Michael R. Burch

1958
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The State of the Art

These are poems by Michael R. Burch about poetry, poets and other subjects.

The State of the Art (I)
by Michael R. Burch

Has rhyme lost all its reason
and rhythm, renascence?
Are sonnets out of season
and poems but poor pretense?

Are poets lacking fire,
their words too trite and forced?
What happened to desire?
Has passion been coerced?

Must poetry fade slowly,
like Latin, to past tense?
Are the bards too high and holy,
or their readers merely dense?



The State of the Art (II)
by Michael R. Burch

Poets may work from sun to sun,
but their editors' work is never done.

The editor’s work is never done.
The critic adjusts his cummerbund.

While the critic adjusts his cummerbund,
the audience exits to mingle and slum.

As the audience exits to mingle and slum,
the anthologist rules, a pale jury of one.

Keywords/Tags: poetry, art, rhyme, reason, meter, rhythm, form, sonnets, fire, passion, Latin, stale, outdated, past, tense, readers, readership, poets, poems, word, words, write, writing, bard, bards



Currents
by Michael R. Burch

How can I write and not be true
to the rhythm that wells within?
How can the ocean not be blue,
not buck with the clapboard slap of tide,
the clockwork shock of wave on rock,
the motion creation stirs within?

Originally published by The Lyric



Hearthside
by Michael R. Burch

“When you are old and grey and full of sleep...” — W. B. Yeats

For all that we professed of love, we knew
this night would come, that we would bend alone
to tend wan fires’ dimming bars—the moan
of wind cruel as the Trumpet, gelid dew
an eerie presence on encrusted logs
we hoard like jewels, embrittled so ourselves.

The books that line these close, familiar shelves
loom down like dreary chaperones. Wild dogs,
too old for mates, cringe furtive in the park,
as, toothless now, I frame this parchment kiss.

I do not know the words for easy bliss
and so my shriveled fingers clutch this stark,
long-unenamored pen and will it: Move.
I loved you more than words, so let words prove.

This sonnet is written from the perspective of William Butler Yeats in his loose translation of the Pierre de Ronsard sonnet “When You Are Old.”



The People Loved What They Had Loved Before
by Michael R. Burch

We did not worship at the shrine of tears;
we knew not to believe, not to confess.
And so, ahemming victors, to false cheers,
we wrote off love, we gave a stern address
to things that we disapproved of, things of yore.
And the people loved what they had loved before.

We did not build stone monuments to stand
six hundred years and grow more strong and arch
like bridges from the people to the Land
beyond their reach. Instead, we played a march,
pale Neros, sparking flames from door to door.
And the people loved what they had loved before.

We could not pipe of cheer, or even woe.
We played a minor air of Ire (in E).
The sheep chose to ignore us, even though,
long destitute, we plied our songs for free.
We wrote, rewrote and warbled one same score.
And the people loved what they had loved before.

At last outlandish wailing, we confess,
ensued, because no listeners were left.
We built a shrine to tears: our goddess less
divine than man, and, like us, long bereft.
We stooped to love too late, too Learned to whore.
And the people loved what they had loved before.



At Wilfred Owen’s Grave
by Michael R. Burch

A week before the Armistice, you died.
They did not keep your heart like Livingstone’s,
then plant your bones near Shakespeare’s. So you lie
between two privates, sacrificed like Christ
to politics, your poetry unknown
except for that brief flurry’s: thirteen months
with Gaukroger beside you in the trench,
dismembered, as you babbled, as the stench
of gangrene filled your nostrils, till you clenched
your broken heart together and the fist
began to pulse with life, so close to death.

Or was it at Craiglockhart, in the care
of “ergotherapists” that you sensed life
is only in the work, and made despair
a thing that Yeats despised, but also breath,
a mouthful’s merest air, inspired less
than wrested from you, and which we confess
we only vaguely breathe: the troubled air
that even Sassoon failed to share, because
a man in pieces is not healed by gauze,
and breath’s transparent, unless we believe
the words are true despite their lack of weight
and float to us like chlorine—scalding eyes,
and lungs, and hearts. Your words revealed the fate
of boys who retched up life here, gagged on lies.

Published by The Chariton Review



Gallant Knight
by Michael R. Burch

for Alfred Dorn and Anita Dorn

Till you rest with your beautiful Anita,
rouse yourself, Poet; rouse and write.
The world is not ready for your departure,
Gallant Knight.

Teach us to sing in the ringing cathedrals
of your Verse, as you outduel the Night.
Give us new eyes to see Love's bright Vision
robed in Light.

Teach us to pray, that the true Word may conquer,
that the slaves may be freed, the blind have Sight.
Write the word LOVE with a burning finger.
I shall recite.

O, bless us again with your chivalrous pen,
Gallant Knight!

It was my honor to have been able to publish the poetry of Dr. Alfred Dorn and his wife Anita Dorn.



Kin
by Michael R. Burch

O pale, austere moon,
haughty beauty ...

what do we know of love,
or duty?

Originally published by The HyperTexts



Sonnet: Discrimination
by Michael R. Burch

The meter I had sought to find, perplexed,
was ripped from books of "verse" that read like prose.
I found it in sheet music, in long rows
of hologramic CDs, in sad wrecks
of long-forgotten volumes undisturbed
half-centuries by archivists, unscanned.
I read their fading numbers, frowned, perturbed—
why should such tattered artistry be banned?

I heard the sleigh bells' jingles, vampish ads,
the supermodels' babble, Seuss's books
extolled in major movies, blurbs for abs...
A few poor thinnish journals crammed in nooks
are all I've found this late to sell to those
who'd classify free verse "expensive prose."

Originally published by The Chariton Review



The Harvest of Roses
by Michael R. Burch

I have not come for the harvest of roses―
the poets' mad visions,
their railing at rhyme ...
for I have discerned what their writing discloses:
weak words wanting meaning,
beat torsioning time.

Nor have I come for the reaping of gossamer―
images weak,
too forced not to fail;
gathered by poets who worship their luster,
they shimmer, impendent,
resplendently pale.

Originally published by The Raintown Review



Sonnet: The Forge
by Michael R. Burch

To at last be indestructible, a poem
must first glow, almost flammable, upon
a thing inert, as gray, as dull as stone,

then bend this way and that, and slowly cool
at arms-length, something irreducible
drawn out with caution, toughened in a pool

of water so contrary just a hiss
escapes it―water instantly a mist.
It writhes, a thing of senseless shapelessness ...

And then the driven hammer falls and falls.
The horses prick their ears in nearby stalls.
A soldier on his cot leans back and smiles.

A sound of ancient import, with the ring
of honest labor, sings of fashioning.

Originally published by The Chariton Review



Goddess
by Michael R. Burch

for Kevin N. Roberts

"What will you conceive in me?"
I asked her. But she
only smiled.

"Naked, I bore your child
when the wolf wind howled,
when the cold moon scowled . . .

naked, and gladly."
"What will become of me?"
I asked her, as she

absently stroked my hand.
Centuries later, I understand;
she whispered, "I Am."

