer
and the need of the mourning.
And loneliness grips my heart like a vise;
my anguish is harsher and colder than ice.
But poetry can bring my heart healing
and deaden the pain, or lessen the feeling.
And so I must write till at last sleep has called me
and hope at that moment my pen has not failed me.

XII.
Beside me stands a woman,
a mystery to me.
I long to hold her in my arms;
I also long to flee.

Beside me stands a woman;
how many has she known
more handsome, charming,
chic, alarming?
I hope I never know.

Beside me stands a woman;
how many has she known
who ever wrote her such a poem?
I hope not even one.



Milestones Toward Oblivion
by Michael R. Burch

A milestone here leans heavily
against a gaunt, golemic tree.
These words are chiseled thereupon:
"One mile and then Oblivion."

Swift larks that once swooped down to feed
on groping slugs, such insects breed
within their radiant flesh and bones …
they did not heed the milestones.

Another marker lies ahead,
the only tombstone to the dead
whose eyeless sockets read thereon:
"Alas, behold Oblivion."

Once here the sun shone fierce and fair;
now night eternal shrouds the air
while winter, never-ending, moans
and drifts among the milestones.

This road is neither long nor wide …
men gleam in death on either side.
Not long ago, they pondered on
milestones toward Oblivion.

I wrote this poem around age 19.



An Obscenity Trial
by Michael R. Burch

The defendant was a poet held in many iron restraints
against whom several critics cited numerous complaints.
They accused him of trying to reach the "common crowd,"
and they said his poems incited recitals far too loud.

The prosecutor alleged himself most stylish and best-dressed;
it seems he’d never lost a case, nor really once been pressed.
He was known far and wide for intensely hating clarity;
twelve dilettantes at once declared the defendant another fatality.

The judge was an intellectual well-known for his great mind,
though not for being merciful, honest, sane or kind.
Clerks loved the "Hanging Judge" and the critics were his kin.
Bystanders said, "They'll crucify him!" The public was not let in.

The prosecutor began his case
by spitting in the poet's face,
knowing the trial would be a farce.
"It is obscene,"
he screamed,
"to expose the naked heart!"
The recorder (bewildered Society)
greeted this statement with applause.

"This man is no poet.
Just look—his Hallmark shows it.
Why, see, he utilizes rhyme, symmetry and grammar!
He speaks without a stammer!
His sense of rhythm is too fine!
He does not use recondite words
or conjure ancient Latin verbs.
This man is an imposter!
I ask that his sentence be
the almost perceptible indignity
of removal from the Post-Modernistic roster."
The jury left in tears of joy, literally sequestered.

The defendant sighed in mild despair,
"Please, let me answer to my peers."
But how His Honor giggled then,
seeing no poets were let in.

Later, the clashing symbols of their pronouncements drove him mad
and he admitted both rhyme and reason were bad.

Published by The Neovictorian/Cochlea and Poetry Life & Times. A well-known poet/editor criticized this poem for being "journalistic." But then the poem is written from the point of view of a journalist who's covering the trial of a poet about to be burned at the stake by his peers. The poem was completed by the end of my sophomore year in college. It appears in my 1978 poetry contest folder. But I believe I wrote the original version a bit earlier, probably around age 18 or 19.



Clyde Lied, or, Honeymoon Not-So-Sweet
by Michael R. Burch

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.



Huntress
by Michael R. Burch

after Baudelaire

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

Originally published by Sonnetto Poesia



Imperfect Sonnet
by Michael R. Burch

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

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

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

Originally published by Sonnet Scroll



Oasis
by Michael R. Burch

I want tears to form again
in the shriveled glands of these eyes
dried all these long years
by too much heated knowing.

I want tears to course down
these parched cheeks,
to star these cracked lips
like an improbable dew

in the heart of a desert.
I want words to burble up
like happiness, like the thought of love,
like the overwhelming, shimmering thought of you

to a nomad who
has only known drought.



Melting
by Michael R. Burch

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



hey pete
by Michael R. Burch

for Pete Rose

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

When I was a boy,Pete Rose was my favorite baseball player; this poem is not a slam at him, but rather an ironic jab at the term "superstar."



