The HyperTexts

Michael R. Burch: Early Poems Timeline/Chronology with Influences and Analysis

On this page I have put my early poems into a Timeline and have noted their influences and graded them as follows:

(*) One star is nothing to get excited about, although possibly still better than most poems from its age group.
(**) Two stars is "pretty darn good" for the age at which it was written.
(***) Three stars is one of the better poems of my early period.
(****) Four stars is a poem that I still think highly of today, and am very proud to have written in my youth. Editors and composers seem to agree, as all my four-star poems have published by literary journals and three have been set to music by composers.

I am proud of the fact that 39 poems I wrote in my teens have been published by literary journals and that seven of my teenage poems have been set to music by composers and/or translated into other languages:

• "Smoke" (age 14) translated into Romanian and published by Petru Dimofte in Poezii
• "Will There Be Starlight" (age 18) set to music by David Hamilton
• "Moon Lake" (age 18) set to music by David Hamilton
• "Styx" (age 18) set to music by Ekaterina Steppe aka Kotik Ptic and translated by Petru Dimofte in Poezii
• "Frail Envelope of Flesh"(age 18) set to music by Eduard de Boer and translated into Arabic by Nizar Sartawi and Italian by Mario Riglic
• "The Last Enchantment" (age 18) has been published in a Martins Garden musical interpretation
• "Something" (age 18) translated into Romanian and published by Petru Dimofte in Poezii
• "Earthbound" (age 20) set to music by Cedomir Stanojevic of About Lorca, a Serbian band
• "Lay Down Your Arms" (age 21) is being set to music by Eduardo Agni

Publications in Literary Journals by the ages at which poems were written (the numbers are cumulative) with the most notable poems identified:

• Age 11-13: one poem ("Bible Libel")
• Age 14: four poems (adding "Smoke," "Leave Taking" and "Playmates")
• Age 15: six poems (adding "Sex 101" and "Burn, Ovid")
• Age 16: ten poems ("An Illusion," "Observance/Reckoning," "Keep Up" and "Elegy for a little girl, lost")
• Age 17: thirteen poems ("Listen" and "Davenport Tomorrow")
• Age 18: twenty-eight poems ("Infinity," "Styx," "Will There Be Starlight," "Myth," "Moon Lake," "The Last Enchantment" and "Heaven Bent")
• Age 19: thirty-nine poems ("Something," "In the Whispering Night" and "Poetry")

I think most teenage poets would have trouble matching the 22 notable poems listed above. Notable poems that I had written by age 22 include:

• Age 20: forty-nine poems ("The Toast," "Floating/Entanglements," "Mare Clausum," "The Leveler," "Earthbound," "Regret," "The Communion of Sighs," "Step Into Starlight" and "Frail Envelope of Flesh")
• Age 21: fifty-three poems ("Resurrecting Passion," "Lay Down Your Arms," "Winter," "Sappho's Lullaby" and "Premonition")
• Age 22: fifty-seven poems ("Desdemona," "Childhood's End" and "Fairest Diana")

Other artistic uses of my early poems include:

• "Something" (age 19) was turned into a YouTube video by Lillian Y. Wong
• "Something" (age 19) was performed in a YouTube reading by Jasper Sole
• David Bellemare Gosselin has done YouTube readings of "Righteous" (age 18), "Something" (age 19), "In the Whispering Night" (age 19), "R.I.P." (age 19), "Resurrecting Passion" (age 21) and "Insurrection" (age 22)

Early poems of mine have been translated into Italian, Romanian, Turkish, and Vietnamese, and published by literary journals which include The Lyric, Romantics Quarterly, The New Lyre, The Chained Muse, The Eclectic Muse (Canada), Setu (India), Borderless Journal (Singapore), Potcake Chapbooks (UK), Contemporary Rhyme, Better Than Starbucks, Nebo, Blue Unicorn, The Raintown Review, Piedmont Literary Review, Penny Dreadful, Songs of Innocence, The Neovictorian/Cochlea, Sonetto Poesia (Canada) and Trinacria.

Some of my memories about composition dates are a bit hazy, but there are strong foundations for the dating of many of these poems: (1) A number of these poems were published in my high school journal, the Lantern. Most of those poems were written prior to my senior year in high school, since they were submitted well in advance of the journal's publication my senior year. Some of the poems appeared in a high school poetry project booklet that I still possess. (3) Other poems were published in my college journal Homespun. (4) A good number of the poems appeared in a manuscript I put together for the Yale Series of Younger Poets contest after my sophomore year of college. All poems that appeared in one or more of these collections were substantially complete by age 20 and most were written in my teens. Also, I have vivid memories of writing some of the poems, especially the better ones. But in some cases I have had to make educated guesses.

Why did I do it? Why did I bother to become a poet? Perhaps out of a desire to leave something when I’m gone: a trail of bread crumbs leading back to a being named Michael R. Burch.

I have also created an alternate timeline in which I have tried to put my poems in as close to chronological order as possible, without regard to poem quality.

PUBLICATION KEY

(*P) appeared in "Poems" typed notebook, circa 1973-1974, age 14-16.
(*L) published in my high school literary journal, the Lantern, in 1976, most written age 14-17.
(*H77) published in my college literary journal Homespun in 1977, age 18-19.
(*H78) published in my college literary journal Homespun in 1978, age 19-20.
(*MS) poetry chapbook manuscript created 1978, age 20, but most of the poems were written in my teens.
(*H79) published in my college literary journal Homespun in 1979, age 20-21.
(*LJ) published in professional literary journals where the competition for space can be quite intense.
(*WS) written as a song.

Poems marked with the following tags were, without a doubt, written and substantially complete by the following ages: *P (14-16), *L (17-18), *H77 (18-19), *H78 (19-20), *MS (19-20), *H79 (20-21). The publications establish "no later than" markers.



1969-1973 age 11-15 pre-teen and early teens

The first poem I remember writing, sometime between age 11 and 13, is "Bible Libel."

(**) Bible Libel, circa age 11-13, *LJ(7) [#1], published by multiple online literary journals
by Michael R. Burch

If God
is good
half the Bible
is libel.

I read the Bible from cover to cover at age 11, at the suggestion of my devout Christian parents. But I was more of a doubting Thomas. The so-called "word of God" left me aghast. How could anyone possibly claim the biblical god Yahweh/Jehovah was good, wise, loving, or just? I came up with this epigram to express my conclusions. I never submitted the poem for formal publication, to my recollection, but I have used it in online discussions, so it is "out there." And other people seem to like it enough to cut and paste it, a LOT. At one time, according to Google results, the poem had gone viral and appeared on over 78K web pages! Those seem like pretty good results for a preteen poem. "Bible Libel" has been published online by Boloji (India), Nexus Myanmar (Burma), Kalemati (Iran), Pride Magazine (Nigeria), Brief Poems, Formal Verse, Idle Hearts, AZquotes (in its Top 17 Very Witty Quotes), Quote Master, and numerous other quote websites.

The first poems I wrote deliberately as poems, with the goal of becoming a poet, were "Happiness" and "Playmates." So I have often referred to them as my first and second poems. But "Bible Libel" came first, although I have always considered it more of an epigram than a poem.

Primary influences on "Bible Libel" include the King James Bible and the direct statement poems of A. E. Housman, who was highly critical of the Bible and the Christian religion it spawned.

(*) Happiness, circa age 13

Happiness is like a bubble,
What's fine now will soon be trouble...

"Happiness" was my first attempt at a longish poem. I don't count it in my rankings because it's not a very good poem, but I think I did show a good ear for meter from the very beginning.

(***) Smoke, circa age 14, *H77, *LJ(4) [#2], published by multiple literary journals
by Michael R. Burch

The hazy, smoke-filled skies of summer I remember well;
farewell was on my mind, and the thoughts that I can't tell
rang bells within (the din was in) my mind, and I can't say
if what we had was good or bad, or where it is today.
The endless days of summer's haze I still recall today;
she spoke and smoky skies stood still as summer slipped away ...

