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Songstress
by Michael R. Burch

for Nadia Anjuman

Within its starkwhite ribcage, how the heart
must flutter wildly, O, and always sing
against the pressing darkness: all it knows
until at last it feels the numbing sting
of death. Then life’s brief vision swiftly passes,
imposing night on one who clearly saw.

Death held your bright heart tightly, till its maw—
envenomed, fanged—could swallow, whole, your Awe.

And yet it was not death so much as you
who sealed your doom; you could not help but sing
and not be silenced. Here, behold your tomb’s
white alabaster cage: pale, wretched thing!

But you’ll not be imprisoned here, wise wren!
Your words soar free; rise, sing, fly, live again

Keywords/Tags: Nadia Anjuman, Afghanistan, Afghani poet, poetess, death, martyr, hero, heroine, voice, freedom, equality, justice
Anjuman Deodhar Oct 2013
I gave her a book of poems
for her birthday.

And an eraser.

Not that the graphite words
were exceptionally poignant
but I felt that a gift
with a little something
scribbled on it
would be a bit more personal
than one that’s unblemished.

Even though the letters were destined
to be as fleeting
as those on sand,
even though the waves were the gentle
graceful strokes of her fingers,
even though it was a sanitisation
that could have easily been avoided
had she chosen me
over him,
I wrote them.

Because I knew that like scars
the tiny indentations would stay
and her beautiful fingertips
would feel them
if she ever chose
to run them over the page
while thinking of me.

If she’s ever thinking of me.

So I wrote with a pencil
and didn’t flinch
when my affection was reduced to
little grey globs of synthetic rubber.

“For my dearest       , Love Anjuman”
was all that I’d written, anyway.
Of Tetley's and V-2's
(or, “Why Not to Bomb the Brits”)
by Michael R. Burch

The English are very hospitable,
but tea-less, alas, they grow pitiable ...
or pitiless, rather,
and quite in a lather!
O bother, they're more than formidable!

Keywords/Tags: limerick, light verse, nonsense verse, humor, humorous, England, English, Tetley, tea, milk, crumpets, scones, war, bomb, bombs, V-2, rocket, missile, missiles, formidable, Britain, Brits, defense, military



This World's Joy
(anonymous Middle English lyric)
loose translation by Michael R. Burch

Winter awakens all my care
as leafless trees grow bare.
For now my sighs are fraught
when it enters my thought:
regarding this world's joy,
how everything comes to naught.



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

. . . qui laetificat juventutem meam . . .
She was the joy of my youth,
and now she is gone.
. . . requiescat in pace . . .
May she rest in peace.
. . . amen . . .
Amen.

I was touched by this Latin prayer, which I discovered in a novel I read as a teenager. I later decided to incorporate it into a poem. From what I now understand, “ad deum qui laetificat juventutem meam” means “to the God who gives joy to my youth,” but I am sticking with my original interpretation: a lament for a little girl at her funeral. The phrase can be traced back to Saint Jerome's translation of Psalm 42 in the Vulgate Latin Bible (circa 385 AD).



How Long the Night
anonymous Middle English lyric, circa early 13th century AD
loose translation/interpretation by Michael R. Burch

It is pleasant, indeed, while the summer lasts
with the mild pheasants' song ...
but now I feel the northern wind's blast,
its severe weather strong.
Alas! Alas! This night seems so long!
And I, because of my momentous wrong
now grieve, mourn and fast.



Fowles in the Frith
anonymous Middle English lyric, circa 13th-14th century AD
loose translation/interpretation by Michael R. Burch

The fowls in the forest,
the fishes in the flood
and I must go mad:
such sorrow I've had
for beasts of bone and blood!

Sounds like an early animal rights activist! The use of "and" is intriguing ... is the poet saying that his walks in the wood drive him mad because he is also a "beast of bone and blood," facing a similar fate?



I am of Ireland
anonymous Medieval Irish lyric, circa 13th-14th century AD
loose translation/interpretation by Michael R. Burch

I am of Ireland,
and of the holy realm of Ireland.
Gentlefolk, I pray thee:
for the sake of saintly charity,
come dance with me
in Ireland!



Whan the turuf is thy tour
(anonymous Middle English lyric, circa the 13th century AD)
loose translation/interpretation by Michael R. Burch

1.
When the turf is your tower
and the pit is your bower,
your pale white skin and throat
shall be sullen worms’ to note.
What help to you, then,
was all your worldly hope?

2.
When the turf is your tower
and the grave is your bower,
your pale white throat and skin
worm-eaten from within ...
what hope of my help then?

NOTE: The second translation leans more to the "lover's complaint" and carpe diem genres, with the poet pointing out to his prospective lover that by denying him her favors she make take her virtue to the grave where worms will end her virginity in macabre fashion. This poem may be an ancient precursor of poems like Andrew Marvell's "To His Coy Mistress."



Ech day me comëth tydinges thre
anonymous Middle English lyric, circa the 13th to 14th century AD
loose translation/interpretation by Michael R. Burch

Each day I’m plagued by three doles,
These gargantuan weights on my soul:
First, that I must somehow exit this fen.
Second, that I cannot know when.
And yet it’s the third that torments me so,
Because I don't know where the hell I will go!



Ich have y-don al myn youth
anonymous Middle English lyric, circa the 13th to 14th century AD
loose translation/interpretation by Michael R. Burch

I have done it all my youth:
Often, often, and often!
I have loved long and yearned zealously ...
And oh what grief it has brought me!



I Sing of a Maiden
anonymous Medieval English Lyric, circa early 15th century AD
loose translation/interpretation by Michael R. Burch

I sing of a maiden
That is matchless.
The King of all Kings
For her son she chose.
He came also as still
To his mother's breast
As April dew
Falling on the grass.
He came also as still
To his mother's bower
As April dew
Falling on the flower.
He came also as still
To where his mother lay
As April dew
Falling on the spray.
Mother and maiden?
Never one, but she!
Well may such a lady
God's mother be!



Enigma
by Michael R. Burch

O, terrible angel,
bright lover and avenger,
full of whimsical light
and vile anger;
wild stranger,
seeking the solace of night,
or the danger;
pale foreigner,
alien to man, or savior ...

Who are you,
seeking consolation and passion
in the same breath,
screaming for pleasure, bereft
of all articles of faith,
finding life
harsher than death?

Grieving angel,
giving more than taking,
how lucky the man
who has found in your love,
this, our reclamation;

fallen wren,
you must strive to fly
though your heart is shaken;

weary pilgrim,
you must not give up
though your feet are aching;

lonely child,
lie here still in my arms;
you must soon be waking.