Doppelgänger
by Michael R. Burch

Here the only anguish
is the bedraggled vetch lying strangled in weeds,
the customary sorrows of the wild persimmons,
the whispered complaints of the stately willow trees
disentangling their fine lank hair,

and what is past.

I find you here, one of many things lost,
that, if we do not recover, will undoubtedly vanish forever …
now only this unfortunate stone,
this pale, disintegrate mass,
this destiny, this unexpected shiver,

this name we share.



The One True Poem
by Michael R. Burch

for Beth

Love was not meaningless …
nor your embrace, nor your kiss.

And though every god proved a phantom,
still you were divine to your last dying atom …

So that when you are gone
and, yea, not a word remains of this poem,

even so,
We were One.



The Poem of Poems
by Michael R. Burch

for Beth

This is my Poem of Poems, for you.
Every word ineluctably true:
I love you.



Caveat
by Michael R. Burch

If only we were not so eloquent,
we might sing, and only sing, not to impress,
but only to enjoy, to be enjoyed.

We might inundate the earth with thankfulness
for light, although it dies, and make a song
of night descending on the earth like bliss,

with other lights beyond—not to be known—
but only to be welcomed and enjoyed,
before all worlds and stars are overthrown …

as a lover’s hands embrace a sleeping face
and find it beautiful for emptiness
of all but joy. There is no thought to love

but love itself. How senseless to redress,
in darkness, such becoming nakedness …

Originally published by Clementine Unbound



Birdsong
by Rumi
loose translation by Michael R. Burch

Birdsong relieves
my deepest griefs:
now I'm just as ecstatic as they,
but with nothing to say!
Please universe,
rehearse
your poetry
through me!



Beckoning
by Michael R. Burch

Yesterday the wind whispered my name
while the blazing locks
of her rampant mane
lay heavy on mine.
And yesterday
I saw the way
the wind caressed tall pines
in forests laced by glinting streams
and thick with tangled vines.
And though she reached
for me in her sleep,
the touch I felt was Time's.

I believe I wrote the first version of this poem around age 18, wasn't happy with it, put it aside, then revised it six years later.



Laughter from Another Room
by Michael R. Burch

Laughter from another room
mocks the anguish that I feel;
as I sit alone and brood,
only you and I are real.

Only you and I are real.
Only you and I exist.
Only burns that blister heal.
Only dreams denied persist.

Only dreams denied persist.
Only hope that lingers dies.
Only love that lessens lives.
Only lovers ever cry.

Only lovers ever cry.
Only sinners ever pray.
Only saints are crucified.
The crucified are always saints.

The crucified are always saints.
The maddest men control the world.
The dumb man knows what he would say;
the poet never finds the words.

The poet never finds the words.
The minstrel never hits the notes.
The minister would love to curse.
The warrior never knows his foe.

The warrior never knows his foe.
The scholar never learns the truth.
The actors never see the show.
The hangman longs to feel the noose.

The hangman longs to feel the noose.
The artist longs to feel the flame.
The proudest men are not aloof;
the guiltiest are not to blame.

The guiltiest are not to blame.
The merriest are prone to brood.
If we go outside, it rains.
If we stay inside, it floods.

If we stay inside, it floods.
If we dare to love, we fear.
Blind men never see the sun;
other men observe through tears.

Other men observe through tears
the passage of these days of doom;
now I listen and I hear
laughter from another room.

Laughter from another room
mocks the anguish that I feel.
As I sit alone and brood,
only you and I are real.

I believe I wrote the first version of this poem as a college freshman or sophomore, around age 18 or 19. It remains largely the same as the original poem.



Wonderland
by Michael R. Burch

We stood, kids of the Lamb, to put to test
the beatific anthems of the blessed,
the sentence of the martyr, and the pen’s
sincere religion. Magnified, the lens
shot back absurd reflections of each face—
a carnival-like mirror. In the space
between the silver backing and the glass,
we caught a glimpse of Joan, a frumpy lass
who never brushed her hair or teeth, and failed
to pass on GO, and frequently was jailed
for awe’s beliefs. Like Alice, she grew wee
to fit the door, then couldn’t lift the key.
We failed the test, and so the jury’s hung.
In Oz, “The Witch is Dead” ranks number one.