Originally published by Romantics Quarterly (the first poem in the first issue)



Safe Harbor
by Michael R. Burch

for Kevin N. Roberts

The sea at night seems
an alembic of dreams—
the moans of the gulls,
the foghorns’ bawlings.

A century late
to be melancholy,
I watch the last shrimp boat as it steams
to safe harbor again.

In the twilight she gleams
with a festive light,
done with her trawlings,
ready to sleep . . .

Deep, deep, in delight
glide the creatures of night,
elusive and bright
as the poet’s dreams.

Published by The Lyric



The Beat Goes On (and On and On and On ...)
by Michael R. Burch

Bored stiff by his board-stiff attempts
at “meter,” I crossly concluded
I’d use each iamb
in lieu of a lamb,
bedtimes when I’m under-quaaluded.

Published by Grand Little Things



Poetry
by Michael R. Burch

Poetry, I found you
where at last they chained and bound you;
with devices all around you
to torture and confound you,
I found you—shivering, bare.

They had shorn your raven hair
and taken both your eyes
which, once cerulean as Gogh’s skies,
had leapt with dawn to wild surmise
of what was waiting there.

Your back was bent with untold care;
there savage brands had left cruel scars
as though the wounds of countless wars;
your bones were broken with the force
with which they’d lashed your flesh so fair.

You once were loveliest of all.
So many nights you held in thrall
a scrawny lad who heard your call
from where dawn’s milling showers fall—
pale meteors through sapphire air.

I learned the eagerness of youth
to temper for a lover’s touch;
I felt you, tremulant, reprove
each time I fumbled over-much.
Your merest word became my prayer.

You took me gently by the hand
and led my steps from boy to man;
now I look back, remember when
you shone, and cannot understand
why here, tonight, you bear their brand.

I will take and cradle you in my arms,
remindful of the gentle charms
you showed me once, of yore;
and I will lead you from your cell tonight
back into that incandescent light
which flows out of the core
of a sun whose robes you wore.
And I will wash your feet with tears
for all those blissful years...
my love, whom I adore.

Published by The Lyric



In the Whispering Night
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,
and the lilies sigh in their beds, for shame,
we must steal our souls, as they once were stolen,
and gather our vigor, and all our intent.
We must heave our bodies to some violent 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 world of resplendence from which we were seized.