"Smoke" appeared in my high school journal, the Lantern, in 1976. It also appeared in my college literary journal, Homespun, in 1977. It has since been published by The Eclectic Muse (Canada), Fullosia Press and Better Than Starbucks, and translated into Romanian and published by Petru Dimofte. I had The Summer of '42 in mind when I wrote the poem. Ironically, I didn't see the movie until many years later (too young for an R-rated movie according to my parents), but something about its advertisement touched me. Am I the only poet who wrote a love poem for Jennifer O'Neil after seeing her fleeting image in a blurb? At least in that respect, I may be unique! In any case, the movie came out in 1971 or 1972, so I was probably around 14 when I wrote the poem. I think it's interesting that I was able to write a "rhyme rich" poem at such a young age. In six lines the poem has 26 rhymes and near rhymes: smoke-spoke-smoky, well-farewell-tell-bells-still-recall-still, summer-remember-summer-summer, within-din-in, say-today-days-haze-today-away, had-good-bad. There is another, somewhat longer, version of this poem later on this page, along with two other poems I wrote about the movie that touched me so strangely, long before I watched it. The other poems are addressed to Hermie, the movie's teenage protagonist who might have been my nebbish twin, or doppelganger. I wrote the other poems after seeing the movie as an adult, many years later. On an interesting note, one of my "youngest poems" was published by one of England's oldest publishing houses, Sampson Low, in the Lost Love issue of its Potcake Chapbooks series, edited by Robin Helweg-Larsen and illustrated by Alban Low.

"Smoke" was influenced by ads for The Summer of '42, by the musical poems of Edgar Allan Poe and Alfred Tennyson, and by the song "Smoke Gets in Your Eyes" by the Platters.

(*) Gone, circa age 14
by Michael R. Burch

Tonight, it is dark
and the stars do not shine.

A man who is gone
was a good friend of mine.

We were friends.

And the sky was the strangest shade of orange on gold
when I awoke to find him gone ...

"Gone" is actually gone, destroyed in a moment of frustration along with other poems I have not been able to recreate from memory. At some point, probably in late 1972 or early 1973, I destroyed all the poems I had written, out of frustration. I was able to recreate some of the poems from memory, but not all. "Gone" is the poem that haunts me the most. I have resurrected a few lines, but the rest appear to be gone completely. Another poem I regret destroying was titled "The Seven Stairs" and was inspired by one of my favorite rock songs, "Stairway to Heaven."

The westerns of Zane Grey were the primary inspiration for and influence on "Gone."

(****) Leave Taking, circa age 14-15, *MS *LJ(5) [#4] published by The Lyric
by Michael R. Burch

Brilliant leaves abandon battered limbs
to waltz upon ecstatic winds
until they die.

But the barren and embittered trees,
lament the frolic of the leaves
and curse the bleak November sky ...

Now, as I watch the leaves' high flight
before the fading autumn light,
I think that, perhaps, at last I may

have learned what it means to say—
goodbye.

Several of my early poems were about aging, loss and death. Young poets can be so morbid! As with "Death/Styx" this poem is the parings of a longer poem. Most of my poems end up being sonnet-length or shorter. I think the sounds here are pretty good for a young poet "testing his wings." This poem started out as a stanza in a much longer poem, "Jessamyn's Song," that dates to around age 14-16. "Leave Taking" has been published by The Lyric, Mindful of Poetry, Silver Stork Magazine and There is Something in the Autumn (an anthology). The longer version appears later on this page.

"Leave Taking" was influenced by the sadder poems of John Keats and Percy Bysshe Shelley.

(**) Playmates, circa age 13-14, *P, *LJ [#3] published by The Lyric
by Michael R. Burch

WHEN you were my playmate and I was yours,
we spent endless hours with simple toys,
and the sorrows and cares of our indentured days
were uncomprehended ... far, far away ...
for the temptations and trials we had yet to face
were lost in the shadows of an unventured maze.

Then simple pleasures were easy to find
and if they cost us a little, we didn't mind;
for even a penny in a pocket back then
was one penny too many, a penny to spend.

Then feelings were feelings and love was just love,
not a strange, complex mystery to be understood;
while "sin" and "damnation" meant little to us,
since forbidden cookies were our only lusts!

Then we never worried about what we had,
and we were both sure—what was good, what was bad.
And we sometimes quarreled, but we didn't hate;
we seldom gave thought to the uncertainties of fate.

Hell, we seldom thought about the next day,
when tomorrow seemed hidden—adventures away.
Though sometimes we dreamed of adventures past,
and wondered, at times, why things couldn't last.

Still, we never worried about getting by,
and we didn't know that we were to die ...
when we spent endless hours with simple toys,
and I was your playmate, and we were boys.

This is probably the poem that "made" me, because my high school English teacher, Anne Meyers, called it "beautiful" and I took that to mean I was surely the Second Coming of Percy Bysshe Shelley! "Happiness" was my first longish poem and "Playmates" was the second, at least as far as I can remember. I had written some shorter epigrams and puns, such as "Bible Libel," around the same time or a bit earlier, but at that time I wasn't really thinking of myself as a poet. "Happiness" and "Playmates" were the first important poems I wrote after deciding to become a poet. There were intervening minor poems, but they were lost forever when I destroyed all my work in frustration at my lack of progress. Fortunately, I was able to recover my better poems from memory, other than "Gone" and "The Seven Stairs."

"Playmates" was originally published by The Lyric.

The novel Little Women was an influence on "Playmates."

(*) Playthings
by Michael R. Burch

a sequel to “Playmates”

There was a time, as though a long-forgotten dream remembered,
when you and I were playmates and the days were long;
then we were pirates stealing plaits of daisies
from trembling maidens fearing men so strong . . .

Our world was like an unplucked Rose unfolding,
and you and I were busy, then, as bees;
the nectar that we drank, it made us giddy;
each petal within reach seemed ours to seize . . .

But you were more the doer, I the dreamer,
so I wrote poems and dreamed a noble cause;
while you were linking logs, I met old Merlin
and took a dizzy ride to faery Oz . . .

But then you put aside all "silly" playthings;
with sunburned hands you built, from bricks and stone,
tall buildings, then a life, and then you married.
Now my fantasies, again, are all my own.

This is a companion poem to "Playmates." However, I believe “Playthings” was written several years later, in my late teens, around 1977. According to my notes, I revised the poem in 1991, then again in 2020.

By age 14, I had written four poems that would later be published by literary journals: "Bible Libel," "Smoke," "Leave Taking" and "Playmates."

(**) Have I been too long at the fair?, circa age 15, *L
by Michael R. Burch

Have I been too long at the fair?
The summer has faded,
the leaves have turned brown;
the Ferris wheel teeters ...
not up, yet not down.
Have I been too long at the fair?

This is one of my very earliest poems, written around age 15 when we were living with my grandfather in his house on Chilton Street, within walking distance of the Nashville fairgrounds. That was before my sophomore year of high school. I remember walking to the fairgrounds, stopping at a Dairy Queen along the way, and swimming at a public pool. But I believe the Ferris wheel only operated during the state fair. So my “educated guess” is that this poem was written during the 1973 state fair, or shortly thereafter. I remember watching people hanging suspended in mid-air, waiting for carnies to deposit them safely on terra firma again. In any case, this poem was published in my high school literary journal, the Lantern.

I believe A. E. Housman may have been an influence here.

(**) Am I, circa age 14-15, *P
by Michael R. Burch

Am I inconsequential;
do I matter not at all?
Am I just a snowflake,
to sparkle, then to fall?

Am I only chaff?
Of what use am I?
Am I just a flame,
to flicker, then to die?

Am I inadvertent?
For what reason am I here?
Am I just a ripple
in a pool that once was clear?

Am I insignificant?
Will time pass me by?
Am I just a flower,
to live one day, then die?

Am I unimportant?
Do I matter either way?
Or am I just an echo—
soon to fade away?

This seems like a pretty well-crafted poem for a teenage poet just getting started. I believe I was around 14 or 15 when I wrote it. The title is a reversal of the biblical "I Am."

(**) Time, circa age 14-15, *P
by Michael R. Burch

Time,
where have you gone?
What turned out so short,
had seemed like so long.

Time,
where have you flown?
What seemed like mere days
were years come and gone.

Time,
see what you've done:
for now I am old,
when once I was young.

Time,
do you even know why
your days, minutes, seconds
preternaturally fly?

This is a companion piece to "Am I." It appeared in my high school project notebook "Poems" along with "Playmates," so I was probably around 14 or 15 when I wrote it. This seems like a pretty well-crafted poem for a teenage poet just getting started.

(**) Bound, circa age 14-15, *L
by Michael R. Burch

Now it is winter—the coldest night.
And as the light of the streetlamp casts strange shadows to the ground,
I have lost what I once found
in your arms.

Now it is winter—the coldest night.
And as the light of distant Venus fails to penetrate dark panes,
I have remade all my chains
and am bound.

This poem appeared in my high school journal, the Lantern, in 1976. I seem to remember writing "Bound" in 1972 or 1973, around age 14 or 15. It was originally titled "Why Did I Go?" I have made slight changes but the poem is essentially the same as what I wrote in my early teens.