Floating
by Michael R. Burch

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

bright waves throw back your reflection at me.

This is one of my more surreal poems, as the sea and lover become one. I believe I wrote this one at age 19. It has been published by Penny Dreadful, Romantics Quarterly, Boston Poetry Magazine and Poetry Life & Times. The poem may have had a different title when it was originally published, but it escapes me ... ah, yes, "Entanglements."



Shock
by Michael R. Burch

It was early in the morning of the forming of my soul,
in the dawning of desire, with passion at first bloom,
with lightning splitting heaven to thunder's blasting roll
and a sense of welling fire and, perhaps, impending doom—

that I cried out through the tumult of the raging storm on high
for shelter from the chaos of the restless, driving rain ...
and the voice I heard replying from a rift of bleeding sky
was mine, I'm sure, and, furthermore, was certainly insane.



The Sky Was Turning Blue
by Michael R. Burch

Yesterday I saw you
as the snow flurries died,
spent winds becalmed.
When I saw your solemn face
alone in the crowd,
I felt my heart, so long embalmed,
begin to beat aloud.

Was it another winter,
another day like this?
Was it so long ago?
Where you the rose-cheeked girl
who slapped my face, then stole a kiss?
Was the sky this gray with snow,
my heart so all a-whirl?

How is it in one moment
it was twenty years ago,
lost worlds remade anew?
When your eyes met mine, I knew
you felt it too, as though
we heard the robin's song
and the sky was turning blue.



The Children of Gaza

Nine of my poems have been set to music by the composer Eduard de Boer and have been performed in Europe by the Palestinian soprano Dima Bawab. My poems that became “The Children of Gaza” were written from the perspective of Palestinian children and their mothers. On this page the poems come first, followed by the song lyrics, which have been adapted in places to fit the music …



Epitaph for a Child of Gaza
by Michael R. Burch

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



Frail Envelope of Flesh
by Michael R. Burch

for the mothers and children of Gaza

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

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

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



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

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

Where does the butterfly go?

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

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



I Pray Tonight
by Michael R. Burch

for the children of Gaza and their mothers

I pray tonight
the starry Light
might
surround you.

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

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



Something
by Michael R. Burch

for the mothers and children of Gaza

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

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

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



Mother’s Smile
by Michael R. Burch

for the mothers of Gaza and their children

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

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

There never was a stronger back
than father’s back, that held our weight
and lifted us, when we were small,
and bore us till we reached the gate,

then held our hands that first bright mile
till we could run, and did, and flew.
But, oh, a mother’s tender smile
will leap and follow after you!



Such Tenderness
by Michael R. Burch

for the mothers of Gaza

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

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

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

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



who, US?
by Michael R. Burch

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

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

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

“who’s to blame?”



My nightmare ...

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



I, too, have a dream ...

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



Suffer the Little Children
by Nakba

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

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

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

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

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



Autumn Conundrum

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



Piercing the Shell

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



Epitaph for a Palestine child

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



Children of Gaza Lyrics

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

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

I. Prologue:

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

II. The Raid

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

III. For God’s Sake, I'm only a Child

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

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

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

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

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

IV. King of the World

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

V. Mother’s Smile

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

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

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

VI. In the Shelter

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

VII. Frail Envelope of Flesh

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

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

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

VIII. Among the Angels

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

IX. Epilogue: I have a dream

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

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

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

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



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."



Reflections on the Loss of Vision
by Michael R. Burch

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

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

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

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



Solicitation
by Michael R. Burch

He comes to me out of the shadows, acknowledging
my presence with a tip of his hat, always the gentleman,
and his eyes are on my eyes like a snake’s on a bird’s—
quizzical, mesmerizing.

He ***** his head as though something he heard intrigues him
(although I hear nothing) and he smiles, amusing himself at my expense;
his words are full of desire and loathing, and although I hear,
he says nothing that I understand.

The moon shines—maniacal, queer—as he takes my hand and whispers
"Our time has come!" ... and so we stroll together along the docks
where the sea sends things that wriggle and crawl
scurrying under rocks and boards.

Moonlight in great floods washes his pale face as he stares unseeing
into my eyes. He sighs, and the sound crawls slithering down my spine,
and my blood seems to pause at his touch as he caresses my face.
He unfastens my dress till the white lace shows, and my neck is bared.

His teeth are long, yellow and hard. His face is bearded and haggard.
A wolf howls in the distance. There are no wolves in New York. I gasp.
My blood is a trickle his wet tongue embraces. My heart races madly.
He likes it like that.

Published by Dowton Abbey, Aesthetically Pleasing Vampires, Into the Unknown, Since Halloween is Coming, and Poetry Life & Times



Songstress
by Michael R. Burch

for Nadia Anjuman

Within its starkwhite ribcage, how the heart
must flutter wildly, O, and always sing
against the pressing darkness: all it knows
until at last it feels the numbing sting
of death. Then life's brief vision swiftly passes,
imposing night on one who clearly saw.
Death held your bright heart tightly, till its maw–
envenomed, fanged–could swallow, whole, your Awe.
And yet it was not death so much as you
who sealed your doom; you could not help but sing
and not be silenced. Here, behold your tomb's
white alabaster cage: pale, wretched thing!
But you'll not be imprisoned here, wise wren!
Your words soar free; rise, sing, fly, live again.

A poet like Nadia Anjuman can be likened to a caged bird, deprived of flight, who somehow finds it within herself to sing of love and beauty. But when the world robs her of both flight and song, what is left for her but to leave, bereaving it and us of herself and her song?



Southern Icarus
by Michael R. Burch

Windborne, lover of heights,
unspooled from the truck’s wildly lurching embrace,
you climb, skittish kite . . .

What do you know of the world’s despair,
gliding in vast  solitariness  there,
so that all that remains is to
fall?

Only a little longer the wind invests its sighs;
you
stall,
spread-eagled, as the canvas snaps
and *****
its white rebellious wings,
and all
the houses watch with baffled eyes.