Published by Songs of Innocence



What the Poet Sees
by Michael R. Burch

What the poet sees,
he sees as a swimmer
~~~~underwater~~~~
watching the shoreline blur
sees through his breath’s weightless bubbles ...
Both worlds grow obscure.

Originally published by Byline



In Praise of Meter
by Michael R. Burch

The earth is full of rhythms so precise
the octave of the crystal can produce
a trillion oscillations, yet not lose
a second’s beat. The ear needs no device
to hear the unsprung rhythms of the couch
drown out the mouth’s; the lips can be debauched
by kisses, should the heart put back its watch
and find the pulse of love, and sing, devout.

If moons and tides in interlocking dance
obey their numbers, what’s been left to chance?
Should poets be more lax—their circumstance
as humble as it is?—or readers wince
to see their ragged numbers thin, to hear
the moans of drones drown out the Chanticleer?

Originally published by Poetry Porch/Sonnet Scroll



What Works
by Michael R. Burch

for David Gosselin

What works―
hewn stone;
the blush the iris shows the sun;
the lilac’s pale-remembered bloom.

The frenzied fly: mad-lively, gay,
as seconds tick his time away,
his sentence―one brief day in May,

a period. And then decay.

A frenzied rhyme’s mad tip-toed time,
a ballad’s languid as the sea,
seek, striving―"immortality.

When gloss peels off, what works will shine.
When polish fades, what works will gleam.
When intellectual prattle pales,
the dying buzzing in the hive
of tedious incessant bees,
what works will soar and wheel and dive
and milk all honey, leap and thrive,

and teach the pallid poem to seethe.



Caveat Spender
by Michael R. Burch

for Stephen Spender

It’s better not to speculate
“continually” on who is great.
Though relentless awe’s
a Célèbre Cause,
please reserve some time for the contemplation
of the perils of EXAGGERATION.



Kin
by Michael R. Burch

for Richard Moore

1.
Shrill gulls,
how like my thoughts
you, struggling, rise
to distant bliss—
the weightless blue of skies
that are not blue
in any atmosphere,
but closest here ...

2.
You seek an air
so clear,
so rarified
the effort leaves you famished;
earthly tides
soon call you back—
one long, descending glide ...

3.
Disgruntledly you grope dirt shores for orts
you pull like mucous ropes
from shells’ bright forts ...
You eye the teeming world
with nervous darts—
this way and that ...
Contentious, shrewd, you scan—
the sky, in hope,
the earth, distrusting man.

Originally published by Able Muse



Abide
by Michael R. Burch

after Philip Larkin's "Aubade"

It is hard to understand or accept mortality—
such an alien concept: not to be.
Perhaps unsettling enough to spawn religion,
or to scare mutant fish out of a primordial sea

boiling like goopy green tea in a kettle.
Perhaps a man should exhibit more mettle
than to admit such fear, denying Nirvana exists
simply because we are stuck here in such a fine fettle.

And so we abide . . .
even in life, staring out across that dark brink.
And if the thought of death makes your questioning heart sink,
it is best not to drink
(or, drinking, certainly not to think).

Originally published by Light Quarterly



US Verse, after Auden
by Michael R. Burch

“Let the living creature lie,
Mortal, guilty, but to me
The entirely beautiful.”

Verse has small value in our Unisphere,
nor is it fit for windy revelation.
It cannot legislate less taxing fears;
it cannot make us, several, a nation.
Enumerator of our sins and dreams,
it pens its cryptic numbers, and it sings,
a little quaintly, of the ways of love.
(It seems of little use for lesser things.)

Published by The Raintown Review and The Barefoot Muse



Millay Has Her Way with a Vassar Professor
by Michael R. Burch

After a night of hard drinking and spreading her legs,
Millay hits the dorm, where the Vassar don begs:
“Please act more chastely, more discretely, more seemly!”
(His name, let’s assume, was, er . . . Percival Queemly.)

“Expel me! Expel me!”—She flashes her eyes.
“Oh! Please! No! I couldn’t! That wouldn’t be wise,
for a great banished Shelley would tarnish my name . . .
Eek! My game will be lame if I can’t milque your fame!”

“Continue to live here—carouse as you please!”
the beleaguered don sighs as he sags to his knees.
Millay grinds her crotch half an inch from his nose:
“I can live in your hellhole, strange man, I suppose ...
but the price is your firstborn, whom I’ll sacrifice to Moloch.”
(Which explains what became of pale Percy’s son, Enoch.)

Originally published by Lucid Rhythms

This poem is based on an account of Edna St. Vincent Millay being confronted by a male Vassar authority. However, there is a some poetic license involved, for the sake of humor.



Come Down
by Michael R. Burch

for Harold Bloom

Come down, O, come down
from your high mountain tower.
How coldly the wind blows,
how late this chill hour ...

and I cannot wait
for a meteor shower
to show you the time
must be now, or not ever.

Come down, O, come down
from the high mountain heather
blown to the lees
as fierce northern gales sever.

Come down, or your heart
will grow cold as the weather
when winter devours
and spring returns never.



Orpheus
by Michael R. Burch

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.



The Composition of Shadows
by Michael R. Burch

for poets who write late at night

We breathe and so we write; the night
hums softly its accompaniment.
Pale phosphors burn; the page we turn
leads onward, and we smile, content.

And what we mean we write to learn:
the vowels of love, the consonants’
strange golden weight, each plosive’s shape—
curved like the heart. Here, resonant,

sounds’ shadows mass beneath bright glass
like singing voles curled in a maze
of blank white space. We touch a face—
long-frozen words trapped in a glaze

that insulates our hearts. Nowhere
can love be found. Just shrieking air.



The Composition of Shadows (II)
by Michael R. Burch

We breathe and so we write;
the night
hums softly its accompaniment.

Pale phosphors burn;
the page we turn
leads onward, and we smile, content.

And what we mean
we write to learn:
the vowels of love, the consonants’

strange golden weight,
the blood’s debate
within the heart. Here, resonant,

sounds’ shadows mass
against bright glass,
within the white Labyrinthian maze.

Through simple grace,
I touch your face,
(ah words!) And I would gaze

the night’s dark length
in waning strength
to find the words to feel

such light again.
O, for a pen
to spell love so ethereal.

Keywords/Tags: composition, write, writing, poetry, poem, night, pen, pencil, computer, monitor, love, alienation, lonely, loneliness



Remembering Not to Call
by Michael R. Burch

a villanelle permitting mourning, for my mother, Christine Ena Burch

The hardest thing of all,
after telling her everything,
is remembering not to call.

Now the phone hanging on the wall
will never announce her ring:
the hardest thing of all
for children, however tall.

And the hardest thing this spring
will be remembering not to call
the one who was everything.

That the songbirds will nevermore sing
is the hardest thing of all
for those who once listened, in thrall,
and welcomed the message they bring,
since they won’t remember to call.

And the hardest thing this fall
will be a number with no one to ring.

No, the hardest thing of all
is remembering not to call.



Homeless Us
by Michael R. Burch

The coldest night I ever knew
the wind out of the arctic blew
long frigid blasts; and I was you.

We huddled close then: yes, we two.
For I had lost your house, to rue
such bitter weather, being you.

Our empty tin cup sang the Blues,
clanged—hollow, empty. Carols (few)
were sung to me, for being you.

For homeless us, all men eschew.
They beat us, roust us, jail us too.
It isn’t easy, being you.

Published by Street Smart, First Universalist Church of Denver, Mind Freedom Switzerland and on 20+ web pages supporting the UN Convention on the Rights of Persons with Disabilities



Only Let Me Love You
by Michael R. Burch

after Rabindranath Tagore

Only let me love you, and the pain
of living will be easier to bear.
Only let me love you. Nay, refrain
from pinning up your hair!

Only let me love you. Stay, remain.
A face so lovely never needs repair!
Only let me love you to the strains