I believe "Bound" may have been influenced by the Robert Frost poem "Acquainted with the Night" and the Paul Simon song "I Am a Rock."

An Illusion, circa age 15-16, *LJ [#7]
by Michael R. Burch

The sky was as hushed as the breath of a bee
and the world was bathed in shades of palest gold
when I awoke.

She came to me with the sound of falling leaves
and the scent of new-mown grass;
I held out my arms to her and she passed

into oblivion ...

This little dream-poem appeared in my high school literary journal, the Lantern, so I was no older than 18 when I wrote it, probably younger. I will guess around age 15-16. This feels like one of my early Romantic effusions.



1969-1971 (Earliest Poem)

(**) "Bible Libel" (circa 1969-1971) *LJ(7) [#1]

Scorecard: age 11-13, one publication.

1971-1973 (Blue Period: Very Early Poems)

I began to write poetry seriously around 1971-1972. I was lonely, introverted, depressed and bored. I had read hundreds of books by age 14 and was far ahead of my classmates in English. My mother had a large green book of the most-loved poems and a few of them appealed to me. I remember particularly liking "Breathes there the man" by Sir Walter Scott and "My Grandfather's Clock" by Henry Clay Work. One day I decided to write something of my own. I call this my "blue" period because at age 13-14 my main themes were the passage of time, loss and death. While there were not a large number of poems in this period, there were some pretty solid efforts for the age at which they were written. I rate "Smoke," "Time," "Am I," "Playmates," "Bound" and "Have I Been Too Long at the Fair" as, at the least, reasonably good poems. And five good poems by age 13-14 is not too shabby.

"Happiness" was my first "longish" poem and the beginning of my career as a poet. The title was ironic because as the poem says, "Happiness is like a bubble." (1971-1972)
(**) "Playmates" is the second longish poem I can remember writing; it was published by The Lyric. (1971-1972) *P *LJ [#2]
(***) "Smoke" was published by The Eclectic Muse, Fullosia Press and Better Than Starbucks, and in a Romanian translation. (1971-1972) *L *H77 *LJ(4) [#3]
(****) "Leave Taking" (1972-1974) *MS *LJ(5) [#4]

(**) "Have I Been Too Long at the Fair" (1973-1974) *L
(**) "Time" (1972-1973) *P
(**) "Am I" (1972-1973) *P
(**) "Bound/Why Did I Go" (1972-1973) *L
"I Remember You" was later dedicated to a schoolmate who died in an accident. (1972) *P
"So Little Time" (1972) *L
"By and By" (1972) *MS
"Autumn Lament" (circa 1972)
"Belfast's Streets" (circa 1972, revised in 1978)
"Morning" (circa 1972-1973, revised in 1975) *L
"All My Children" (1972-1973)
"Dust (I)" (1972-1973) this was at one time the final stanza of "All My Children"
"Red Dawn" (1972-1973) *L

(**) "Jessamyn's Song" (1972-1974) *MS

"Jessamyn's Song" is a long poem I worked on over a period of several years. I believe I started the poem around age 14, but was never happy with the longer poem and eventually turned the strongest stanza into a separate poem titled "Leave Taking."

"Gone" is actually gone, destroyed in a moment of frustration along with all the other poems I was not able to recreate from memory. (1972-1973)

"Time" and "Am I" were companion poems written on the same day, or within a short period of time, if I remember correctly. They were among the earliest of what I call my "I Am" and "Am I" poems.

Scorecard: age 14, four publications, by which I mean four poems that have been published by literary journals, not including duplicate publications.

By age 14-15, I had written eight poems that I consider publishable: "Bible Libel," "Smoke," "Leave Taking," "Playmates," "Bound," "Am I," Time" and "Have I been too long at the fair?"



1973-1976 age 15-18 in High School

(***) Elegy for a little girl, lost, circa age 16-17, *LJ [#10]
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. Actually, I was sneak-reading one of my sister's steamy historical romance novels! I decided to incorporate the prayer into a poem, which I wrote in high school and revised later as an adult. 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 Latin Vulgate Bible (circa 385 AD). I can’t remember exactly when I read the novel or wrote the poem, but I believe it was around my junior year of high school, age 16-17 or thereabouts. This was my first translation. I revised the poem slightly in 2001 after realizing I had “misremembered” one of the words in the Latin prayer. I dedicated the poem to my mother, Christine Ena Burch, after her death, because she was always a little giggly girl at heart.

(****) Observance, circa age 16-17, *LJ(7) [#8], published by multiple literary journals
by Michael R. Burch

Here the hills are old and rolling
carefully in their old age;
on the horizon youthful mountains
bathe themselves in windblown fountains ...

By dying leaves and falling raindrops,
I have traced time's starts and stops,
and I have known the years to pass
almost unnoticed, whispering through treetops ...

For here the valleys fill with sunlight
to the brim, then empty again,
and it seems that only I notice
how the years flood out, and in ...

This is an early poem that made me feel like a "real poet." I vividly remember writing it in the break room of the McDonald's where I worked as a high school student. I believe that was around age 16-17. I eventually pared a longer poem down to its best lines. This poem was originally titled "Reckoning," a title I still like and may return to one day. As a young poet with high aspirations, I felt that "Infinity" and "Reckoning/Observance" were my two best poems, so I didn't publish them in my high school or college literary journals. I decided to hang onto them and use them to get my foot in the door elsewhere. And the plan worked pretty well. "Observance" was originally published by Nebo as "Reckoning." It was later published by Tucumcari Literary Review, Piedmont Literary Review, Verses, Romantics Quarterly, the anthology There is Something in the Autumn and Poetry Life & Times.

I can't place an influence here.

Observance (II)
by Michael R. Burch

fifty years later...

The trees are in their autumn beauty,
majestic to the eye.
Whoever felt as I,
                             whoever
felt them doomed to die
despite their flamboyant colors?

They seem like knights of dismal countenance ...
as if, windmills themselves,
they might tilt with the bloody sky.

And yet their favors gaily fly!

I wrote the second "Observance" fifty years after the original!

(****) Infinity, circa age 18, *LJ(11) [#14], published by multiple literary journals
by Michael R. Burch

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

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

This is the second poem that made me feel like a "real" poet. I remember reading the poem and asking myself, "Did I really write that?" Many years later, I'm still glad that I wrote it, and it still makes me feel like a real poet. This is another poem that was longer and got "pared down" to its best lines. I believe I wrote the original, longer version around 1976, at age 18. "Infinity" was originally published by TC Broadsheet Verses (for a whopping $10, my first cash payment) then subsequently by Piedmont Literary Review, Penny Dreadful, the Net Poetry and Art Competition, Songs of Innocence, Setu (India), Better Than Starbucks, Borderless Journal (Singapore), Poetry Life & Times, Formal Verse (Potcake Poet’s Choice) and The Chained Muse.

(****) Styx, circa age 18, LJ(3) [#15], published by The Raintown Review and Blue Unicorn
by Michael R. Burch

Black waters,
deep and dark and still ...
all men have passed this way,
or will.

"Styx" is another of the early poems that made me feel like a "real poet." And other poets and editors agreed, as "Styx" has been published by The Raintown Review, Blue Unicorn and Poezii, where it was translated into Romanian by Petru Dimofte. It was part of a longer poem called “Death” that I pared down to the best lines.

The primary influence on "Styx" was Homer, followed by A. E. Housman.

(****) Will There Be Starlight, circa age 18-19, *LJ(10) [#16], published by multiple literary journals
by Michael R. Burch

Will there be starlight
tonight
while she gathers
damask
and lilac
and sweet-scented heathers?

And will she find flowers,
or will she find thorns
guarding the petals
of roses unborn?

Will there be starlight
tonight
while she gathers
seashells
and mussels
and albatross feathers?

And will she find treasure
or will she find pain
at the end of this rainbow
of moonlight on rain?

If I remember correctly, I wrote the first version of this poem toward the end of my senior year in high school, around age 18, then forgot about it for 15 years until I met my future wife Beth and she reminded me of the poem’s mysterious enchantress. I dedicated the poem to her on September 21, 1991, the same day I wrote "Seasons, for Beth." Since then "Will There Be Starlight" has been published by The Chained Muse, Famous Poets and Poems, Grassroots Poetry, Inspirational Stories, Jenion, Poetry Webring, Starlight Archives, TALESetc, The Word (UK) and Writ in Water. David Hamilton, an award-winning Australian composer, has set the lyrics to music. There should also be a spoken-word version performed by David B. Gosselin someday soon.