Published by Poetry Porch and The Chained Muse



Published as the collection "Of Tetley's and V-2's"
JAMIL HUSSAIN Nov 2017
Meri Zeest Pur Mussarat
Kabhi Thi, Naa Hai, Naa Hogi

Koi Behtarin Surat
Kabhi Thi, Naa Hai, Naa Hogi

Upon my existence, happiness
Never was, will not nor ever be

One perfect image
Never was, will not nor ever be

Mujhe Husn Ne Sataya
Mujhe Ishq Ne Mitaya
Kisi Aur Ki Ye Halat
Kabhi Thi, Naa Hai, Naa Hogi

Mein Yeh Jaante Huay Bhi
Teri Anjuman Mein Aaya
Ke Tujhe Meri Zarurat
Kabhi Thi, Naa Hai, Naa Hogi

Beauty has made me suffer
Love has caused me to fade
This state of any other
Never was, will not nor ever be

Knowing this
I came to your gathering
That for you, my need
Never was, will not nor ever be

Jo Gila Kiya Hai Tumse*
Jo Samaj Ke Tumko Apna
Mujhe Gair Se Shikayat
Kabhi Thi, Naa Hai, Naa Hogi

Ye Karam Hai Doston Ka
Jo Woh Keh Rahe Hai Sab Se
Ke Naseer Par Inaayat
Kabhi Thi, Naa Hai, Naa Hogi

Those sorrows shared with you
Were with a belief that you are a part of me
Complaint to a stranger
Never was, will not nor ever be

This grace is from friends, who say to all
That upon *Naseer, favour
Never was, will not nor ever be

✒ Translated by ℐamil Hussain , *Poet, Peer Naseer Uddin Naseer, Sung by Nusrat Fateh Ali Khan
Sonnets

For this collection I have used the original definition of "sonnet" as a "little song" rather than sticking to rigid formulas. The sonnets here include traditional sonnets, tetrameter sonnets, hexameter sonnets, curtal sonnets, 15-line sonnets, and some that probably defy categorization, which I call free verse sonnets for want of a better term. Most of these sonnets employ meter, rhyme and form and tend to be Romantic in the spirit of the Romanticism of Blake, Keats, Shelley, Wordsworth and Dylan Thomas.




Auschwitz Rose
by Michael R. Burch

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

On Auschwitz now the reddening sunset settles;
they sleep alike―diminutive and tall,
the innocent, the "surgeons." Sleeping, all.

Red oxides of her blood, bright crimson petals,
if accidents of coloration, gall my heart no less.
Amid thick weeds and muck
there lies a rose man's crackling lightning struck:
the only Rose I ever longed to pluck.
Soon I'll bed there and bid the world "Good Luck."

Originally published by The Neovictorian/Cochlea



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 The Eclectic Muse and in The Best of the Eclectic Muse 1989-2003



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 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 ***** 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



For All That I Remembered
by Michael R. Burch

For all that I remembered, I forgot
her name, her face, the reason that we loved ...
and yet I hold her close within my thought.
I feel the burnished weight of auburn hair
that fell across her face, the apricot
clean scent of her shampoo, the way she glowed
so palely in the moonlight, angel-wan.

The memory of her gathers like a flood
and bears me to that night, that only night,
when she and I were one, and if I could ...
I'd reach to her this time and, smiling, brush
the hair out of her eyes, and hold intact
each feature, each impression. Love is such
a threadbare sort of magic, it is gone
before we recognize it. I would crush
my lips to hers to hold their memory,
if not more tightly, less elusively.

Originally published by The Raintown Review



Leaf Fall
by Michael R. Burch

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

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

Originally published by The Neovictorian/Cochlea



Isolde's Song
by Michael R. Burch

Through our long years of dreaming to be one
we grew toward an enigmatic light
that gently warmed our tendrils. Was it sun?
We had no eyes to tell; we loved despite
the lack of all sensation―all but one:
we felt the night's deep chill, the air so bright
at dawn we quivered limply, overcome.

To touch was all we knew, and how to bask.
We knew to touch; we grew to touch; we felt
spring's urgency, midsummer's heat, fall's lash,
wild winter's ice and thaw and fervent melt.
We felt returning light and could not ask
its meaning, or if something was withheld
more glorious. To touch seemed life's great task.

At last the petal of me learned: unfold.
And you were there, surrounding me. We touched.
The curious golden pollens! Ah, we touched,
and learned to cling and, finally, to hold.

Originally published by The Raintown Review



See
by Michael R. Burch

See how her hair has thinned: it doesn't seem
like hair at all, but like the airy moult
of emus who outraced the wind and left
soft plumage in their wake. See how her eyes
are gentler now; see how each wrinkle laughs,
and deepens on itself, as though mirth took
some comfort there and burrowed deeply in,
outlasting winter. See how very thin
her features are―that time has made more spare,
so that each bone shows, elegant and rare.

For loveliness remains in her grave eyes,
and courage in her still-delighted looks:
each face presented like a picture book's.
Bemused, she blows us undismayed goodbyes.

Originally published by Writer's Digest's: The Year's Best Writing 2003



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 in Songs of Innocence, Romantics Quarterly and Poetry Life & Times. This is a sonnet I wrote for my favorite college English teacher, George King, about poetic kinship, brotherhood and romantic flights of fancy.



The Toast
by Michael R. Burch

For longings warmed by tepid suns
(brief lusts that animated clay),
for passions wilted at the bud
and skies grown desolate and gray,
for stars that fell from tinseled heights
and mountains bleak and scarred and lone,
for seas reflecting distant suns
and weeds that thrive where seeds were sown,
for waltzes ending in a hush,
for rhymes that fade as pages close,
for flames' exhausted, drifting ash,
and petals falling from the rose, ...
I raise my cup before I drink,
saluting ghosts of loves long dead,
and silently propose a toast―
to joys set free, and those I fled.



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.

(bookmark XXIV)



Archaischer Torso Apollos (“Archaic Torso of Apollo”)
by Rainer Maria Rilke
loose translation/interpretation by Michael R. Burch

We cannot know the beheaded god
nor his eyes' forfeited visions. But still
the figure's trunk glows with the strange vitality
of a lamp lit from within, while his composed will
emanates dynamism. Otherwise
the firmly muscled abdomen could not beguile us,
nor the centering ***** make us smile
at the thought of their generative animus.
Otherwise the stone might seem deficient,
unworthy of the broad shoulders, of the groin
projecting procreation's triangular spearhead upwards,
unworthy of the living impulse blazing wildly within
like an inchoate star―demanding our belief.
You must change your life.