of Rabindranath on a soft sitar.

Only let me love you, while the rain
makes music: gentle, eloquent, sincere.
Only let me love you. Don’t complain
you need more time to make yourself more fair!

Only let me love you. Stay, remain.
No need for rouge or lipstick! Only share
your tender body swiftly ...



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.



Autumn Conundrum
by Michael R. Burch

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



Piercing the Shell
by Michael R. Burch

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



Snapshots
by Michael R. Burch

Here I scrawl extravagant rainbows.
And there you go, skipping your way to school.
And here we are, drifting apart
like untethered balloons.

Here I am, creating "art,"
chanting in shadows,
pale as the crinoline moon,
ignoring your face.

There you go,
in diaphanous lace,
making another man’s heart swoon.

Suddenly, unthinkably, here he is,
taking my place.

Published by Tucumcari Literary Review, Romantics Quarterly, Centrifugal Eye and The Eclectic Muse



in-flight convergence
by michael r. burch

serene, almost angelic,
the lights of the city extend
over lumbering herds shrilly screeching displeasure;
they say
that nothing is certain,
that nothing man dreams or ordains
long endures his command

here the streetlights that flicker
and those blazing steadfast seem one
from a distance;
descend?
they abruptly
part ways,

so that nothing is one
which at times does not suddenly blend
into garish insignificance
in the familiar alleyways,
in the white neon flash
and the billboards of Convenience

and man seems the afterthought of his own Brilliance
as we thunder down the enlightened runways.

Originally published by The Aurorean and nominated for the Pushcart Prize



Wulf and Eadwacer
ancient Anglo-Saxon poem, circa 960 AD
loose translation/interpretation by Michael R. Burch

My clan's curs pursue him like crippled game;
they'll rip him apart if he approaches their pack.
It is otherwise with us.

Wulf's on one island; we're on another.
His island's a fortress, fastened by fens.
Here, bloodthirsty curs howl for carnage.
They'll rip him apart if he approaches their pack.
It is otherwise with us.

My heart pursued Wulf like a panting hound,
but whenever it rained—how I wept! —
the boldest cur grasped me in its paws:
good feelings for him, but for me loathsome!

Wulf, O, my Wulf, my ache for you
has made me sick; your seldom-comings
have left me famished, deprived of real meat.

Have you heard, Eadwacer? Watchdog!
A wolf has borne our wretched whelp to the woods!
One can easily sever what never was one:
our song together.



Shattered
by Vera Pavlova
loose translation/interpretation by Michael R. Burch

I shattered your heart;
now I limp through the shards
barefoot.



Fountainhead
by Michael R. Burch

I did not delight in love so much
as in a kiss like linnets' wings,
the flutterings of a pulse so soft
the heart remembers, as it sings:
to bathe there was its transport, brushed
by marble lips, or porcelain,—
one liquid kiss, one cool outburst
from pale rosettes. What did it mean ...
to float awhirl on minute tides
within the compass of your eyes,
to feel your alabaster bust
grow cold within? Ecstatic sighs
seem hisses now; your eyes, serene,
reflect the sun's pale tourmaline.

Published by Romantics Quarterly



To Flower
by Michael R. Burch

(When Pentheus "grief' went into the mountains in the garb of the baccae, his mother Agave and the other maenads, possessed by Dionysus, tore him apart. The agave dies as soon as it blooms; the moonflower, or night-blooming cereus, is a desert plant of similar fate.)

We are not long for this earth, I know—
you and I, all our petals incurled,
till a night of pale brilliance, moonflower aglow.
Is there love anywhere in this strange world?
The Agave knows best when it's time to die
and rages to life with such rapturous leaves
her name means Illustrious. Each hour more high,
she claws toward heaven, for, if she believes
in love at all, she has left it behind
to flower, to FLOWER. When darkness falls
she wilts down to meet it, where something crawls:
beheaded, bewildered. And since love is blind,
she never adored it, nor watches it go.
Can we be as she is, moonflower aglow?

Originally published by The Neovictorian/Cochlea



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 heard in wolves’ tormented howls
that died, and live in dreams’ soft, windy vowels ...

Published by The Chariton Review



These are my translations of Holocaust poems by Ber Horvitz (also known as Ber Horowitz); his bio follows the poems.

Der Himmel
"The Heavens"
by Ber Horvitz
loose translation/interpretation 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/interpretation 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/interpretation 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 place,
presses her frightened child even closer to her breast …

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

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



"My Lament"
by Ber Horvitz
loose translation/interpretation by Michael R. Burch

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



Ber Horvitz aka Ber Horowitz (1895-1942): Born to village people in the woods of Maidan in the West Carpathians, Horowitz showed art talent early on. He went to gymnazie in Stanislavov, then served in the Austrian army during WWI, where he was a medic to Italian prisoners of war. He studied medicine in Vienna and was published in many Yiddish newspapers. Fluent in several languages, he translated Polish and Ukrainian to Yiddish. He also wrote poetry in Yiddish. A victim of the Holocaust, he was murdered in 1942 by the Nazis.



Primo Levi Holocaust Poem Translations

Shema
by Primo Levi
loose translation/interpretation by Michael R. Burch

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

Consider: is this a "man"
who slogs through 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: is this is a "woman"
bald and bereft of a name
because she lacks the strength to remember,
her eyes as void and her womb as frigid
as a winter frog's.

Consider that such horrors have indeed been!

I commend these words to you.
Engrave them in your hearts
when you lounge in your beds
and again when you rise,
when you venture outside.
Repeat them to your children,
or may your houses crumble
and disease render you helpless
so that even your offspring avert their eyes.



Buna
by Primo Levi
loose translation/interpretation by Michael R. Burch

Mangled feet, cursed earth,
the long interminable line in the gray morning
as Buna smokes corpses through industrious chimneys ...

Another gray day like every other day awaits us.

The terrible whistle shrilly announces dawn:
"Rise, wretched multitudes, with your lifeless faces,
welcome the monotonous hell of the mud ...
another day’s suffering has begun!"

Weary companion, I know you well.

I see your dead eyes, my disconsolate friend.
In your breast you bear the burden of cold, deprivation, emptiness.
Life long ago broke what remained of the courage within you.

Colorless one, you once were a real man;
a considerable woman once accompanied you.

But now, my invisible companion, you lack even a name.
So forsaken, you are unable to weep.
So poor in spirit, you can no longer grieve.
So tired, your flesh can no longer shiver with fear ...

My once-strong man, now spent,
were we to meet again
in some other world, beneath some sunnier sun,
with what unfamiliar faces would we recognize each other?

Note: Buna was the largest Auschwitz sub-camp, with around 40,000 “workers” who had been enslaved by the Nazis. Primo Levi called the Jews of Buna the “slaves of slaves” because the other slaves outranked them.



Brother Iran
by Michael R. Burch

Brother Iran, I feel your pain.
I feel it as when the Turk fled Spain.
As the Jew fled, too, that constricting span,
I feel your pain, Brother Iran.

Brother Iran, I know you are noble!
I too fear Hiroshima and Chernobyl.
But though my heart shudders, I have a plan,
and I know you are noble, Brother Iran.

Brother Iran, I salute your Poets!
your Mathematicians!, all your great Wits!
O, come join the earth's great Caravan.
We'll include your Poets, Brother Iran.

Brother Iran, I love your Verse!