Davenport Tomorrow, circa age 17, *LJ [#11]
by Michael R. Burch

Davenport tomorrow ...
all the trees stand stark-naked in the sun.

Now it is always summer
and the bees buzz in cesspools,
adapted to a new life.

There are no flowers,
but the weeds, being hardier,
have survived.

The small town has become
a city of millions;
there is no longer a sea,
only a huge sewer,
but the children don't mind.

They still study
rocks and stars,
but biology is a forgotten science ...
after all, what is life?

Davenport tomorrow ...
all the children murmur through vein-streaked gills
whispered wonders of long-ago.

I believe I wrote the first version  "Davenport Tomorrow" around age 17, but my memory of the poem is a bit hazy. I seem to remember a longer poem that I whittled down to size. This is one of my earliest poems that might be called "slant-rhymed free verse" with  life/survived/mind/science/life.


(***) Listen, circa age 17-18, *LJ [#12], published by Penny Dreadful
by Michael R. Burch

Listen to me now and heed my voice;
I am a madman, alone, screaming in the wilderness,
but listen now.

Listen to me now, and if I say
that black is black, and white is white, and in between lies gray,
I have no choice.

Does a madman choose his words? They come to him,
the moon’s illuminations, intimations of the wind,
and he must speak.

But listen to me now, and if you hear
the tolling of the judgment bell, and if its tone is clear,
then do not tarry,

but listen, or cut off your ears, for I Am weary.

Published by Penny Dreadful, The HyperTexts, the Anthologise Committee and Nonsuch High School for Girls (Surrey, England)

I can’t remember exactly when I wrote the first version of this poem, but it was probably around age 17 or 18. I do remember liking the first three stanzas, but being unhappy with a longish, unwieldy ending. According to my notes, I revised the poem around 20 years later, in 1998, after a series of conversations with the poet-philosopher Richard Moore, who struck me as a sort of modern-day prophet crying in the wilderness. Richard made me think of my long-neglected poem, which I shortened and came to like. There is a much longer version of the poem that I published as Immanuel A. Michael in 2006. The longer version includes prophecies based on a series of dreams and visions that I had in my mid-to-late forties. I think this poem is a bit later than my other "I am" poems in this collection.

The influence here is John the Baptist, along with William Blake.

(***) Myth, circa age 18, *LJ [#18], published by There is Something in the Autumn (Anthology)
by Michael R. Burch

Here the recalcitrant wind
sighs with grievance and remorse
over fields of wayward gorse
and thistle-throttled lanes.

And she is the myth of the scythed wheat
hewn and sighing, complete,
waiting, lain in a low sheaf—
full of faith, full of grief.

Here the immaculate dawn
requires belief of the leafed earth
and she is the myth of the mown grain—
golden and humble in all its weary worth.

I believe I wrote the first version of this poem toward the end of my senior year of high school, around age 18, in late 1976, but it could have been written later.

To my recollection this is my only poem directly influenced by the “sprung rhythm” of Dylan Thomas (moreso than that of Gerard Manley Hopkins). But I was not happy with the fourth line and put the poem aside until 1998, when I revised it. But I was still not happy with the fourth line, so I put it aside and revised it again in 2020, nearly half a century after originally writing the poem! I believe this remains my only attempt at sprung rhythm.

Righteous, circa age 18, *LJ [#24]
by Michael R. Burch

for Beth

Come to me tonight
in the twilight, O, and the full moon rising,
spectral and ancient, will mutter a prayer.

Gather your hair
and pin it up, knowing
I will release it a moment anon.

We are not one,
nor is there a scripture
to sanctify nights you might spend in my arms,

but the swarms
of stars revolving above us
revel tonight, the most ardent of lovers.

I believe I wrote "Righteous" either as a high school senior or college freshman. The poem just came to me and I don't remember having to change a word. Many years later I dedicated the poem to my wife Beth.


(***) Moon Lake, circa age 18, *MS *LJ [#19], published by The Poetic Knight and set to music by the composer David Hamilton
by Michael R. Burch

Starlit recorder of summer nights,
what magic spell bewitches you?
They say that all lovers love first in the dark ...
Is it true?
    Is it true?
        Is it true?

Starry-eyed seer of all that appears
and all that has appeared—
What sights have you seen?
What dreams have you dreamed?
What rhetoric have you heard?

Is love an oration,
or is it a word?
Have you heard?
     Have you heard?
         Have you heard?

I believe I wrote this poem in my late teens, along with its companion poem "Tomb Lake." I think the questions are interesting. Do all lovers love first in the dark? Is love an oration, or is it a word? David Hamilton, an award-winning Australian composer, has set the lyrics to music and the song has been performed by one of Australia's best choirs, Choralation.

(*) Tomb Lake, circa age 18
by Michael R. Burch

Go down to the valley
   where mockingbirds cry,
      alone, ever lonely . . .
         yes, go down to die.
And dream in your dying
  you never shall wake.
      Go down to the valley;
         go down to Tomb Lake.
Tomb Lake is a cauldron
   of souls such as yours —
      mad souls without meaning,
         frail souls without force.
Tomb Lake is a graveyard
   reserved for the dead.
      They lie in her shallows
         and sleep in her bed.

I believe this poem and "Moon Lake" were companion poems, written around my senior year in high school, in 1976. In addition to having similar titles, they have similar "staircase" indention styles. According to my notes, I modified "Moon Lake" two years later in 1978, at which time the poem was substantially finished. I then modified "Tomb Lake" in 1981, but must have forgotten about it, because I don't show that I ever submitted the poem for publication or did anything with it for more than 40 years.

(***) Burn, Ovid, circa age 15-24, *LJ [#5], published by The HyperTexts
by Michael R. Burch

“Burn Ovid”—Austin Clarke

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

This poem is set at Faith Christian Academy in Goldsboro, NC, which I attended for a year during the ninth grade, in 1972-1973. While the poem definitely had its genesis there, I believe I revised it more than once and didn't finish it till 2001, nearly 28 years later, according to my notes. Another poem, "Sex 101," was also written about my experiences at FCA that year. These poems have been more heavily edited than most of the poems in this collection.

(***) Sex 101, circa age 15-24, *LJ [#6], published by The HyperTexts
by Michael R. Burch

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

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

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

The most unlikely coupling—

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

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

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

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

This companion poem to "Burn, Ovid" is also set at Faith Christian Academy, in 1972-1973.

(***) Heaven Bent, circa age 18, *LJ [#17]
by Michael R. Burch

This life is hell; it can get no worse.
Summon the coroner, the casket, the hearse!
But I’m upwardly mobile. How the hell can I know?
I can only go up; I’m already below!

Keep Up, circa age 16-18, *LJ [#9]
by Michael R. Burch

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

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

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

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


(**) When last my love left me, circa age 15-16, *H
by Michael R. Burch

The sun was a smoldering ember
when last my love left me;
the sunset cast curious shadows
over green arcs of the sea;
she spoke sad words, departing,
and teardrops drenched the trees.

This poem was published by my college literary journal, Homespun 1976-1977. I believe I wrote the original version in 1974, around age 16.



1973 (Mostly Songwriting)

After the conclusion of my freshman year of high school, ninth grade, my family moved from Goldsboro, North Carolina, to Nashville, Tennessee. It was during the hot, muggy summer of 1973, at age 15, that I became really serious about poetry. However, I had aspirations to be a songwriter. The last eight starred poems below were written as song lyrics. However, because I was a terrible singer and had no musical ability, my songwriting career never took off ...

(***) "Burn, Ovid" (1972-1973) a poem about my experiences with lust for a choir director at FCA, circa 1972-1973. *LJ [#5]
(***) "Sex 101" (1972-1973) is another poem written about my experiences at FCA. *LJ [#6]
"Tell Me" published as "Tell Me What I Am" (1973-1974) *L
"there is peace where i am going" (1973) *MS
"You'll Never Know" (1973)
"A Pledge for Ignorance" (1973-1974) *H78 *MS
"Dust (II)" (1973-????) this one was written sometime after the first "Dust"
"Dust (III)" (1973-????) the third in the series, not sure about the year
Gainsboro(ugh) (1973)
"Paradise" (1973) *PWS
"Be Back Soon" (1973) *PWS
"Looking for Love" (1973) *PWS
"Heaven Help Us" (1973) *PWS
"Ain't It Beautiful" (1973) *PWS
"Prisoner" (1973) *PWS
"I Need You" (1973) *PWS
"Rose Colored Glasses" (1973) *PWS

Scorecard: age 15, six publications. A good bit of my writing during this period was songwriting. The best poems from this period are the first two, but they have been pretty heavily revised and seem more mature than my writing at this time. So I will chalk this year up more to musical aspirations than to poetry, per se.