To the Post-Modern Muse, Floundering
by Michael R. Burch

The anachronism in your poetry
is that it lacks a future history.
The line that rings, the forward-sounding bell,
tolls death for you, for drowning victims tell
of insignificance, of eerie shoals,
of voices underwater. Lichen grows
to mute the lips of those men paid no heed,
and though you cling by fingertips, and bleed,
there is no lifeline now, for what has slipped
lies far beyond your grasp. Iron fittings, stripped,
have left the hull unsound, bright cargo lost.
The argosy of all your toil is rust.

The anchor that you flung did not take hold
in any harbor where repair is sold.

Originally published by Ironwood



Plastic Art or Night Stand
by Michael R. Burch

Disclaimer: This is a poem about artificial poetry, not love dolls! The victim is the Muse.

We never questioned why “love” seemed less real
the more we touched her, and forgot her face.
Absorbed in molestation’s sticky feel,
we failed to see her staring into space,
her doll-like features frozen in a smile.
She held us in her marionette’s embrace,
her plastic flesh grown wet and slick and vile.
We groaned to feel our urgent fingers trace
her undemanding body. All the while,
she lay and gaily bore her brief disgrace.
We loved her echoed passion’s squeaky air,
her tongueless kisses’ artificial taste,
the way she matched, then raised our reckless pace,
the heart that seemed to pound, but was not there.



Premonition
by Michael R. Burch

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

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

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

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

And I know their brief lives are just eddies in time,
that their hearts are unreadable runes
to be wiped clean, like slate, by the dark hand of Fate
when their corpses lie ravaged and ruined …

You take my clenched fist and you give it a kiss
as though it were something you loved,
and the tears fill your eyes, brimming with the soft light
of the stars winking sagely above …

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

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



Excerpts from the Journal of Dorian Gray
by Michael R. Burch

It was not so much dream, as error;
I lay and felt the creeping terror
of what I had become take hold …

The moon watched, silent, palest gold;
the picture by the mantle watched;
the clock upon the mantle talked,
in halting voice, of minute things …

Twelve strokes like lashes and their stings
scored anthems to my loneliness,
but I have dreamed of what is best,
and I have promised to be good …

Dismembered limbs in vats of wood,
foul acids, and a strangled cry!
I did not care, I watched him die …

Each lovely rose has thorns we miss;
they prick our lips, should we once kiss
their mangled limbs, or think to clasp
their violent beauty. Dream, aghast,
the flower of my loveliness,
this ageless face (for who could guess?),
and I will kiss you when I rise …

The patterns of our lives comprise
strange portraits. Mine, I fear,
proved dear indeed … Adieu!
The knife’s for you.

Another strange one, written after reading Wilde's macabre novella.



The Century’s Wake
by Michael R. Burch

lines written at the close of the 20th century

Take me home. The party is over,
the century passed—no time for a lover.
And my heart grew heavy
as the fireworks hissed through the dark
over Central Park,
past high-towering spires to some backwoods levee,

hurtling banner-hung docks to the torchlit seas.
And my heart grew heavy;
I felt its disease—
its apathy,
wanting the bright, rhapsodic display
to last more than a single day.

If decay was its rite,
now it has learned to long
for something with more intensity,
more gaudy passion, more song—
like the huddled gay masses,
the wildly-cheering throng.

You ask me—
How can this be?
A little more flair,
or perhaps just a little more clarity.
I leave her tonight to the century’s wake;
she disappoints me.

Originally published by The Centrifugal Eye



Nightfall
by Michael R. Burch

for Kevin Nicholas Roberts

Only the long dolor of dusk delights me now,
as I await death.
The rain has ruined the unborn corn,
and the wasting breath
of autumn has cruelly, savagely shorn
each ear of its radiant health.
As the golden sun dims, so the dying land seems to relinquish its vanishing wealth.

Only a few erratic, trembling stalks still continue to stand,
half upright,
and even these the winds have continually robbed of their once-plentiful,
golden birthright.
I think of you and I sigh, forlorn, on edge
with the rapidly encroaching night.
Ten thousand stillborn lilies lie limp, mixed with roses, unable to ignite.

Whatever became of the magical kernel, golden within
at the winter solstice?
What of its promised kingdom, Amen!, meant to rise again
from this balmless poultice,
this strange bottomland where one Scarecrow commands
dark legions of ravens and mice?
And what of the Giant whose bellows demand our negligible lives, his black vice?