TRANSLATOR'S NOTE: This is a Rilke sonnet about a major resolution: changing the very nature of one's life. While it is only my personal interpretation of the poem above, I believe Rilke was saying to himself: "I must change my life." Why? Perhaps because he wanted to be a real artist, and when confronted with real, dynamic, living and breathing art of Rodin, he realized that he had to inject similar vitality, energy and muscularity into his poetry. Michelangelo said that he saw the angel in a block of marble, then freed it. Perhaps Rilke had to find the dynamic image of Apollo, the God of Poetry, in his materials, which were paper, ink and his imagination.―Michael R. Burch



Komm, Du (“Come, You”)
by Ranier Maria Rilke
loose translation/interpretation by Michael R. Burch

This was Rilke’s last poem, written ten days before his death. He died open-eyed in the arms of his doctor on December 29, 1926, in the Valmont Sanatorium, of leukemia and its complications. I had a friend who died of leukemia and he was burning up with fever in the end. I believe that is what Rilke was describing here: he was literally burning alive.

Come, you―the last one I acknowledge; return―
incurable pain searing this physical mesh.
As I burned in the spirit once, so now I burn
with you; meanwhile, you consume my flesh.

This wood that long resisted your embrace
now nourishes you; I surrender to your fury
as my gentleness mutates to hellish rage―
uncaged, wild, primal, mindless, outré.

Completely free, no longer future’s pawn,
I clambered up this crazy pyre of pain,
certain I’d never return―my heart’s reserves gone―
to become death’s nameless victim, purged by flame.

Now all I ever was must be denied.
I left my memories of my past elsewhere.
That life―my former life―remains outside.
Inside, I’m lost. Nobody knows me here.



Der Panther ("The Panther")
by Rainer Maria Rilke
loose translation/interpretation by Michael R. Burch

His weary vision's so overwhelmed by iron bars,
his exhausted eyes see only blank Oblivion.
His world is not our world. It has no stars.
No light. Ten thousand bars. Nothing beyond.
Lithe, swinging with a rhythmic easy stride,
he circles, his small orbit tightening,
an electron losing power. Paralyzed,
soon regal Will stands stunned, an abject thing.
Only at times the pupils' curtains rise
silently, and then an image enters,
descends through arrested shoulders, plunges, centers
somewhere within his empty heart, and dies.



Liebes-Lied (“Love Song”)
by Rainer Maria Rilke
loose translation/interpretation by Michael R. Burch

How can I withhold my soul so that it doesn’t touch yours?
How can I lift mine gently to higher things, alone?
Oh, I would gladly find something lost in the dark
in that inert space that fails to resonate until you vibrate.
There everything that moves us, draws us together like a bow
enticing two taut strings to sing together with a simultaneous voice.
Whose instrument are we becoming together?
Whose, the hands that excite us?
Ah, sweet song!



Sweet Rose of Virtue
by William Dunbar [1460-1525]
loose translation by Michael R. Burch

Sweet rose of virtue and of gentleness,
delightful lily of youthful wantonness,
richest in bounty and in beauty clear
and in every virtue that is held most dear―
except only that you are merciless.

Into your garden, today, I followed you;
there I saw flowers of freshest hue,
both white and red, delightful to see,
and wholesome herbs, waving resplendently―
yet everywhere, no odor but bitter rue.

I fear that March with his last arctic blast
has slain my fair rose of pallid and gentle cast,
whose piteous death does my heart such pain
that, if I could, I would compose her roots again―
so comforting her bowering leaves have been.



Ebb Tide
by Michael R. Burch

Massive, gray, these leaden waves
bear their unchanging burden―
the sameness of each day to day

while the wind seems to struggle to say
something half-submerged planks at the mouth of the bay
might nuzzle limp seaweed to understand.

Now collapsing dull waves drain away
from the unenticing land;
shrieking gulls shadow fish through salt spray―
whitish streaks on a fogged silver mirror.

Sizzling lightning impresses its brand.
Unseen fingers scribble something in the wet sand.

This is a free verse sonnet originally published by Southwest Review.



Water and Gold
by Michael R. Burch

You came to me as rain breaks on the desert
when every flower springs to life at once,
but joy's a wan illusion to the expert:
the Bedouin has learned how not to want.

You came to me as riches to a miser
when all is gold, or so his heart believes,
until he dies much thinner and much wiser,
his gleaming bones hauled off by chortling thieves.

You gave your heart too soon, too dear, too vastly;
I could not take it in; it was too much.
I pledged to meet your price, but promised rashly.
I died of thirst, of your bright Midas touch.

I dreamed you gave me water of your lips,
then sealed my tomb with golden hieroglyphs.

Originally published by The Lyric



The City Is a Garment
by Michael R. Burch

A rhinestone skein, a jeweled brocade of light,―
the city is a garment stretched so thin
her festive colors bleed into the night,
and everywhere bright seams, unraveling,

cascade their brilliant contents out like coins
on motorways and esplanades; bead cars
come tumbling down long highways; at her groin
a railtrack like a zipper flashes sparks;

her hills are haired with brush like cashmere wool
and from their cleavage winking lights enlarge
and travel, slender fingers ... softly pull
themselves into the semblance of a barge.

When night becomes too chill, she softly dons
great overcoats of warmest-colored dawn.

Originally published by The Lyric



The Folly of Wisdom
by Michael R. Burch

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

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

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

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

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

This is a free verse sonnet originally published by Romantics Quarterly.



The Communion of Sighs
by Michael R. Burch

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

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

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

This is one of my early free verse sonnets but I can’t remember exactly when I wrote it. Due to the romantic style, I believe it was probably written during my first two years in college, making me 18 or 19 at the time.



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).

This is a free verse sonnet originally published by Light Quarterly.



Free Fall
by Michael R. Burch

These cloudless nights, the sky becomes a wheel
where suns revolve around an axle star ...
Look there, and choose. Decide which moon is yours.
Sink Lethe-ward, held only by a heel.

Advantage. Disadvantage. Who can tell?
To see is not to know, but you can feel
the tug sometimes―the gravity, the shell
as lustrous as damp pearl. You sink, you reel

toward some draining revelation. Air―
too thin to grasp, to breath. Such pressure. Gasp.
The stars invert, electric, everywhere.
And so we fall, down-tumbling through night’s fissure ...

two beings pale, intent to fall forever
around each other―fumbling at love’s tether ...
now separate, now distant, now together.

This is a 15-line free verse sonnet originally published by Sonnet Scroll.



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 ******* 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



At Once
by Michael R. Burch

for Beth

Though she was fair,
though she sent me the epistle of her love at once
and inscribed therein love’s antique prayer,
I did not love her at once.

Though she would dare
pain’s pale, clinging shadows, to approach me at once,
the dark, haggard keeper of the lair,
I did not love her at once.