1974 (My cummings Period)

Sometime around 1973-1974, at age 15 to 16, I discovered the poetry of e. e. cummings and began writing free verse, or freer verse. Like cummings, I wrote musical poems and employed rhyme, but I felt free to ignore and break rules that didn't appeal or make sense to me. I call this my "cummings period." The first six poems below were in that mold. But I continued to write more traditional verse as well. I think "Leave Taking" is the best poem from this period, and it's a poem I still like today.

(**) "An Illusion" (1974) *LH *LJ [#7]
(****) "Observance" was written in a McDonald's break room, age 16-17. (1974-1975) *LJ(7) [#8]
(*) "Keep Up" (circa 1974-1976) *LJ [#9]
(***) "Elegy for a little girl, lost" (circa 1974-1975), *LJ [#10]

(**) "Bound/Why Did I Go?" (1974-1975) *L
(**) "When last my love left me" (1974-1976) *H77
(**) "Something of sunshine" (1974) *L
(**) "As time walked by" (1974) *L
(**) "i (dedicated to u)" (1974-1975)
(*) "jasbryx" (1974-1976)
(*) "Stones" (1974)
(*) "Pilgrim Mountain" (1974-1976) *MS
(*) "Flight" or "Eagle, Raven, Blackbird, Crow" (1974)
"impressions of a desert" (1974-1976)
"She's a fable of metempsychosis" (1974) was a Cyrano poem I wrote for my friend Gary King to help him woo the lovely Demetria Morris.
"(Oh God) I Am Lonely" (1974-1975) *L
"49th Street Serenade" *WS
"Man" was published by a vanity press called World of Poetry before I knew what a vanity press was! (1974) *L
"Easter, in Jerusalem" (1974) *H78 *MS
"Sheila" (1974) *L
"A Midnight Shade of Blue" (circa 1974-1976) *MS
"I Saw the Sun Rising" (circa 1974, possibly slightly revised in 1979)
"Clown" (1974)
"Canticle" (circa 1974-1975)
"Damp Days" (1974-1976) *MS
"Liar" (1974-1975)
"El Dorado" (1974-1976) *MS
"Cowpoke" (circa 1974-1976) *MS
"Blue Cowboy" (circa 1974-1976) *MS
"Roll On, Red River" (circa 1974-1978)

Other 1974 poems: "Yesterday my father died," "The Poet," "Describing You"

Scorecard: age 16, ten publications.



1975 (My Early Romantic Period)

"Observance" is the first poem I wrote that made me catch my breath and made me think I had written a "real poem." And I still feel that way today. "Observance" was originally titled "Reckoning." But I wasn't able to publish the poem for some time. It started out as a longer poem and I was never happy with some of the stanzas. Then one day it occurred to me to pare the poem down to just the best stanzas. That worked for me, but it took me several years to come up with that solution. Ditto for "Infinity," the second poem that made me feel like a real poet. So I was making progress, but didn't yet know all the tricks of the trade. Another poem I especially like from this period is my first translation, "Elegy for a little girl, lost."

(***) "Davenport Tomorrow" (1975) *LJ [#11]
(***) "Listen" (1975-1976) *LJ [#12]
(**) "Poet to poet" (1975-1978) was inspired by the "I Have a Dream" poem/sermon/speech of Dr. Martin Luther King Jr. *LJ [#13]

"Morning" (circa 1972-1973, revised in 1975) *L
"Red Dawn" (circa 1972-1973, revised in 1975) *L
"The Resurrection" (1975) *L
"Sarjann" (1975)
"Flying" (1974-1975, possibly revised in 1978) *MS
"Embryo" (1975)
"The Snowman Sleeps in the Sea" (1975)
"War" (1975)
"Parting" (1975-1976) *L
"Of You" (1974-1976) *L
"Stewark Island (Ambiguity)" *MS
"Jack" (1975-1976) *H77
"You didn't have time" (written in 1975 then revised in 1978) *MS
"Every time I think of leaving" (1975-1978) *MS
"Where, Oh Where Was I?" (1975-1976) *MS
"Born to Run" (1975-1976) was a poem written after Bruce Springsteen appeared on the cover of TIME and finished my freshman year in college

Other 1975 poems: "teacher," "Sharon," "Aubade," (a poem written in Ms. Davenport's English class), "Alice," "Hills," "Marie," "Twelve-Thirty" (the last two were written on or around the same day, I believe)

Scorecard: age 17, now up to 13 publications.



1976 (My Middle Romantic Period)

I was already a professional poet by age 18, as I would eventually receive a whopping ten dollars for allowing "Infinity" to be printed in broadsheets! Other poems I really like from this period include "Death/Styx," "In the Whispering Night," "Will There Be Starlight," "hey pete" and "These Hallowed Halls." I was making progress as a poet, and these poems have been admired by poets who know and appreciate good poems when they see them. "Death/Styx" was another poem pared down from a longer poem, in this case into an epigram.

(****) "Infinity" (1976) *LJ(11) [#14]
(****) "Death/Styx" (circa 1976) *LJ(3) [#15]
(****) "Will There Be Starlight" (1976) *LJ(10) [#16]
(***) "Heaven Bent" (1976) *LJ [#17]
(***) "Myth" (circa 1976) *LJ [#18]
(***) "Moon Lake" (1976-1978) *LJ [#19]
(**) "Be That Rock" (1976) *LJ [#20]
(*) "Ode to the Sun" (1976) *LJ [#21]
(**) "The Beautiful People" (circa 1975-1976) *LJ [#22]
(**) "Shadows" (1976-1977) *MS *LJ [#23] may have been started in high school.
(**) "Righteous" (1976) written later my senior year, I believe. *LJ [#24]
(****) "Something" (1976-1977) *LJ(10) [#25] written later in my senior year, I believe.
(**) "Because You Came to Me" (1976)
(**) "hey pete" (1976)
(**) "Having Touched You" (1976)
"Be Strong" (circa 1976-1978)
"What is this 'love'?" was one of my first attempts at the sonnet form. (1976)
"Will you walk with me?" was another early attempt at a sonnet. (1976)
"Beckoning" was written around 1976, then put aside and revised in 1982.

I believe the poems below were all written early in my freshman year of college, although some may have been started in high school.

(***) "In the Whispering Night" is a poem I wrote for a college English teacher, George King. (1976-1977) *LJ [#26]
(***) "Poetry" (1976-1977), age 18-19, *LJ [#27]
(***) "These Hallowed Halls" (1976-1977) was written during rush week from my dorm room window. *LJ [#28]

(**) "The Last Enchantment" (circa 1976) *LJ [#56]
"Gentry" (1976) *H77
"Stryx" (1976-1977) *H77
"In the Whispering Night (II)" is the original version of the poem.
"Dance With Me" (circa 1976-1977; written as a college freshman after conversations with George King) *MS
"Dance With Me II" (circa 1976-1977; written as a college freshman after conversations with George King)
"The Song of the Wanderers" and "Stryx" were written around the same time (1976-1977)
"With My Daughter, By a Waterfall" (1976-1977; written as a college freshman) H77
"Tomb Lake" (1976-1981)
"Where have all the flowers gone?" *MS
"Sea Dreams" (circa 1976-1978) *MS
"Son" (circa 1976-1977)

Other 1976 poems: "Phantasmagoria," "The Black Hills," "Whereas I am twenty," "We Kept the Dream Alive," "One summer's dream," "Searching," "Chains," "My Grandfather's Hills," "Rag Doll"

Scorecard: age 18, now up to 28 publications. Finally, I have more publications than I have years!



1976-1978 age 18-19 as a College Freshman and Sophomore

(***) These Hallowed Halls, age 18, *LJ [#28], published by The HyperTexts
by Michael R. Burch
a young Romantic Poet mourns the passing of an age ...

I.

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.

II.

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 having leapt from the pinnacle of love,
and the result of each such infatuation—
the long freefall to earth, as the moon glides above.

III.

A solitary clock chimes the hour
from far above the campus,
but my peers,
returning from their dances,
heed it not.

And so it is
that we seldom gauge Time’s speed
because He moves so unobtrusively
about His task.

Still, when at last
we reckon His mark upon our lives,
we may well be surprised
at His thoroughness.

IV.

Ungentle maiden—
when Time has etched His little lines
so carelessly across your brow,
perhaps I will love you less than now.