Come take my hand now, let's rehearse
the Rubaiyat of Omar Khayyam.
For I love your Verse, Brother Iran.

Bother Iran, civilization's Flower!
How high flew your spires in man's early hours!
Let us build them yet higher, for that's my plan,
civilization's first flower, Brother Iran.



To Please The Poet
by Michael R. Burch

To please the poet, words must dance—
staccato, brisk, a two-step:
so!
Or waltz in elegance to time
of music—mild,
adagio.

To please the poet, words must chance
emotion in catharsis—
flame.
Or splash into salt seas, descend
in sheets of silver-shining
rain.

To please the poet, words must prance
and gallop, gambol, revel,
rail.
Or muse upon a moment—mute,
obscure, unsure, imperfect,
pale.

To please the poet, words must sing,
or croak, wart-tongued, imagining.

Originally published by The Lyric



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.



Alien Nation
by Michael R. Burch

for a "Christian" poet who believes in "hell"

On a lonely outpost on Mars
the astronaut practices “speech”
as alien to primates below
as mute stars winking high, out of reach.

And his words fall as bright and as chill
as ice crystals on Kilimanjaro —
far colder than Jesus’s words
over the “fortunate” sparrow.

And I understand how gentle Emily
felt, when all comfort had flown,
gazing into those inhuman eyes,
feeling zero at the bone.

Oh, how can I grok his arctic thought?
For if he is human, I am not.



Heroin or Heroine?
by Michael R. Burch

for mothers battling addiction

serve the Addiction;
worship the Beast;
feed the foul Pythons
your flesh, their fair feast ...

or rise up, resist
the huge many-headed hydra;
for the sake of your Loved Ones
decapitate medusa.



Loose Knit
by Michael R. Burch

She blesses the needle,
fetches fine red stitches,
criss-crossing, embroidering dreams
in the delicate fabric.

And if her hand jerks and twitches in puppet-like fits,
she tells herself
reality is not as threadbare as it seems ...
that a little more darning may gather loose seams.

She weaves an unraveling tapestry
of fatigue and remorse and pain; ...
only the nervously pecking needle
pricks her to motion, again and again.

Published by The Chariton Review



Medusa
by Michael R. Burch

Friends, beware
of her iniquitous hair:
long, ravenblack & melancholy.

Many suitors drowned there:
lost, unaware
of the length & extent of their folly.

Published in Grand Little Things



The Octopi Jars
by Michael R. Burch

Long-vacant eyes
now lodged in clear glass,
a-swim with pale arms
as delicate as angels'...

you are beyond all hope
of salvage now...
and yet I would pause,
no fear!,
to once touch
your arcane beaks...

I, more alien than you
to this imprismed world,
notice, most of all,
the scratches on the inside surfaces
of your hermetic cells ...

and I remember documentaries
of albino Houdinis
slipping like wraiths
over the walls of shipboard aquariums,
slipping down decks'
brine-lubricated planks,
spilling jubilantly into the dark sea,
parachuting through clouds of pallid ammonia...

and I know now in life you were unlike me:
your imprisonment was never voluntary.



Sonnet: Second Sight (II)
by Michael R. Burch

(Newborns see best at a distance of 8 to 14 inches.)

Wiser than we know, the newborn screams,
red-faced from breath, and wonders what life means
this close to death, amid the arctic glare
of warmthless lights above.
Beware! Beware!—
encrypted signals, codes? Or ciphers, noughts?

Interpretless, almost, as his own thoughts—
the brilliant lights, the brilliant lights exist.
Intruding faces ogle, gape, insist—
this madness, this soft-hissing breath, makes sense.
Why can he not float on, in dark suspense,
and dream of life? Why did they rip him out?

He frowns at them—small gnomish frowns, all doubt—
and with an ancient mien, O sorrowful!,
re-closes eyes that saw in darkness null
ecstatic sights, exceeding beautiful.



NOVELTIES
by Thomas Campion
loose translation by Michael R. Burch

Booksellers laud authors for novel editions
as pimps praise their whores for exotic positions.



Finally to Burn: the Fall and Resurrection of Icarus
by Michael R. Burch

Athena takes me
sometimes by the hand

and we go levitating
through strange Dreamlands

where Apollo sleeps
in his dark forgetting

and Passion seems
like a wise bloodletting

and all I remember
,upon awaking,

is: to Love sometimes
is like forsaking

one’s Being—to drift
heroically beyond thought,

forsaking the here
for the There and the Not.

*

O, finally to Burn,
gravity beyond escaping!

To plummet is Bliss
when the blisters breaking

rain down red scabs
on the earth’s mudpuddle ...

Feathers and wax
and the watchers huddle ...

Flocculent sheep,
O, and innocent lambs!,

I will rock me to sleep
on the waves’ iambs.

*

To Sleep, that is Bliss
in Love’s recursive Dream,

for the Night has Wings
pallid as moonbeams—

they will flit me to Life,
like a huge-eyed Phoenix

fluttering off
to quarry the Sphinx.

*

Riddlemethis,
riddlemethat,

Rynosseross,
throw out the Welcome Mat.

Quixotic, I seek Love
amid the tarnished

rusted-out steel
when to live is varnish.

To Dream—that’s the thing!
Aye, that Genie I’ll rub,

soak by the candle,
aflame in the tub.

*

Riddlemethis,
riddlemethat,

Rynosseross,
throw out the Welcome Mat.

Somewhither, somewhither
aglitter and strange,

we must moult off all knowledge
or perish caged.

*

I am reconciled to Life
somewhere beyond thought—

I’ll Live in the There,
I’ll Dream of the Naught.

Methinks it no journey;
to tarry’s a waste,

so fatten the oxen;
make a nice baste.

I’m coming, Fool Tom,
we have Somewhere to Go,

though we injure noone,
ourselves wildaglow.

Published by The Lyric and The Ekphrastic Review



Chit Chat: in the Poetry Chat Room
by Michael R. Burch

WHY SHULD I LERN TO SPELL?
HELL,
NO ONE REEDS WHAT I SAY
ANYWAY!!!

Sing for the cool night,
whispers of constellations.
Sing for the supple grass,
the tall grass, gently whispering.
Sing of infinities, multitudes,
of all that lies beyond us now,
whispers begetting whispers.
And i am glad to also whisper . . .

I WUS HURT IN LUV I’M DYIN’
FER TH’ TEARS I BEEN A-CRYIN’!!!

i abide beyond serenities
and realms of grace,
above love’s misdirected earth,
i lift my face.
i am beyond finding now . . .

I WAS IN, LOVE, AND HE SCREWED ME!!!
THE JERK!!! TOTALLY!!!

i loved her once, before, when i
was mortal too, and sometimes i
would listen and distinctly hear
her laughter from the juniper,
but did not go . . .

I JUST DON’T GET POETRY, SOMETIMES.
IT’S OKAY, I GUESS.
I REALLY DON’T READ THAT MUCH AT ALL,
I MUST CONFESS!!! ;-)

Travail, inherent to all flesh,
i do not know, nor how to feel,
although i sing them nighttimes still:
the bitter woes, that do not heal . . .

POETRY IS BORING!!!
SEE, IT SUCKS!!! I’M SNORING!!! ZZZZZZZ!!!

The words like breath, i find them here,
among the fragrant juniper,
and conifers amid the snow,
old loves imagined long ago . . .

WHY DON’T YOU LIKE MY PERFICKT WORDS
YOU USELESS UN-AMERIC’N TURDS?!!!

What use is love, to me, or Thou?
O Words, my awe, to fly so smooth
above the anguished hearts of men
to heights unknown, Thy bare remove . . .



Annual
by Michael R. Burch

Silence
steals upon a house
where one sits alone
in the shadow of the itinerant letterbox,
watching the disconnected telephone
collecting dust ...

hearing the desiccate whispers of voices’
dry flutters,—
moths’ wings
brittle as cellophane ...

Curled here,
reading the yellowing volumes of loss
by the front porch light
in the groaning swing . . .
through thin adhesive gloss
I caress your face.

Published by The HyperTexts



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.



The Board
by Michael R. Burch

Accessible rhyme is never good.
The penalty is understood:
soft titters from dark board rooms where
the businessmen paste on their hair
and, Walter Mitties, woo the Muse
with reprimands of Dr. Seuss.

The best book of the age sold two,
or three, or four (but not to you),
strange copies of the ones before,
misreadings that delight the board.
They sit and clap; their revenues
fall trillions short of Mother Goose.



we did not Dye in vain!
by Michael R. Burch

from “songs of the sea snails”

though i’m just a slimy crawler,
my lineage is proud:
my forebears gave their lives
(oh, let the trumps blare loud!)