Though she would share
the all of her being, to heal me at once,
yet more than her touch I was unable bear.
I did not love her at once.

And yet she would care,
and pour out her essence ...
and yet―there was more!

I awoke from long darkness,
and yet―she was there.

I loved her the longer;
I loved her the more
because I did not love her at once.

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.

Originally published by The Lyric



Moments
by Michael R. Burch

There were moments full of promise,
like the petal-scented rainfall of early spring,
when to hold you in my arms and to kiss your willing lips
seemed everything.

There are moments strangely empty
full of pale unearthly twilight―how the cold stars stare!―
when to be without you is a dark enchantment
the night and I share.



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



Distances
by Michael R. Burch

Moonbeams on water―
the reflected light
of a halcyon star
now drowning in night ...
So your memories are.

Footprints on beaches
now flooding with water;
the small, broken ribcage
of some primitive slaughter ...
So near, yet so far.

NOTE: In the first stanza the "halcyon star" is the sun, which has dropped below the horizon and is thus "drowning in night." But its light strikes the moon, creating moonbeams which are reflected by the water. Sometimes memories seem that distant, that faint, that elusive. Footprints are being washed away, a heart is missing from its ribcage, and even things close at hand can seem infinitely beyond our reach.



A Surfeit of Light
by Michael R. Burch

There was always a surfeit of light in your presence.
You stood distinctly apart, not of the humdrum world―
a chariot of gold in a procession of plywood.

We were all pioneers of the modern expedient race,
raising the ante: Home Depot to Lowe’s.
Yours was an antique grace―Thrace’s or Mesopotamia’s.

We were never quite sure of your silver allure,
of your trillium-and-platinum diadem,
of your utter lack of flatware-like utility.

You told us that night―your wound would not scar.

The black moment passed, then you were no more.
The darker the sky, how much brighter the Star!

The day of your funeral, I ripped out the crown mold.
You were this fool’s gold.



Songstress
by Michael R. Burch

for Nadia Anjuman

Within its starkwhite ribcage, how the heart
must flutter wildly, O, and always sing
against the pressing darkness: all it knows
until at last it feels the numbing sting
of death. Then life's brief vision swiftly passes,
imposing night on one who clearly saw.
Death held your bright heart tightly, till its maw―
envenomed, fanged―could swallow, whole, your Awe.

And yet it was not death so much as you
who sealed your doom; you could not help but sing
and not be silenced. Here, behold your tomb's
white alabaster cage: pale, wretched thing!
But you'll not be imprisoned here, wise wren!
Your words soar free; rise, sing, fly, live again.

A poet like Nadia Anjuman can be likened to a caged bird, deprived of flight, who somehow finds it within herself to sing of love and beauty. But when the world finally robs her of both flight and song, what is left for her but to leave the world, thus bereaving the world of herself and her song?



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
now brittle and brown
as fierce northern gales sever.

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

NOTE: I dedicated this poem to Harold Bloom after reading his introduction to the Best American Poetry anthology he edited. Bloom seemed intent on claiming poetry as the province of the uber-reader (i.e., himself), but I remember reading poems by Blake, Burns, cummings, Dickinson, Frost, Housman, Eliot, Pound, Shakespeare, Whitman, Yeats, et al, and grokking them as a boy, without any “advanced” instruction from anyone.



Such Tenderness
by Michael R. Burch

for the mothers of Gaza and loving, compassionate mothers everywhere

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

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

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

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



In this Ordinary Swoon
by Michael R. Burch

In this ordinary swoon
as I pass from life to death,
I feel no heat from the cold, pale moon;
I feel no sympathy for breath.

Who I am and why I came,
I do not know; nor does it matter.
The end of every man’s the same
and every god’s as mad as a hatter.

I do not fear the letting go;
I only fear the clinging on
to hope when there’s no hope, although
I lift my face to the blazing sun

and feel the greater intensity
of the wilder inferno within me.

This is a mostly tetrameter sonnet with shorter and longer lines.


Mare Clausum
by Michael R. Burch

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

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

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

why it is named:
Mare Clausum.

This is a free verse sonnet with shorter and longer lines, originally published by Penny Dreadful. Mare Clausum is Latin for "Closed Sea." I wrote the first version of this poem as a teenager.



Redolence
by Michael R. Burch

Now darkness ponds upon the violet hills;
cicadas sing; the tall elms gently sway;
and night bends near, a deepening shade of gray;
the bass concerto of a bullfrog fills
what silence there once was; globed searchlights play.

Green hanging ferns adorn dark window sills,
all drooping fronds, awaiting morning’s flares;
mosquitoes whine; the lissome moth again
flits like a veiled oud-dancer, and endures
the fumblings of night’s enervate gray rain.

And now the pact of night is made complete;
the air is fresh and cool, washed of the grime
of the city’s ashen breath; and, for a time,
the fragrance of her clings, obscure and sweet.

Published by The Eclectic Muse and The Best of the Eclectic Muse 1989-2003



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.

Originally published by Romantics Quarterly



Pan
by Michael R. Burch

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

Originally published by Sonnet Scroll



The Endeavors of Lips
by Michael R. Burch

How sweet the endeavors of lips: to speak
of the heights of those pleasures which left us weak
in love’s strangely lit beds, where the cold springs creak:
for there is no illusion like love ...

Grown childlike, we wish for those storied days,
for those bright sprays of flowers, those primrosed ways
that curled to the towers of Yesterdays
where She braided illusions of love ...

"O, let down your hair!"―we might call and call,
to the dark-slatted window, the moonlit wall ...
but our love is a shadow; we watch it crawl
like a spidery illusion. For love ...

was never as real as that first kiss seemed
when we read by the flashlight and dreamed.

Originally published by Romantics Quarterly (USA) and The Eclectic Muse (Canada)



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
****** her to motion, again and again.

This is a free verse sonnet published by The Chariton Review as “The Knitter,” then by Penumbra, Black Bear Review and Triplopia.



If You Come to San Miguel
by Michael R. Burch

If you come to San Miguel
before the orchids fall,
we might stroll through lengthening shadows
those deserted streets
where love first bloomed ...

You might buy the same cheap musk
from that mud-spattered stall
where with furtive eyes the vendor
watched his fragrant wares
perfume your ******* ...

Where lean men mend tattered nets,
disgruntled sea gulls chide;
we might find that cafetucho
where through grimy panes
sunset implodes ...