And when cruel Time has stolen
your youth, as He certainly shall in course,
perhaps you will wish you had taken me
along with my broken heart,
even as He will take you with yours.

V.

A measureless rhythm rules the night—
few have heard it,
but I have shared it,
and its secret is mine.

To put it into words
is as to extract the sweetness from honey
and must be done as gently
as a butterfly cleans its wings.

But when it is captured, it is gone again;
its usefulness is only
that it lulls to sleep.

VI.

So sleep, my love, to the cadence of night,
to the moans of the moonlit hills
that groan as I do, yet somehow sleep
through the nightjar’s cryptic trills.

But I will not sleep this night, nor any ...
how can I, when my dreams
are always of your perfect face
ringed in whorls of fretted lace,
and a tear upon your pillowcase?

VII.

If I had been born when knights roamed the earth
and mad kings ruled strange lands,
I might have turned to the ministry,
to the solitude of a monastery.

But there are no monks or hermits today—
theirs is a lost occupation
carried on, if at all,
merely for sake of tradition.

For today man abhors solitude—
he craves companions, song and drink,
seldom seeking a quiet moment,
to sit alone by himself, to think.

VIII.

And so I cannot shut myself
off from the rest of the world,
to spend my days in philosophy
and my nights in tears of self-sympathy.

No, I must continue as best I can,
and learn to keep my thoughts away
from those glorious, uproarious moments of youth,
centuries past though lost but a day.

IX.

Yes, I must discipline myself
and adjust to these lackluster days
when men display no chivalry
and romance is the "old-fashioned" way.

X.

A single stereo flares into song
and the first faint light of morning
has pierced the sky's black awning
once again.

XI.

This is a sacred place,
for those who leave,
leave better than they came.

But those who stay, while they are here,
add, with their sleepless nights and tears,
quaint sprigs of ivy to the walls
of these hallowed halls.

I wrote this poem as a college freshman, age 18, watching my peers return to their dorms from a hard night of partying during rush week. It was probably the first poem I wrote as a college student.

(***) In the Whispering Night, circa age 18-19 as a college freshman, *LJ(3) [#26], published by Romantics Quarterly
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
while the lilies sigh in their beds, for shame,
we must steal our souls, as they once were stolen,
and gather our vigor, and all our intent.
We must heave our husks into some famished ocean
and laugh as they shatter, and never repent.
We must dance in the darkness as stars dance before us,
soar, Soar! through the night on a butterfly's breeze ...
blown high, upward-yearning, twin spirits returning
to the heights of awareness from which we were seized.

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

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

for George King

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

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

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

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

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

This is the original version of "In the Whispering Night" and one of my most Romantic poems, if not the most Romantic.

(***) Poetry, circa age 19, *LJ [#27], published by The Lyric
by Michael R. Burch

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

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

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

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

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

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

                     ***

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

I consider "Poetry" to be my Ars Poetica. In this poem I profess to be Poetry's lover and disciple. Of course such things are no longer allowed in respectable poetic circles. But then ... why be a conformist? However, the poem has been misinterpreted as the poet claiming to be Poetry's "savior." The poet never claims to be a savior or hero. The poem only says that when Poetry is finally freed, in some unspecified way, the poet will be there to take her hand and watch her glory be re-revealed to the world. The poet expresses love for Poetry, and loyalty and gratitude, but never claims to have done anything himself. This is a poem of love, compassion and reverence. Poetry is the Messiah, not the poet. The poet washes her feet with his tears, like Mary Magdalene.

I believe I wrote the first version of "Poetry" in my late teens, probably around 1977. I know from my notes, which I unfortunately didn't start dating until later in my career, that I went through a number of versions, some much longer than the final version, and didn't submit the poem for publication until 1998. It was published by The Lyric in 2001, nearly a quarter century after the first version was written. I remember The Lyric having a line limit of something like 40 to 48 lines, and because "Poetry" was initially much longer, I had to spend quite a bit of time paring it down to its best lines.

(***) Shakespeare's Sonnet 130 Refuted, circa age 18, *LJ [#36]
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.
Whose winsome flame, not half so 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.
Whose scorching flames mild 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.
Whose tender cheeks, so enchantingly warm,
far vaster treasures, harbor no thorns.


Originally published by Romantics Quarterly

This was my first sonnet, written in my teens after I discovered Shakespeare's "Sonnet 130." At the time I didn't know the rules of the sonnet form, so mine is a bit unconventional. I think it is not bad for the first attempt of a teen poet. I remember writing this poem in my head on the way back to my dorm from a freshman English class. I would have been 18 or 19 at the time.



1977-1978 (My Middle Romantic Period continues)

The Toast, circa age 18-19, *LJ [#29], published by Contemporary Rhyme
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.

Originally published by Contemporary Rhyme

According to my notes, this poem was filed in 1977, meaning that I wrote it around age 19 or earlier. This was one of my earliest-written "professional" poems: I earned a whopping five dollars! But that publication came many years after I wrote the poem. I had never been thrilled with the opening stanza and rewrote it after the initial publication by Contemporary Rhyme. But the rest of the poem is largely the same.

Something, circa age 18-19, *LJ [#25], published by There is Something in the Autumn (anthology)
by Michael R. Burch

for the children of the Holocaust and the Nakba

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

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

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

This was the first poem that I wrote that didn't rhyme. I believe I wrote it in 1976 or 1977, which would have made me around 18-19 at the time. The poem came to me "from blue nothing" (to borrow a phrase from my friend the Maltese poet Joe Ruggier). Years later, I dedicated the poem to the children of the Holocaust and the Nakba. It has been published by There is Something in the Autumn (anthology), The Eclectic Muse (Canada), Setu (India), FreeXpression (Australia), Life and Legends, Poetry Super Highway, Poet’s Corner, Promosaik (Germany), Better Than Starbucks and The Chained Muse; it has also been used in numerous Holocaust projects; translated into Romanian by Petru Dimofte; translated into Turkish by Nurgül Yayman; turned into a YouTube video by Lillian Y. Wong; and used by Windsor Jewish Community Centre during a candle-lighting ceremony.

I believe "Something" was indirectly influenced by the free verse of T. S. Eliot, Wallace Stevens and Walt Whitman.

(***) Floating/Entanglements, circa age 19, *LJ [#30]
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 breasts,
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, circa age 19, *LJ [#32]
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.

(***) Ince St. Child, circa age 19, *LJ(4) [#33]
by Michael R. Burch

When she was a child
     in a dark forest of fear,
          imagination cast its strange light
               into secret places,
               scattering traces
           of illumination so bright,
     years later, she could still find them there,
their light undefiled.

When she was young,
     the shafted light of her dreams
          shone on her uplifted face
               as she prayed ...
               though she strayed
          into a night fallen like woven lace
     shrouding the forest of screams,
her faith led her home.

Now she is old
     and the light that was flame
          is a slow-dying ember ...
               what she felt then
               she would explain;
          she would if she could only remember
     that forest of shame,
faith beaten like gold.

This was an unusual poem that I wrote in my late teens, and it took me some time to figure out who the old woman was. She was a victim of childhood incest, hence the title I eventually came up with. Published by Piedmont Literary Review, Songs of Innocence, Romantics Quarterly and Poetry Life & Times.


At least eight poems from this period were later published by literary journals (*LJ), so it seems I may have been been onto something fairly good, while still in my teens. I even made money on "The Toast" (a whopping five dollars). The best poems from this period, in my opinion, are "Something," "Floating/Entanglements," "Mare Clausum," and "Shock."

(**) "Shadows" (1976-1977) *H79 *MS *LJ [#23]
(***) "The Toast" (1977) *LJ [#29]
(***) "Floating/Entanglements" (1977) *LJ [#30]
(***) "Mare Clausum" (1977) *LJ [#31]
(**) "Shock" (1977) *LJ [#32]
(***)
"Ince St. Child" (1977) *LJ [#33]
(**) "Nevermore!" (1977) *LJ [#34]
(***) "R.I.P." (1977) *LJ [#35]
(**) "130 Refuted" was written in college as a response to Shakespeare's Sonnet 130. (circa 1976-1977) *LJ [#36]
(**) "Love Unfolded Like a Flower" (originally titled "Christy") was written for a "major crush." (1977) *LJ [#37]
(*) "Milestones Toward Oblivion" (circa 1977) *LJ [#38]
(***) "alien" (1977) was a poem I would revise nearly a quarter century later, in 2001.
(**)
"The Sky Was Turning Blue" (1977)
(**) "Ambition" (1977)
(**) "The Poet's Condition" (1977)
(*) "Burn" (1977-1978) and later dedicated to Trump after he pulled the US out of the Paris climate change accords
(**) "Unfoldings, for Vicki" (1977)
(*) "Laughter from Another Room" (1977-1982)
"Playthings" a sequel to my very early poem "Playmates" (1977)
"Analogy" (1977-1980)
"Impressions of Darkness in the Aspects of Light" (circa 1977; converted to a short story for a college English class) *MS

Other 1977 poems: "Hush, my darling," "Charlie Hustle," "Olivia," "Son," "Rock / Rock Like Muddy Water," "My Fair Love"

Scorecard: age 19, now up to 38 publications, doubling my age!