I find one bright grain here aglitter with rain, full of promise and purpose
and drive.
Through lightning and hail and nightfalls and pale, cold sunless moons
it will strive
to rise up from its “place” on a network of lace, to the glory
of being alive.
Why does it bother, I wonder, my brother? O, am I unwise to believe?
But Jack had his beanstalk
and you had your poems
and the sun seems intent to ascend
and so I also must climb
to the end of my time,
however the story
may unwind
and
end.



BLAKEAN POEMS



Ah! Sunflower
by Michael R. Burch

for and after William Blake

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



The Difference
by Michael R. Burch

The chimneysweeps
will weep
for Blake,
who wrote his poems
for their dear sake.

The critics clap,
polite, for you.
Another poem
for poets,
Whooo!



Orpheus, or, William Blake's Whistle
by Michael R. Burch

for and after William Blake

I.
Many a sun
and many a moon
I walked the earth
and whistled a tune.

I did not whistle
as I worked:
the whistle was my work.
I shirked

nothing I saw
and made a rhyme
to children at play
and hard time.

II.
Among the prisoners
I saw
the leaden manacles
of Law,

the heavy ball and chain,
the quirt.
And yet I whistled
at my work.

III.
Among the children’s
daisy faces
and in the women’s
frowsy laces,

I saw redemption,
and I smiled.
Satanic millers,
unbeguiled,

were swayed by neither girl,
nor child,
nor any God of Love.
Yet mild

I whistled at my work,
and Song
broke out,
ere long.



A Passing Observation about Thinking Outside the Box
by Michael R. Burch

William Blake had no public, and yet he’s still read.
His critics are dead.



evol-u-shun
by michael r. burch

for and after william blake

does GOD adore the Tyger
while it’s ripping ur lamb apart?

does GOD applaud the Plague
while it’s eating u à la carte?

does GOD admire ur brains
while ur claimng IT has a heart?

does GOD endorse the Bible
you blue-lighted at k-mart?

In the segmented title “evol” is “love” spelled backwards: thus "love u shun." The title questions whether you/we have been shunned by a "God of Love" and/or by evolution. William Blake’s poem “The Tyger” questions the nature of a Creator who brings innocent lambs and savage tigers into the same world.



the echoless green
by michael r. burch

for and after William Blake

at dawn, laughter rang
on the echoing green
as children at play
greeted the day.

by noon, smiles were seen
on the echoing green
as, children no more,
many fine oaths they swore.

come twilight, their cries
had subsided to sighs.

now Night reigns supreme
on the echoless green.



blake take
by michael r. burch

we became ashamed of our bodies;
we became ashamed of sweet sex;
we became ashamed of the LORD
for each terrible CURSE and HEX;
we became ashamed of the planet
(it’s such a slovenly hovel);
and we came to see, in the end,
that we really agreed with the devil.



dark matter(s)
by michael r. burch

for and after William Blake

the matter is dark, despairful, alarming:
ur Creator is hardly prince charming!

yes, ur “Great I Am”
created blake’s lamb

but He also created the tyger …
and what about trump and rod steiger?

Rod Steiger is best known for his portrayals of weirdos, oddballs, mobsters, bandits, serial killers, and fascists like Mussolini and Napoleon.



tyger, lamb, free love, etc.
by michael r. burch

for and after william blake

the tiger’s a ferocious slayer.
he has no say in it.
hence, ur Creator’s a shit.

the lamb led to the slaughter
extends her neck to the block and bit.
she has no say in it.

so don’t be a nitwit:
drink, carouse and revel!
why obey the Devil?



beMused
by Michael R. Burch

Perhaps at three
you'll come to tea,
to have a cuppa here?

You'll just stop in
to sip dry gin?
I only have a beer.

To name the “greats”:
Pope, Dryden, mates?
The whole world knows their names.

Discuss the “songs”
of Emerson?
But these are children's games.

Give me rhythms
wild as Dylan’s!
Give me Bobbie Burns!

Give me Psalms,
or Hopkins’ poems,
Hart Crane’s, if he returns!

Or Langston railing!
Blake assailing!
Few others I desire.

Or go away,
yes, leave today:
your tepid poets tire.