Where tall cranes spin canvassed loads,
the strange anhingas glide.
Green brine laps splintered moorings,
rusted iron chains grind,
weighed and anchored in the past,

held fast by luminescent tides ...
Should you come to San Miguel?
Let love decide.



A Vain Word
by Michael R. Burch

Oleanders at dawn preen extravagant whorls
as I read in leaves’ Sanskrit brief moments remaining
till sunset implodes, till the moon strands grey pearls
under moss-stubbled oaks, full of whispers, complaining
to the minions of autumn, how swiftly life goes
as I fled before love ... Now, through leaves trodden black,
shivering, I wander as winter’s first throes
of cool listless snow drench my cheeks, back and neck.

I discerned in one season all eternities of grief,
the specter of death sprawled out under the rose,
the last consequence of faith in the flight of one leaf,
the incontinence of age, as life’s bright torrent slows.

O, where are you now?―I was timid, absurd.
I would find comfort again in a vain word.

Published by Chrysanthemum and Tucumcari Literary Review



Chloe
by Michael R. Burch

There were skies onyx at night ... moons by day ...
lakes pale as her eyes ... breathless winds
******* tall elms; ... she would say
that we loved, but I figured we’d sinned.

Soon impatiens too fiery to stay
sagged; the crocus bells drooped, golden-limned;
things of brightness, rinsed out, ran to gray ...
all the light of that world softly dimmed.

Where our feet were inclined, we would stray;
there were paths where dead weeds stood untrimmed,
distant mountains that loomed in our way,
thunder booming down valleys dark-hymned.

What I found, I found lost in her face
while yielding all my virtue to her grace.

Originally published by Romantics Quarterly as “A Dying Fall”



Aflutter
by Michael R. Burch

This rainbow is the token of the covenant, which I have established between me and all flesh.―Yahweh

You are gentle now, and in your failing hour
how like the child you were, you seem again,
and smile as sadly as the girl (age ten?)
who held the sparrow with the mangled wing
close to her heart. It marveled at your power
but would not mend. And so the world renews
old vows it seemed to make: false promises
spring whispers, as if nothing perishes
that does not resurrect to wilder hues
like rainbows’ eerie pacts we apprehend
but cannot fail to keep. Now in your eyes
I see the end of life that only dies
and does not care for bright, translucent lies.
Are tears so precious? These few, let us spend
together, as before, then lay to rest
these sparrows’ hearts aflutter at each breast.

This is a poem about a couple committing suicide together. The “eerie pact” refers to a Bible verse about the rainbow being a “covenant,” when the only covenant human beings can depend on is the original one that condemned us to suffer and die. That covenant is always kept perfectly.



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 (Euripides, Bacchae; Apollodorus 3.5.2; Ovid, Metamorphoses 3.511-733; Hyginus, Fabulae 184). 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



Flight 93
by Michael R. Burch

I held the switch in trembling fingers, asked
why existence felt so small, so purposeless,
like a minnow wriggling feebly in my grasp ...

vibrations of huge engines thrummed my arms
as, glistening with sweat, I nudged the switch
to OFF ... I heard the klaxon-shrill alarms

like vultures’ shriekings ... earthward, in a stall ...
we floated ... earthward ... wings outstretched, aghast
like Icarus ... as through the void we fell ...

till nothing was so beautiful, so blue ...
so vivid as that moment ... and I held
an image of your face, and dreamed I flew

into your arms. The earth rushed up. I knew
such comfort, in that moment, loving you.

This is a free verse sonnet originally published by The Lyric.



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.

This is a mostly hexameter sonnet with shorter and longer lines.



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.



Afterglow
by Michael R. Burch

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.



These Hallowed Halls
by Michael R. Burch

a young Romantic Poet mourns the passing of an age . . .

A final stereo fades into silence
and now there is seldom a murmur
to trouble the slumber of these ancient halls.
I stand by a window where others have watched
the passage of time alone, not untouched,
and I am as they were―unsure, for the days
stretch out ahead, a bewildering maze.
Ah, faithless lover―that I had never touched your breast,
nor felt the stirrings of my heart,
which until that moment had peacefully slept.
For now I have known the exhilaration
of a heart that has leapt every pinnacle of Love,
and the result of all such infatuations―
the long freefall to earth, as the moon glides above.



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 *** 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 *****?

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



Erin
by Michael R. Burch

All that’s left of Ireland is her hair―
bright carrot―and her milkmaid-pallid skin,

her brilliant air of cavalier despair,
her train of children―some conceived in sin,

the others to avoid it. For nowhere
is evidence of thought. Devout, pale, thin,
gay, nonchalant, all radiance. So fair!

How can men look upon her and not spin
like wobbly buoys churned by her skirt’s brisk air?
They buy. They ***** to pat her nyloned shin,
to share her elevated, pale Despair ...
to find at last two spirits ease no one’s.

All that’s left of Ireland is the Care,
her impish grin, green eyes like leprechauns’.



The Composition of Shadows
by Michael R. Burch

“I made it out of a mouthful of air.”―W. B. Yeats

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.



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.



The First Christmas
by Michael R. Burch

’Twas in a land so long ago . . .
the lambs lay blanketed in snow
and little children everywhere
sat and watched warm embers glow
and dreamed (of what, we do not know).

And THEN―a star appeared on high,
The brightest man had ever seen!
It made the children whisper low
in puzzled awe (what did it mean?).
It made the wooly lambkins cry.

For far away a new-born lay,
warm-blanketed in straw and hay,
a lowly manger for his crib.
The cattle mooed, distraught and low,
to see the child. They did not know

it now was Christmas day!

This is a poem in which I tried to capture the mystery and magic of the first Christmas day. If you like my poem, you are welcome to share it, but please cite me as the author, which you can do by including the title and subheading.



The Lingering and the Unconsoled Heart
by Michael R. Burch

There is a silence―
the last unspoken moment
before death,

when the moon,
cratered and broken,
is all madness and light,

when the breath comes low and complaining,
and the heart is a ruin
of emptiness and night.

There is a grief―
the grief of a lover's embrace
while faith still shimmers in a mother’s tears ...

There is no emptier time, nor place,
while the faint glimmer of life is ours
that the lingering and the unconsoled heart fears

beyond this: seeing its own stricken face
in eyes that drift toward some incomprehensible place.



Lozenge
by Michael R. Burch

When I was closest to love, it did not seem
real at all, but a thing of such tenuous sweetness
it might dissolve in my mouth
like a lozenge of sugar.

When I held you in my arms, I did not feel
our lack of completeness,
knowing how easy it was
for us to cling to each other.