(***) The Leveler, circa age 19-20, *LJ(4) [#39], published by The Lyric
by Michael R. Burch

The nature of Nature
is bitter survival
from Winter’s bleak fury
till Spring’s brief revival.

The weak implore Fate;
bold men ravish, dishevel her ...
till both are cut down
by mere ticks of the Leveler.

I believe I wrote this poem in my late teens or perhaps around age 20 or thereabouts. It has since been published in The Lyric, Tucumcari Literary Review, Romantics Quarterly and The Aurorean.

(**) Freedom, circa age 19-20
by Michael R. Burch

Freedom is not so much an idea as a feeling
    of open roads,
        of the hobo's call,
            of autumn leaves in brisk breeze reeling
        before a demon violently stealing
    all vestiges of the beauty of fall,
preparing to burden bare tree limbs with the heaviness of her icy loads.

And freedom is not so much a letting go as a seizing
    of forbidden pleasure,
        of lusty sport,
            of all that is delightful and pleasing,
        each taken totally within its season
    and exploited to the fullness of its worth
though it last but a moment and repeat itself never.

Oh, freedom is not so much irresponsibility as a desire
    to accept all the credit and all the blame
        for one's deeds,
            to achieve success or failure on one's own, to require
        either or both as a consequence of an inner fire,
    not to shirk one's duty, but to see
one's duty become himself—himself to tame.

I believe I wrote this poem circa 1978, when I was 19 or 20 years old. I had the image of a train-hopping hobo in mind when I wrote it. I'm not sure that I care for the poem's "wisdom" today, but I like its form and meter.



1978-1979 (My Late Romantic Period)

By age 20, I think I was more consistent as a poet. The first eight poems below seem like strong ones to me, and the editors of the literary journals who published them seem to agree.

(***) "The Leveler" (1978) *LJ(4) [#39]
(****) "The Communion of Sighs" (1978) *LJ [#40]
(***) "Earthbound" (1978) *LJ [#41]
(***) "Step Into Starlight" (1978-1979) was published by The Lyric many years later. *LJ [#42]
(**) "Winter" (1978-1979) was published by Songs of Innocence, The Aurorean and Contemporary Rhyme. *LJ(3) [#43]
(**) "Rant: An Obscenity Trial" (1977-1978; appears in 1978 poetry contest folder, probably written in college, published by two journals but heavily revised) *MS *LJ [#44]
(**) "Accounting" (circa 1978) *LJ [#45]
(****) "Frail Envelope of Flesh" was published by The Lyric, Promosaik (Germany), Setu (India) and Poetry Life & Times; also translated into Arabic by Nizar Sartawi and Italian by Mario Riglic. *LJ(6) [#46]
(**) "Premonition" (1978-1979) was a poem I wrote after my first office party, while co-oping a
s a college sophomore. *LJ [#47]
(***) "Regret (circa 1978) *MS *LJ [#48]
(**) "Huntress" (1978) *LJ [#49]
(**)
"Reflections on the Loss of Vision" (1978) *MS
(**) "Sanctuary at Dawn" (1978) *MS
(**) "Freedom" (1978)
"Shanie" (1978) *MS
"Thoughts of the Everglades in Ontario" (1978) *MS

Other 1978 poems: "All the Young Sailors," "The Song of Roland," "Again and Again and Again"

Scorecard: age 20, now up to 49 publications, more than double my age!



1979-1980 (My Late Romantic Period continues)

Regret, circa age 20, *LJ
by Michael R. Burch

1.
Regret,
a bitter
ache to bear ...

once starlight
languished
in your hair ...

a shining there
as brief
as rare.

2.
Regret ...
a pain
I chose to bear ...

unleash
the torrent
of your hair ...

and show me
once again—
how rare.

I believe I wrote this poem around 1978 to 1980, in my late teens or early twenties. It's not based on a real experience, to my recollection. I may have been thinking about Rapunzel.

Sappho’s Lullaby
by Michael R. Burch

for Beth and Jeremy

Hushed yet melodic, the hills and the valleys
sleep unaware of the nightingale's call
as the dew-laden lilies lie
listening,
glistening . . .
this is their night, the first night of fall.

Son, tonight, a woman awaits you;
she is more vibrant, more lovely than spring.
She'll meet you in moonlight,
soft and warm,
all alone . . .
then you'll know why the nightingale sings.

Just yesterday the stars were afire;
then how desire flashed through my veins!
But now I am older;
night has come,
I’m alone . . .
for you I will sing as the nightingale sings.

I wrote this page around age 21 and later dedicated it to my wife Beth and son Jeremy, as if the poem had been written for him, from her perspective.

My favorite poem from this period is "Sappho's Lullaby." Around this time I got pretty deep into hustling pool and chasing girls, so I was not putting as much time or effort into my writing.

(*)"It's Halloween" (1979) *LJ [#50]
(**)"Lay Down Your Arms" (one of my earliest published poems in The Romantist, circa 1992-1994) *LJ
(***)"Sappho's Lullaby" (1979-1980, originally titled "Hushed Yet Melodic" then later dedicated to my wife Beth and son Jeremy) *LJ

(***) "Regret" (circa 1978-1980) *LJ
(**)"Cameo"
(**)"Each Color a Scar"
(**) "Revisitation"
(**) "The Swing"
(*) "The Offering"
"absinthe sea"
"Adagio"
"Go down to the hoe-down"
"War, the God"
"Intricate Melody" was inspired by the Bobby Hatfield version of "Unchained Melody."
"The Organ Grinder" was inspired by a Gordon Lightfoot song.

Other 1979 poems: "Chains," "Dark Eyes," "Dreamer," "Ghosts of the Shawnee," "I'll Meet Her in a Memory," "In Affection," "Insane Asylum Songs," "Leaden-eyed lovers," "Meg," "Natashe," "Snapdragons," "The spinster waltz," "There Must Be Love," "Won't You"

Scorecard: age 21, now up to 53 publications.



1980-1981 (My Late Romantic Period continues)

Ditto with the time demands of hustling pool and chasing girls. My favorite poem from this period is "Fairest Diana," which I wrote for Princess Diana. I also especially like "Desdemona," "Impotent," "Stars" and "Kinder that Light" (which I turned into "After the Deluge" after I almost lost my wife Beth to the Great Nashville Flood).

Apparently, I didn't write much poetry in 1981. My notes show that I worked on a revision of "Tomb Lake" and that's about it. Or maybe I stopped taking notes that year.

(***) "Fairest Diana" (circa 1980) *LJ [#54]
(***) "Desdemona" (circa 1980) *LJ(5) [#55]
(**) "Childhood's End" (circa 1980-1982) *LJ [#57]
(***)
"Impotent" (circa 1980)
(***) "Kinder Than Light/After the Deluge" (1980)
(**) "Stars" (circa 1980-1982)
(*) "Analogy" (circa 1980)
"As the Flame Flowers" (circa 1980)
"Ashes" (circa 1980)
"Recursion" (circa 1980)
"Perspective" (1980)
"The Latter Days" (1980)
"Tomb Lake" revision (1981)

Other 1980-1981 poems: "Lying," "Sundown," "When i was in my heyday"

Scorecard: age 22, now up to 57 publications.



1982

(****) The Harvest of Roses, circa age 24, *LJ
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.

"The Harvest of Roses" is not quite as early as most of the poems on this page. I'm not sure how old I was when I wrote it, but I remember having become disenchanted with poetry journals that were full of "concrete imagery" which I found mostly unmoving. I was also fed up with the bizarre idea that meter and rhyme were somehow "bad." While "torsioning" is one of my rare coinages, I think it works here. "The Harvest of Roses" was published by The Raintown Review.

It seems 1982 was another light year for poetry writing, as I continued to pursue wine, women and pool.