Mongrel Dreams (II)
by Michael R. Burch

for Thomas Rain Crowe

I squat in my Cherokee lodge, this crude wooden hutch of dry branches and leaf-thatch
as the embers smolder and burn,
hearing always the distant tom-toms of your rain dance.

I relax in my rustic shack on the heroned shores of Gwynedd,
slandering the English in the amulet gleam of the North Atlantic,
hearing your troubadour’s songs, remembering Dylan.

I stand in my rough woolen kilt in the tall highland heather
feeling the freezing winds through the trees leaning sideways,
hearing your bagpipes’ lament, dreaming of Burns.

I slave in my drab English hovel, tabulating rents
while dreaming of Blake and burning your poems like incense.

I abide in my pale mongrel flesh, writing in Nashville
as the thunderbolts flash and the spring rains spill,
till the quill gently bleeds and the white page fills,
dreaming of Whitman, calling you brother.



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.



Stump
by Michael R. Burch

This used to be a poplar, oak or elm …
we forget the names of trees, but still its helm,
green-plumed, like some Greek warrior’s, nobly fringed,
with blossoms almond-white, but verdant-tinged,
this massive helm … this massive, nodding head
here contemplated life, and now is dead …

Perhaps it saw its future, furrow-browed,
and flung its limbs about, dejectedly.
Perhaps it only dreamed as, cloud by cloud,
the sun plod through the sky. Heroically,
perhaps it stood against the mindless plots
of concrete that replaced each flowered bed.
Perhaps it heard thick loggers draw odd lots
and could not flee, and so could only dread …

The last of all its kind? They left its stump
with timeworn strange inscriptions no one reads
(because a language lost is just a bump
impeding someone’s progress at mall speeds).
We leveled all such “speed bumps” long ago
just as our quainter cousins leveled trees.
Shall we, too, be consumed by what we know?
Once gods were merely warriors; august trees
were merely twigs, and man the least divine …
mere fables now, dust, compost, turpentine.



Day, and Night (I)
by Michael R. Burch

The moon exposes syphilitic craters
and veiled by ghostly willows, palely looms,
while we who rise each day to grind a living,
dream each scented night of such perfumes
as drew us to the window, to the moonlight,
when all the earth was steeped in cobalt blue—
an eerie vase of achromatic flowers
bled silver by pale starlight, losing hue.

The night begins her waltz to waiting sunrise—
adagio, the music she now hears,
while we who in the sunlight slave for succor,
dreaming, seek communion with the spheres.
And all around the night is in crescendo,
and everywhere the stars’ bright legions form,
and here we hear the sweet incriminations
of lovers we had once to keep us warm.

And also here we find, like bled carnations,
red lips that whitened, kisses drawn to lies,
that touched us once with fierce incantations
and taught us love was prettier than wise.



Day, and Night (II)
by Michael R. Burch

The moon exposes pockmarked scars of craters;
her visage, veiled by willows, palely looms.
And we who rise each day to grind a living,
dream each scented night of such perfumes
as drew us to the window, to the moonlight,
when all the earth was steeped in cobalt blue—
an eerie vase of achromatic flowers
bled silver by pale starlight, losing hue.

The night begins her waltz to waiting sunrise—
adagio, the music she now hears;
and we who in the sunlight slave for succor,
dreaming, seek communion with the spheres.
And all around the night is in crescendo,
and everywhere the stars’ bright legions form,
and here we hear the sweet incriminations
of lovers we had once to keep us warm.

And also here we find, like bled carnations,
red lips that whitened, kisses drawn to lies,
that touched us once with fierce incantations
and taught us love was prettier than wise.



Tonight, Let’s Remember
by Michael R. Burch

July 7, 2007 (7-7-7)

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

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

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

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

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

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



Her Grace Flows Freely
by Michael R. Burch

July 7, 2007

Her love is always chaste, and pure.
This I vow. This I aver.
If she shows me her grace, I will honor her.
This I vow. This I aver.
Her grace flows freely, like her hair.
This I vow. This I aver.
For her generousness, I would worship her.
This I vow. This I aver.
I will not damn her for what I bear
This I vow. This I aver.
like a most precious incense–desire for her,
This I vow. This I aver.
nor call her “whore” where I seek to repair.
This I vow. This I aver.

