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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

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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.

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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).

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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.

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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?

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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!

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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."

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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!

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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!

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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!

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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."

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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 …

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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.

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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 ...

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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?

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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.

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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?

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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?”

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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)

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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)

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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

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Autumn Conundrum

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

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Piercing the Shell

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

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Epitaph for a Palestine child

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

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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."

— The End —