And there were nights when the clouds
sped across the moon’s face,
exposing such rarified brightness
we did not witness

so much as embrace
love’s human appearance.

This is a free verse sonnet originally published by The HyperTexts.



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.



Album
by Michael R. Burch

I caress them―trapped in brittle cellophane―
and I see how young they were, and how unwise;
and I remember their first flight―an old prop plane,
their blissful arc through alien blue skies ...

And I touch them here through leaves which―tattered, frayed―
are also wings, but wings that never flew:
like insects’ wings―pinned, held. Here, time delayed,
their features never changed, remaining two ...

And Grief, which lurked unseen beyond the lens
or in shadows where It crept on feral claws
as It scratched Its way into their hearts, depends
on sorrows such as theirs, and works Its jaws ...

and slavers for Its meat―those young, unwise,
who naively dare to dream, yet fail to see
how, lumbering sunward, Hope, ungainly, flies,
clutching to Her ruffled breast what must not be.



Because You Came to Me
by Michael R. Burch

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

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

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



Break Time
by Michael R. Burch

for those who lost loved ones on 9-11

Intrude upon my grief; sit; take a spot
of milk to cloud the blackness that you feel;
add artificial sweeteners to conceal
the bitter aftertaste of loss. You’ll heal
if I do not. The coffee’s hot. You speak:
of bundt cakes, polls, the price of eggs. You glance
twice at your watch, cough, look at me askance.
The TV drones oeuvres of high romance
in syncopated lip-synch. Should I feel
the underbelly of Love’s warm Ideal,
its fuzzy-wuzzy tummy, and not reel
toward some dark conclusion? Disappear
to pale, dissolving atoms. Were you here?
I brush you off: like saccharine, like a tear.



911 Carousel
by Michael R. Burch

“And what rough beast ... slouches towards Bethlehem to be born?”―W. B. Yeats

They laugh and do not comprehend, nor ask
which way the wind is blowing, no, nor why
the reeling azure fixture of the sky
grows pale with ash, and whispers “Holocaust.”

They think to seize the ring, life’s tinfoil prize,
and, breathless with endeavor, shriek aloud.
The voice of terror thunders from a cloud
that darkens over children adult-wise,

far less inclined to error, when a step
in any wrong direction is to fall
a JDAM short of heaven. Decoys call,
their voices plangent, honking to be shot . . .

Here, childish dreams and nightmares whirl, collide,
as East and West, on slouching beasts, they ride.



At Cædmon’s Grave
by Michael R. Burch

“Cædmon’s Hymn,” composed at the Monastery of Whitby (a North Yorkshire fishing village), is one of the oldest known poems written in the English language, dating back to around 680 A.D. According to legend, Cædmon, an illiterate Anglo-Saxon cowherd, received the gift of poetic composition from an angel; he subsequently founded a school of Christian poets. Unfortunately, only nine lines of Cædmon’s verse survive, in the writings of the Venerable Bede. Whitby, tiny as it is, reappears later in the history of English literature, having been visited, in diametric contrast, by Lewis Carroll and Bram Stoker’s ghoulish yet evocative Dracula.


At the monastery of Whitby,
on a day when the sun sank through the sea,
and the gulls shrieked wildly, jubilant, free,

while the wind and time blew all around,
I paced those dusk-enamored grounds
and thought I heard the steps resound

of Carroll, Stoker and good Bede
who walked there, too, their spirits freed
―perhaps by God, perhaps by need―

to write, and with each line, remember
the glorious light of Cædmon’s ember,
scorched tongues of flame words still engender.

Here, as darkness falls, at last we meet.
I lay this pale garland of words at his feet.

Originally published by The Lyric



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.



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.

Published by The HyperTexts, Dracula and His Kin and Sonnetto Poesia (Canada)



Happily Never After (the Second Curse of the ***** 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.



Because She Craved the Very Best
by Michael R. Burch

Because she craved the very best,
he took her East, he took her West;
he took her where there were no wars
and brought her bright bouquets of stars,
the blush and fragrances of roses,
the hush an evening sky imposes,
moonbeams pale and garlands rare,
and golden combs to match her hair,
a nightingale to sing all night,
white wings, to let her soul take flight ...

She stabbed him with a poisoned sting
and as he lay there dying,
she screamed, "I wanted everything!"
and started crying.



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



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



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.



Day, and Night
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.



130 Refuted
by Michael R. Burch

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

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

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

Bright roses’ brief affairs, declared
when winter comes, will wither quickly.
Your cheeks, though paler when compared
with them?―more lasting, never prickly.

And your cheeks, though wan, so dear and warm,
far vaster treasures, need no thorns.

Originally published by Romantics Quarterly



Love Sonnet LXVI
by Pablo Neruda
loose translation/interpretation by Michael R. Burch

I love you only because I love you;
I am torn between loving and not loving you,
between apathy and desire.
My heart vacillates between ice and fire.

I love you only because you’re the one I love;
I hate you deeply, but hatred makes me implore you all the more
so that in my inconstancy
I do not see you, but love you blindly.

Perhaps January’s frigid light
will consume my heart with its cruel rays,
robbing me of the key to contentment.

In this tragic plot, I ****** myself
and I will die loveless because I love you,
because I love you, my Love, in fire and in blood.



Love Sonnet XI
by Pablo Neruda
loose translation/interpretation by Michael R. Burch

I crave your mouth, your voice, your hair.
I stalk the streets, silent and starving.
Bread does not satisfy me; dawn does not divert me
from my relentless pursuit of your fluid spoor.

I long for your liquid laughter,
for your sunburned hands like savage harvests.
I lust for your fingernails' pale marbles.
I want to devour your ******* like almonds, whole.

I want to ingest the sunbeams singed by your beauty,
to eat the aquiline nose from your aloof face,
to lick your eyelashes' flickering shade.

I pursue you, snuffing the shadows,
seeking your heart's scorching heat
like a puma prowling the heights of Quitratue.



Love Sonnet XVII
by Pablo Neruda
loose translation/interpretation by Michael R. Burch

I do not love you like coral or topaz,
or the blazing hearth’s incandescent white flame;
I love you as obscure things are embraced in the dark ...
secretly, in shadows, unguessed & unnamed.

I love you like shrubs that refuse to blossom
while pregnant with the radiance of mysterious flowers;
now, thanks to your love, an earthy fragrance
lives dimly in my body’s odors.

I love you without knowing―how, when, why or where;
I love you forthrightly, without complications or care;
I love you this way because I know no other.