I will not wink, nor smirk, nor stare
This I vow. This I aver.
like a foolish child at the foot of a stair
This I vow. This I aver.
where I long to go, should another be there.
This I vow. This I aver.

I’ll rejoice in her freedom, and always dare
This I vow. This I aver.
the chance that she’ll flee me–my starling rare.
This I vow. This I aver.
And then, if she stays, without stays, I swear
This I vow. This I aver.
that I will joy in her grace beyond compare.
This I vow. This I aver.

Her Grace Flows Freely
by Michael R. Burch
Italian translation by Comasia Aquaro

La sua grazia vola libera

7 luglio 2007

Il suo amore è sempre casto, e puro.
Lo giuro. Lo prometto.
Se mi mostra la sua grazia, le farò onore.
Lo giuro. Lo prometto.
La sua grazia vola libera, come i suoi capelli.
Lo giuro. Lo prometto.
Per la sua generosità, la venererò.
Lo giuro. Lo prometto.
Non la maledirò per ciò che soffro
Lo giuro. Lo prometto.
come il più prezioso desiderio d’incenso per lei,
Lo giuro. Lo prometto.
non chiamarla “sgualdrina” laddove io cerco di aggiustare.
Lo giuro. Lo prometto.

Io non strizzerò l’occhio, non riderò soddisfatto, non fisserò lo sguardo
Lo giuro. Lo prometto.
Come un bambino sciocco ai piedi di una scala
Lo giuro. Lo prometto.
Laddove io desidero andare, ci sarebbe forse un altro.
Lo giuro. Lo prometto.

Mi rallegrerò nella sua libertà, e sempre sfiderò
Lo giuro. Lo prometto.
la sorte che lei mi sfuggirà—il mio raro storno
Lo giuro. Lo prometto.
E dopo, se lei resta, senza stare, io lo garantisco
Lo giuro. Lo prometto.
Gioirò nella sua grazia al di là del confrontare.
Lo giuro. Lo prometto.



There Are Many Tricks of Words

for Beth

There are many tricks of words
and all have been used before
by Artists in search of Rhymes
and Accolades galore;
so let me sincerely say
I love you, as simple men may.

There are many tricks of words,
most of them overused
by Poets gone overboard,
Titanically over-enthused.
So let me sincerely say
I love you, as simpletons may.

Since poets have praised women’s eyes,
though none are more lovely than yours,
please don't let me be greatly despised
if I fail to describe their allures!

Since poets have praised women’s hair,
though yours is more auburn and fair
than Helen’s, who sent fleets astray,
still, should I unably compare?

Since poets have praised women’s love,
though I know yours is brighter by far
than even the angels’ above,
and higher, a Halcyon Star,
it is futile to conjure mere words
when they seem like the twitt’rings of birds!

Let me not make the fatal mistake
of praising with lackluster rhymes
a woman beyond all my art.
I’d be sentenced, I’m sure, for such crimes
to dungeons where paupers await
the great Final Stroke, their just fate.

No, let me content myself
with small words, simple, gentle and true,
and let these humble words be my wealth:
I really do love you.



In the Whispering Night (II)
by Michael R. Burch

for George King

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

In the whispering night, when the mockingbird calls
while denuded vines barely cling to stone walls,
as the red-rocked rivers rush on to the sea,
like a bright Goddess calling
a meteor falling
may flare like desire through skeletal trees.

If you look to the east, you will see a reminder
of days that broke warmer and nights that fell kinder;
but you and I were not meant for this life,
a life of illusions
and painful delusions:
a life without meaning—unless it is life.

So turn from the east and look to the west,
to the stars—argent fire ablaze at God's breast—
but there you'll find nothing but dreams of lost days:
days lost forever,
departed, and never,
oh never, oh never shall they be regained.

So turn from those heavens—night’s pale host of stars—
to these scarred pitted mountains, these wild grotesque tors
which—looming in darkness—obscure lustrous seas …
We are men, we must sing
till enchanted vales ring;
we are men; though we wither, our spirits soar free.

This is the original version of "In the Whispering Night" and one of my most Romantic poems, if not the most Romantic. I wrote the poem my freshman year of college for my favorite English teacher, George King, who was also a poet.
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