so purple-mantled Royals
might stand out in a crowd.

i salute you, fellow loyals,
who labor without scruple
as your incomes fall
while deficits quadruple
to swaddle unjust Lords
in bright imperial purple!

In ancient times the purple dye produced from the secretions of purpura mollusks (sea snails) was known as “imperial purple.”



Circe
by Michael R. Burch

She spoke
and her words
were like a ringing echo dying
or like smoke
rising and drifting
while the earth below is spinning.

She awoke
with a cry
from a dream that had no ending,
without hope
or strength to rise,
into hopelessness descending.

And an ache
in her heart
toward that dream, retreating,
left a wake
of small waves
in circles never completing.



Come!
by Michael R. Burch

Will you come to visit my grave, I wonder,
in the season of lightning, the season of thunder,
when I have lain so long in the indifferent earth
that I have no girth?

When my womb has conformed to the chastity
your anemic Messiah envisioned for me,
will you finally be pleased that my sex was thus rendered
unpalatable, disengendered?

And when those strange loathsome organs that troubled you so
have been eaten by worms, will the heavens still glow
with the approval of God that I ended a maid—
thanks to a spade?

And will you come to visit my grave, I wonder,
in the season of lightning, the season of thunder?



The Not-So-Heroic Stoic, or, A la Cartesian

i think,
therefore i question
if, who and what i am.
―michael r. burch

i think,
therefore i guess
who the hell i am
on this hellish quest.
―michael r. burch

i think,
therefore i postulate:
Fate
ain’t so great.
―michael r. burch

i think,
therefore i am
confused
and unenthused.
―michael r. burch

i think,
therefore i am
not a fan
of THE MAN.
―michael r. burch

i think,
therefore i am
puzzled
addled
frazzled
befuddled.
―michael r. burch

i thunk
THEREFORE
i am sunk
...
like a frog
in a bog,
KERPLUNK!
―michael r. burch

The greatest philosophers are better known for their questions, doubts and mistakes than for what they actually knew. Thus lesser thinkers may want to avoid the hubris of certainty. ― Michael R. Burch



Final Lullaby
by Michael R. Burch

for my mother, Christine Ena Burch

Sleep peacefully—for now your suffering’s over.

Sleep peacefully—immune to all distress,
like pebbles unaware of raging waves.

Sleep peacefully—like fields of fragrant clover
unmoved by any motion of the wind.

Sleep peacefully—like clouds untouched by earthquakes.

Sleep peacefully—like stars that never blink
and have no thoughts at all, nor need to think.

Sleep peacefully—in your eternal vault,
immaculate, past perfect, without fault.



Sea Dreams
by Michael R. Burch

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

With restless waves
I've watched the days’
slow movements, as they hum
their antediluvian songs.
Sometimes I've sung along,
my voice as soft and low
as the sea's, while evening slowed
to waver at the dim
mysterious moonlit rim
of dreams no man has known.

In thoughtless flight,
I've scaled the heights
and soared a scudding breeze
over endless arcing seas
of waves ten miles high.
I've sheared the sable skies
on wings as soft as sighs
and stormed the sun-pricked pitch
of sunset’s scarlet-stitched,
ebullient dark demise.

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

It's almost nine
and I must be back home by ten,
and then . . . what then?

I have less than an hour to stroll this beach,
less than an hour old dreams to reach . . .
And then, what then?

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

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

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

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



Son
by Michael R. Burch

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

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

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



Dream House
by Michael R. Burch

I have come to the house of my fondest dreams,
but the shutters are boarded; the front door is locked;
the mail box leans over; and where we once walked,
the path is grown over with crabgrass and clover.

I kick the trash can; it screams, topples over.
The yard, weeded over, blooms white fluff, and green.
The elm we once swung from leans over the stream.
In the twilight I cling with both hands to the swing.

Inside, perhaps, I hear the telephone ring
or watch once again as the bleary-eyed mover
takes down your picture. Dejected, I hover,
asking over and over, “Why didn’t you love her?”



Love is her Belief and her Commandment
by Michael R. Burch

for Beth

Love is her belief and her commandment;
in restless dreams at night, she dreams of Love;
and Love is her desire and her purpose;
and everywhere she goes, she sings of Love.

There is a tomb in Palestine: for others
the chance to stake their claims (the Chosen Ones),
but in her eyes, it’s Love’s most hallowed chancel
where Love was resurrected, where one comes
in wondering awe to dream of resurrection
to blissful realms, where Love reigns over all
with tenderness, with infinite affection.

While some may mock her faith, still others wonder
because they see the rare state of her soul,
and there are rumors: when she prays the heavens
illume more brightly, as if saints concur
who keep a constant vigil over her.

And once she prayed beside a dying woman:
the heavens opened and the angels came
in the form of long-departed friends and loved ones,
to comfort and encourage. I believe
not in her God, but always in her Love.



Woeful Waffles
by Michael R. Burch

for and after Richard Thomas Moore

I think it’s woeful
and should be unlawful
to eat those awful
tofu waffles!



Options Underwater: The Song of the First Amphibian
by Michael R. Burch

“Evolution’s a Fishy Business!”

1.
Breathing underwater through antiquated gills,
I’m running out of options. I need to find fresh Air,
to seek some higher Purpose. No porpoise, I despair
to swim among anemones’ pink frills.

2.
My fins will make fine flippers, if only I can walk,
a little out of kilter, safe to the nearest rock’s
sweet, unmolested shelter. Each eye must grow a stalk,
to take in this green land on which it gawks.

3.
No predators have made it here, so I need not adapt.
Sun-sluggish, full, lethargic―I’ll take such nice long naps!

The highest form of life, that’s me! (Quite apt
to lie here chortling, calling fishes saps.)

4.
I woke to find life teeming all around―
mammals, insects, reptiles, loathsome birds.
And now I cringe at every sight and sound.
The water’s looking good! I look Absurd.

5.
The moral of my story’s this: don’t leap
wherever grass is greener. Backwards creep.
And never burn your bridges, till you’re sure
leapfrogging friends secures your Sinecure.

Originally published by Lighten Up Online

Keywords/Tags: amphibian, amphibians, evolution, gills, water, air, lungs, fins, flippers, fish, fishy business



a peom in supsport of a dsylexci peot
by michael r. burch, allso a peot
for ken d williams

pay no hede to the saynayers,
the asburd wordslayers,
the splayers and sprayers,
the heartless diecriers,
the liers!

what the hell due ur criticks no?
let them bellow below!

ur every peom has a good haert
and culd allso seerv as an ichart!

There are a number of puns, including ur (my term for original/ancient/first), no/know, pay/due, the critic as both absurd and an as(s)-burd who is he(artless), and the poet as the (seer)v of an (i)-chart for all. Here is an encoded version:

(pay) k(no)w hede to the say(nay)ers,
the as(s)bird word(s*)layers,
the s*(players) and s*(prayers),
the he(artless) (die)(cry)ers,
the (lie)rs!

what the hell (due) ur (cry)(ticks) k(no)w?
let them (be)l(low) below!

(ur) every peom has a good haert
and culd (all)so (seer)ve as an (i)chart!



Advice to Young Poets
by Nicanor Parra Sandoval
loose translation/interpretation by Michael R. Burch

Youngsters,
write however you will
in your preferred style.
Too much blood flowed under the bridge
for me to believe
there’s just one acceptable path.
In poetry everything’s permitted.

Originally published by Setu



The Shrinking Season
by Michael R. Burch

With every wearying year
the weight of the winter grows
and while the schoolgirl outgrows
her clothes,