Here, where “I” no longer exists ... so it seems ...
so close that your hand on my chest is my own,
so close that your eyes close gently on my dreams.



Sonnet XLV
by Pablo Neruda
loose translation/interpretation by Michael R. Burch

Don't wander far away, not even for a day, because―
how can I explain? A day is too long ...
and I’ll be waiting for you, like a man in an empty station
where the trains all stand motionless.

Don't leave me, my dear, not even for an hour, because―
then despair’s raindrops will all run blurrily together,
and the smoke that drifts lazily in search of a home
will descend hazily on me, suffocating my heart.

Darling, may your lovely silhouette never dissolve in the surf;
may your lashes never flutter at an indecipherable distance.
Please don't leave me for a second, my dearest,

because then you'll have gone far too far
and I'll wander aimlessly, amazed, asking all the earth:
Will she ever return? Will she spurn me, dying?



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 ******* limply, screams and screams.

Originally published by Sonnet Scroll



Mayflies
by Michael R. Burch

These standing stones have stood the test of time
but who are you
and what are you
and why?

As brief as mist, as transient, as pale ...
Inconsequential mayfly!

Perhaps the thought of love inspired hope?
Do midges love? Do stars bend down to see?
Do gods commend the kindnesses of ants
to aphids? Does one eel impress the sea?

Are mayflies missed by mountains? Do the stars
regret the glowworm’s stellar mimicry
the day it dies? Does not the world grind on
as if it’s no great matter, not to be?

Life, to be sure, is nothing much to lose.
And yet somehow you’re everything to me.

Originally published by Clementine Unbound



Artificial Smile
by Michael R. Burch

I’m waiting for my artificial teeth
to stretch belief, to hollow out the cob
of zealous righteousness, to grasp life’s stub
between clenched molars, and yank out the grief.

Mine must be art-official―zenlike Art―
a disembodied, white-enameled grin
of Cheshire manufacture. Part by part,
the human smile becomes mock porcelain.

Till in the end, the smile alone remains:
titanium-based alloys undestroyed
with graves’ worm-eaten contents, all the pains
of bridgework unrecalled, and what annoyed

us most about the corpses rectified
to quaintest dust. The Smile winks, deified.



Modern Appetite
by Michael R. Burch

It grumbled low, insisting it would feast
on blood and flesh, etcetera, at least
three times a day. With soft lubricious grease

and pale salacious oils, it would ease
its way through life. Each day―an aperitif.
Each night―a frothy bromide, for relief.

It lived on TV fare, wore pinafores,
slurped sugar-coated gumballs, gobbled S’mores.
When gas ensued, it burped and farted. ’Course,

it thought aloud, my wife will leave me. ******
are not so **** particular. Divorce
is certainly a settlement, toujours!

A Tums a day will keep the shrink away,
recalcify old bones, keep gas at bay.
If Simon says, etcetera, Mother, may
I have my hit of calcium today?


Mother of Cowards
by Michael R. Burch aka "The Loyal Opposition"

So unlike the brazen giant of Greek fame
With conquering limbs astride from land to land,
Spread-eagled, showering gold, a strumpet stands:
A much-used trollop with a torch, whose flame
Has long since been extinguished. And her name?
"Mother of Cowards!" From her enervate hand
Soft ash descends. Her furtive eyes demand
Allegiance to her ****'s repulsive game.

"Keep, ancient lands, your wretched poor!" cries she
With scarlet lips. "Give me your hale, your whole,
Your huddled tycoons, yearning to be pleased!
The wretched refuse of your toilet hole?
Oh, never send one unwashed child to me!
I await Trump's pleasure by the gilded bowl!"

Originally published by Light



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 unembraceable lover.

They walk to their cars and they laugh as they go,
though we know their warm 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 gently 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.



Your e-Verse
by Michael R. Burch

for the posters and posers on www.fillintheblank.com

I cannot understand a word you’ve said
(and this despite an adequate I.Q.);
it must be some exotic new haiku
combined with Latin suddenly undead.

It must be hieroglyphics mixed with Greek.
Have Pound and T. S. Eliot been cloned?
Perhaps you wrote it on the ***, so ******
you spelled it backwards, just to be oblique.

I think you’re very funny, so, “Yuk! Yuk!”
I know you must be kidding; didn’t we
write crap like this and call it “poetry,”
a form of verbal exercise, P.E.,
in kindergarten, when we ran “amuck?”

Oh, sorry, I forgot to “make it new.”
Perhaps I still can learn a thing or two
from someone tres original, like you.



http://www.firesermon.com
by Michael R. Burch

your gods have become e-vegetation;
your saints―pale thumbnail icons; to enlarge
their images, right-click; it isn’t hard
to populate your web-site; not to mention
cool sound effects are nice; Sound Blaster cards
can liven up dull sermons, [zing some fire];
your drives need added Zip; you must discard
your balky paternosters: ***!!! Desire!!!
these are the watchwords, catholic; you must
as Yahoo! did, employ a little lust :)
if you want great e-commerce; hire a bard
to spruce up ancient language, shed the dust
of centuries of sameness; lameness *****;
your gods grew blurred; go 3D; scale; adjust.

Published by: Ironwood, Triplopia and Nisqually Delta Review

This poem pokes fun at various stages of religion, all tied however elliptically to T. S. Eliot's "Fire Sermon: (1) The Celts believed that the health of the land was tied to the health of its king. The Fisher King's land was in peril because he had a physical infirmity. One bad harvest and it was the king's fault for displeasing the gods. A religious icon (the Grail) could somehow rescue him. Strange logic! (2) The next stage brings us the saints, the Catholic church, etc. Millions are slaughtered, tortured and enslaved in the name of religion. Strange logic! (3) The next stage brings us to Darwin, modernism and "The Waste Land.” Religion is dead. God is dead. Man is a glorified fungus! We'll evolve into something better adapted to life on Earth, someday, if we don’t destroy it. But billions continue to believe in and worship ancient “gods.” Strange logic! (4) The current stage of religion is summed up by this e-mail: the only way religion can compete today is as a form of flashy entertainment. ***** a website before it's too late. Hire some **** supermodels and put the evangelists on the Internet!



The State of the Art (?)
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?

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



Alien Nation
by Michael R. Burch

for J. S. S., 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.



Keywords/Tags: sonnet, sonnets, meter, rhythm, music, musical, rhyme, form, formal verse, formalist, tradition, traditional, romantic, romanticism, rose, fire, passion, desire, love, heart, number, numbers, mrbson

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