the widow disappears
in hers.



Unlikely Mike
by Michael R. Burch

I married someone else’s fantasy;
she admired me despite my mutilations.

I loved her for her heart’s sake, and for mine.
I hid my face and changed its connotations.

And in the dark I danced—slight, Chaplinesque—
a metaphor myself. How could they know,

the undiscerning ones, that in the glow
of spotlights, sometimes love becomes burlesque?

Disfigured to my soul, I could not lose
or choose or name myself; I came to be

another of life’s odd dichotomies,
like Dickey’s Sheep Boy, Pan, or David Cruse:

as pale, as enigmatic. White, or black?
My color was a song, a changing track.



Untitled ur poems

since GOD created u so gullible
how did u conclude HE’s so lovable?
—Michael R. Burch

limping to the grave under the sentence of death,
should i praise ur LORD? think i’ll save my breath!
—Michael R. Burch



There’s a Stirring and Awakening in the World
by Michael R. Burch

There’s a stirring and awakening in the world,
and even so my spirit stirs within,
imagining some Power beckoning—
the Force which through the stamen gently whirrs,
unlocking tumblers deftly, even mine.

The grape grows wild-entangled on the vine,
and here, close by, the honeysuckle shines.
And of such life, at last there comes there comes the Wine.

And so it is with spirits’ fruitful yield—
the growth comes first, Green Vagrance, then the Bloom.

The world somehow must give the spirit room
to blossom, till its light shines—wild, revealed.

And then at last the earth receives its store
of blessings, as glad hearts cry—More! More! More!

Originally published by Borderless Journal



POEMS ABOUT POOL SHARKS

These are poems about pool sharks, gamblers, con artists and other sharks. I used to hustle pool on bar tables around Nashville, where I ran into many colorful characters, and a few unsavory ones, before I hung up my cue for good.

Shark
by Michael R. Burch

They are all unknowable,
these rough pale men—
haunting dim pool rooms like shadows,
propped up on bar stools like scarecrows,
nodding and sagging in the fraying light . . .

I am not of them,
as I glide among them—
eliding the amorphous camaraderie
they are as unlikely to spell as to feel,
camouflaged in my own pale dichotomy . . .

That there are women who love them defies belief—
with their missing teeth,
their hair in thin shocks
where here and there a gap of scalp gleams like bizarre chrome,
their smell rank as wet sawdust or mildewed laundry . . .

And yet—
and yet there is someone who loves me:
She sits by the telephone
in the lengthening shadows
and pregnant grief . . .

They appreciate skill at pool, not words.
They frown at massés,
at the cue ball’s contortions across green felt.
They hand me their hard-earned money with reluctant smiles.
A heart might melt at the thought of their children lying in squalor . . .
At night I dream of them in bed, toothless, kissing.
With me, it’s harder to say what is missing . . .



Fair Game
by Michael R. Burch

At the Tennessee State Fair,
the largest stuffed animals hang tilt-a-whirl over the pool tables
with mocking button eyes,
knowing the playing field is unlevel,
that the rails slant, ever so slightly, north or south,
so that gravity is always on their side,
conspiring to save their plush, extravagant hides
year after year.

“Come hither, come hither . . .”
they whisper; they leer
in collusion with the carnival barkers,
like a bevy of improbably-clad hookers
setting a “fair” price.
“Only five dollars a game, and it’s so much Fun!
And it’s not really gambling. Skill is involved!
You can make us come: really, you can.
Here are your balls. Just smack them around.”

But there’s a trick, and it usually works.
If you break softly so that no ball reaches a rail,
you can pick them off: One. Two. Three. Four.
Causing a small commotion,
a stir of whispering, like fear,
among the hippos and ostriches.



Con Artistry
by Michael R. Burch

The trick of life is like the sleight of hand
of gamblers holding deuces by the glow
of veiled back rooms, or aces; soon we’ll know
who folds, who stands . . .

The trick of life is like the pool shark’s shot—
the wild massé across green velvet felt
that leaves the winner loser. No, it’s not
the rack, the hand that’s dealt . . .

The trick of life is knowing that the odds
are never in one’s favor, that to win
is only to delay the acts of gods
who’d ante death for sin . . .

and death for goodness, death for in-between.
The rules have never changed; the artist knows
the oldest con is life; the chips he blows
can’t be redeemed.



Pool's Prince Charming
by Michael R. Burch

this is my tribute poem, written on the behalf of his fellow pool sharks, for the legendary Saint Louie Louie Roberts

Louie, Louie, Prince of Pool,
making all the ladies drool ...
Take the “nuts”? I'd be a fool!
Louie, Louie, Prince of Pool.

Louie, Louie, pretty as Elvis,
owner of (ahem) a similar pelvis ...
Compared to you, the books will shelve us.
Louie, Louie, pretty as Elvis.

Louie, Louie, fearless gambler,
ladies' man and constant rambler,
but such a sweet, loquacious ambler!
Louie, Louie, fearless gambler.

Louie, Louie, angelic, chthonic,
pool's charming hero, but tragic, Byronic,
winning the Open drinking gin and tonic?
Louie, Louie, angelic, chthonic.

I used poetic license about what Louie Roberts was or wasn't drinking at the 1981 U. S. Open Nine-Ball Championship. Was Louie drinking hard liquor as he came charging back through the losers' bracket to win the whole shebang? Or was he pretending to drink for gamesmanship or some other reason? I honestly don't know. As for the word “chthonic,” it’s pronounced “thonic” and means “subterranean” or “of the underworld.” And the pool world can be very dark indeed, as Louie’s tragic demise suggests. But everyone who knew Louie seemed to like him, if not love him dearly, and many sharks have spoken of Louie in glowing terms, as a bringer of light to that underworld.



My wife and I were having a drink at a neighborhood bar which has a pool table. A “money” game was about to start; a spectator got up to whisper something to a friend of ours who was about to play someone we hadn’t seen before. We couldn’t hear what was said. Then the newcomer broke—with such force that his stick flew straight up in the air and shattered the light dangling overhead. There was a moment of stunned silence, then our friend turned around and remarked: “He really does shoot the lights out, doesn’t he?” — Michael R. Burch



Rounds
by Michael R. Burch

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

Now agony still hounds me
though elsewhere mirth abounds;
hidebound I stand and try to think,
not sink still further down,
spellbound.

Their ecstasy astounds me,
though drunkenness compounds
resounding laughter into joy;
alloy such glee with beer and see
bliss found.

Originally published by Borderless Journal



The Drawer of Mermaids
by Michael R. Burch

This poem is dedicated to Alina Karimova, who was born with severely deformed legs and five fingers missing. Alina loves to draw mermaids and believes her fingers will eventually grow out.

Although I am only four years old,
they say that I have an old soul.
I must have been born long, long ago,
here, where the eerie mountains glow
at night, in the Urals.

A madman named Geiger has cursed these slopes;
now, shut in at night, the emphatic ticking
fills us with dread.
(Still, my momma hopes
that I will soon walk with my new legs.)

It’s not so much legs as the fingers I miss,
drawing the mermaids under the ledges.
(Observing, Papa will kiss me
in all his distracted joy;
but why does he cry?)

And there is a boy
who whispers my name.
Then I am not lame;
for I leap, and I follow.
(G’amma brings a wiseman who says

our infirmities are ours, not God’s,
that someday a beautiful Child
will return from the stars,
and then my new fingers will grow
if only I trust Him; and so

I am preparing to meet Him, to go,
should He care to receive me.)

Keywords/Tags: mermaid, mermaids, child, children, childhood, Urals, Ural Mountains, soul, soulmate, radiation



The Blobfish
by Michael R. Burch

You can call me a "blob"
with your oversized gob,
but what's your excuse,
great gargantuan Zeus
whose once-chiseled abs
are now marbleized flab?

But what really alarms me
(how I wish you'd abstain)
is when you start using
that oversized "brain."
Consider the planet! Refrain!



Poems about Fathers and Grandfathers



Ultimate Sunset
by Michael R. Burch

for my father, Paul Ray Burch, Jr.

he now faces the Ultimate Sunset,
his body like the leaves that fray as they dry,
shedding their vital fluids (who knows why?)
till they've become even lighter than the covering sky,
ready to fly...



Free Fall
by Michael R. Burch

for my father, Paul Ray Burch, Jr.

I see the longing for departure gleam
in his still-keen eye,
and I understand his desire
to test this last wind, like those late autumn leaves
with nothing left to cling to...



Sanctuary at Dawn
by Michael R. Burch

I have walked these thirteen miles
just to stand outside your door.
The rain has dogged my footsteps
for thirteen miles, for thirty years,
through the monsoon seasons...
and now my tears
have all been washed away.

Through thirteen miles of rain I slogged,
I stumbled and I climbed
rainslickened slopes
that led me home
to the hope that I might find
a life I lived before.

The door is wet; my cheeks are wet,
but not with rain or tears...
as I knock I sweat
and the raining seems
the rhythm of the years.

Now you stand outlined in the doorway
―a man as large as I left―
and with bated breath
I take a step
into the accusing light.

Your eyes are grayer
than I remembered;
your hair is grayer, too.
As the red rust runs
down the dripping drains,
our voices exclaim―

'My father! '
'My son! '



Sunset
by Michael R. Burch

for my Grandfather, George Edwin Hurt Sr.

Between the prophecies of morning
and twilight's revelations of wonder,
the sky is ripped asunder.

The moon lurks in the clouds,
waiting, as if to plunder
the dusk of its lilac iridescence,

and in the bright-tentacled sunset
we imagine a presence
full of the fury of lost innocence.

What we find within strange whorls of drifting flame,
brief patterns mauling winds deform and maim,
we recognize at once, but cannot name.



Sailing to My Grandfather
by Michael R. Burch

for my Grandfather, George Edwin Hurt Sr.

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 Benini.



Salat Days
by Michael R. Burch

for 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.'



All Things Galore
by Michael R. Burch

for my grandfathers George Edwin Hurt Sr. and Paul Ray Burch, Sr.

Grandfather,
now in your gray presence
you are

somehow more near

and remind me that,
once, upon a star,
you taught me

wish

that ululate soft phrase,
that hopeful phrase!

and everywhere above, each hopeful star
gleamed down
and seemed to speak of times before
when you clasped my small glad hand
in your wise paw

and taught me heaven, omen, meteor...



Attend Upon Them Still
by Michael R. Burch

for my grandparents George and Ena Hurt

With gentleness and fine and tender will,
attend upon them still;
thou art the grass.

Nor let men's feet here muddy as they pass
thy subtle undulations, nor depress
for long the comforts of thy lovingness,

nor let the fuse
of time wink out amid the violets.
They have their use―

to wave, to grow, to gleam, to lighten their paths,
to shine sweet, transient glories at their feet.
Thou art the grass;

make them complete.



Be that Rock
by Michael R. Burch

for my grandfather George Edwin Hurt Sr.

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

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

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

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



Of Civilization and Disenchantment
by Michael R. Burch

for Anais Vionet

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.



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.



My Touchstone
by Michael R. Burch

for my grandfather George Edwin Hurt Sr.

A man is known
by the life he lives
and those he leaves,

by each heart touched,
which, left behind,
forever grieves.



Joy in the Morning
by Michael R. Burch

for my grandparents George Edwin Hurt Sr. and Christine Ena Hurt

There will be joy in the morning
for now this long twilight is over
and their separation has ended.

For fourteen years, he had not seen her
whom he first befriended,
then courted and married.

Let there be joy, and no mourning,
for now in his arms she is carried
over a threshold vastly sweeter.

He never lost her; she only tarried
until he was able to meet her.

Keywords/Tags: George Edwin Hurt Christine Ena Spouse reunited heaven joy together forever



Poems about Mothers and Grandmothers



Dawn
by Michael R. Burch

for my grandmothers Lillian Lee and Christine Ena Hurt

Bring your peculiar strength
to the strange nightmarish fray:
wrap up your cherished ones
in the golden light of day.



Mother's Day Haiku
by Michael R. Burch

for my grandmothers Lillian Lee and Christine Ena Hurt

Crushed grapes
surrender such sweetness:
a mother’s compassion.

My footprints
so faint in the snow?
Ah yes, you lifted me.

An emu feather ...
still falling?
So quickly you rushed to my rescue.

The eagle sees farther
from its greater height:
our mothers' wisdom.



The Rose
by Michael R. Burch

for my grandmother, Lillian Lee, who used to grow the most beautiful roses

The rose is—
the ornament of the earth,
the glory of nature,
the archetype of the flowers,
the blush of the meadows,
a lightning flash of beauty.

This poem above is my translation of a Sappho epigram.



The Greatest of These ...
by Michael R. Burch

for my mother, Christine Ena Burch, and the grandmother of my son Jeremy

The hands that held me tremble.
The arms that lifted
fall.
Angelic flesh, now parchment,
is held together with gauze.

But her undimmed eyes still embrace me;
there infinity can be found.
I can almost believe such infinite love
will still reach me, underground.



Arisen
by Michael R. Burch

for my mother, Christine Ena Burch

Mother, I love you!
Mother, delightful,
articulate, insightful!

Angels in training,
watching over, would hover,
learning to love
from the Master: a Mother.

You learned all there was
for this planet to teach,
then extended your wings
to Love’s ultimate reach ...

And now you have soared
beyond eagles and condors
into distant elevations
only Phoenixes can conquer.

Amen


Victor Hugo "Love Stronger Than Time"
Translation by Michael Burch

Since I first set my lips to your full cup,
Since my pallid face first nested in your hands,
Since I sensed your soul and every bloom lit up—
Till those rare perfumes were lost to deepening sands;

Since I was once allowed those pleasures deep—
To hear your heart speak mysteries, divine;
Since I have seen you smile, have watched you weep,
Your lips pressed to my lips, your eyes on mine;

Since I have sensed above my thoughts the gleam
Of a ray, a single ray, of your bright star
(If sometimes veiled), and felt light falling stream,
Like one rose petal plucked from high, afar;

I now can say to time's swift-changing hours:
Pass, pass upon your way, for you grow old;
Flee to the dark abyss with your drear flowers,
but one unmarred within my heart I hold.

Your flapping wings may jar but cannot spill
The cup fulfilled of love, from which I drink;
My heart has fires your frosts can never chill,
My soul more love to fly than you can sink.



The Less-Than-Divine Results of My Prayers to be Saved from Televangelists
by Michael R. Burch

I’m old,
no longer bold,
just cold,
and (truth be told),
been bought and sold,
rolled
by the wolves and the lambs in the fold.

Who’s to be told
by this worn-out scold?
The complaint department is always on hold.



Come Spring
by Michael R. Burch

for the Religious Right

Come spring we return, innocent and hopeful, to the Virgin,
beseeching Her to bestow
Her blessings upon us.

Pitiable sinners, we bow before Her,
nay, grovel,
as She looms above us, aglow
in Her Purity.

We know
all will change in an instant; therefore
in the morning we will call her,
an untouched maiden no more,
“whore.”

The so-called Religious Right prizes virginity in women and damns them for doing what men do. I have long been a fan of women like Tallulah Bankhead, Marilyn Monroe and Mae West, who decided what’s good for the gander is equally good for the goose.

Published as the collection "State of the Art"
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