(****) "The Harvest of Roses" (1982) *LJ [#58]
"Every Man Has a Dream" (1982) was written in a bar while wooing a young lady that I ended up living with, on-and-off, for five years.
"Beckoning" revision (1982)
"Childhood's End" revision (1982)
(*) "The Last Enchantment" revision (1982)
"When Last My Love Left Me" revision (1982) *H77
"There Are Dreams" (1982) is a poem I wrote when Jack Nicklaus lost the 1982 US Open.
(****) "Styx" revision (1982)
"Ecstasy" revision (1982)
"If Not For Love" (1982)
"jasbryx" revision (1982)
"Laughter from Another Room" revision (1977-1982)

Scorecard: age 24, now up to 58 publications.



1983

"Say You Love Me" (1983)
(**) "Shadows" revision (1983)
"In the Twilight of Her Tears (1983)
"It's Just Another Monday" (1983)
"Lullaby/Frail bit of elfin magic" (1983)
"Oh, My Fair Lady" (1983)
"Pilgrim Mountain" revision (1983)

Scorecard: age 25, still 58 publications.



1984

(***) "Bound" revision (1984)
(**) "The Last Enchantment" second revision (1984)
(**) "Smoke" revision (1984)
"Ode to the Sun" revision (1984)
"Rachel Lindsey" (1984)

Scorecard: age 26, still 58 publications.



1985

As far as I can tell, 1985 was pretty much a blank for me, poetry-wise.

Afghan Refugee

Scorecard: age 27, still 58 publications.



1986

In 1986, I dated a woman who had been to Egypt and that inspired me to write "Musings at Giza." I also wrote a number of poems for another woman I dated with the initials CC.

(**) "Musings at Giza" (1986) *LJ
(****) "Desdemona" revised for CC (1986)

Poems written for CC: "I Hold You," "Merry Christmas, Best of Wishes," "To C—" and "Last Poem"

Scorecard: age 28, now up to 59 publications.



1987

"For Jack Nicklaus, at the 1987 Open" (1987)
"Hard for Me to Say" (song)
"I wish you all the best" and other poems for CC (1987)

Scorecard: age 29, still at 59 publications.



1988

(**) "Thirty" was written on my 30th birthday (1988) *LJ [#60]
(**) "You" was written around the same time as "Thirty" (1988) *LJ [#61]

"I'm Out of Time (The Procrastination Song)"
"The Wedding Song"

Scorecard: age 30, now up to 61 publications.


In January 1991, I met my future wife, Elizabeth Steed Harris, aka Beth, and she inspired me to write a number of poems.

1991

(***) "At the Natchez Trace, for Beth" written the day we met, 1-5-1991, *LJ [#62]
(****) "Enigma, for Beth" written Valentine's Day, 2-14-1991, *LJ [#63]
(*) "Is the Mirror Unkind, for Beth" written Valentine's Day, 2-14-1991, *LJ [#64]
(***) "Are You the Thief, for Beth" written 2-23-1991, *LJ [#65]
(***) "Pale Though Her Eyes" (1991) *LJ [#66]
(****)
"Will There Be Starlight, for Beth" revision (1991)
(**) "The Tender Weight of Her Sighs" revision (1979-1991)
(***) "She Is Brighter Than Dawn, for Beth" (1991)
"Playthings" a prequel to "Playmates" (1991)
"Faithless Lover" a song (1991)

Scorecard: age 31, now up to 66 publications.



1992

(*) "Virginal, for Beth" (1992) *LJ [#67]
(****) "Where Does the Butterfly Go, for Rhonda" (1992) *LJ [#67]
(***) "Haunted" (1992) *LJ [#68]
(**)
"If I Falter, for Beth" (1992)
"For Our Wedding Night" (1992)
"To My Child, Unborn, for Jeremy" (1992)

Scorecard: age 34, now up to 68 publications.

1993

From this point forward, the dates are publication dates rather than composition dates and all poems listed were published by literary journals.

"Musings at Giza" in Golden Isis
"In the Whispering Night" in The Poetic Knight
"Moon Lake" in The Poetic Knight

Scorecard: age 35, now up to 71 publications.

1994

"Lay Down Your Arms" in The Romantist

Scorecard: age 36, now up to 72 publications.

1998

"Photographs" in Tucumcari Literary Review
"State of the Art" in Tucumcari Literary Review
"Geode/Resemblance" in Poet Lore
"Observance/Reckoning" in Nebo
"Righteous" in Writer's Gazette
"Haunted" in Laureate Letter
"Infinity" in TC Broadsheet Verses
"Vampires" in Monumental Moments
"Like Angels, Winged" in Monumental Moments

Scorecard: age 40, now up to 81 publications.

1999

"Once, for Beth" in The Lyric
"At Once, for Beth in The Lyric
"Twice, for Beth" in The Lyric
"The Leveler" in The Lyric
"In-Flight Convergence" in The Aurorean and nominated for the Pushcart Prize
"Salad Days/Salat Days" in Lonzie's Fried Chicken
"The Poet" in Icon (Kent State)
"First and Last" in Tucumcari Literary Review
"At Tintagel" in Songs of Innocence
"Uther's Last Battle" in Songs of Innocence
"Prophet" in Penny Dreadful
"The Song of Amergin" in Songs of Innocence

Scorecard: age 41, now up to 93 publications.

2000

"Techno Tips" in Writer's Digest
"Tremble" in The Lyric
"Abide" in Light Quarterly is my first publication of light verse
"Loose Knit" in Penumbra was a poetry contest finalist
"Mid-Summer Eve" in Penny Dreadful
"Nevermore!" in Penny Dreadful
"Merlyn, On His Birth" in Songs of Innocence
"It Is Not the Sword" in Songs of Innocence
"At Caedmon's Grave" in The Lyric
"Death/Styx" in The Raintown Review
"The Harvest of Roses" in The Raintown Review
Seven poems in Celtic Twilight
Eleven poems in Storyteller

Scorecard: age 42, now up to 122 publications.

This completes the documentation of my first 100 publications by literary journals. From this point forward, I will mostly hit the highlights...

2001

"Poetry" in The Lyric (my ars poetica) with two other poems
Four poems in Poetry Magazine
"Goddess" is the first poem published in the first issue of Romantics Quarterly and I have the first five poems.
"Ordinary Love" wins the Algernon Charles Swinburne Poetry Contest and is nominated for the Pushcart Prize.
Five poems in The Bible of Hell (anthology)
"The Composition of Shadows" is the featured poem on Iambs and Trochees for months
Four poems in Unlikely Stories
Four poems in Romantics Quarterly
Five poems in Romantics Quarterly
Five poems in Poetry Super Highway
Four poems in Romantics Quarterly

2002

Three poems in one issue of The Lyric
Four poems on the How Sweet the Night poetry CD
Four poems in The Eclectic Muse (Canada)
Three poems in Romantics Quarterly
Eight poems published by the Net Poetry and Art Competition, also served as a judge.
"Fahr an' Ice" in Light Quarterly is my second humorous poem publication.

2003

Six poems in Romantics Quarterly
Five poems in The Eclectic Muse (Canada)

2004

"Neglect" published by Voices for Africa

2005

Six poems in The Chariton Review
Nine poems in The Eclectic Muse (Canada)
Seven poems in The Neovictorian/Cochlea
Four poems in the anthology There is Something in the Autumn
Three poems in Contemporary Rhyme
"Ali's Song" published by Black Medina
Six poems published by Nutty Stories (South Africa)
"Pity Clarity" published by the Columbus Dispatch

2006

"Isolde's Song" published by The Raintown Review and nominated for the Pushcart Prize
"The Effects of Memory" read by the Candlelight Reading Series
Three poems in The Lyric
Four poems in the Katrina Anthology
Ten poems in Poetry Life & Times
"Indestructible, for Johnny Cash" published by Strong Verse
Thirty poems published by Famous Poets and Poems
Six poems published by Kritya (India)

2007

Four poems published by the Anthology of Contemporary American Poetry
Four poems published by the Captivating Poetry anthology
Six poems published by Other Voices International
"Neglect" published by Bones of the Homeless
Four poems published by Gostinaya (Russia)
Three poems published by Poets for Humanity
Three poems published by For Darfur
Nine poems published by On the Road with Judy "Joy" Jones

2008

"Discrimination" published by Trinacria and nominated for the Pushcart Prize
Two poems published by Voices Israel
"Mother's Smile" published by Poems for Big Kids (anthology)
"Mother's Smile" wins the Penguin Books (UK) Valentine's Day poetry contest
Six poems in Jewish Letter (Russia)

2009

Anti-Torture Letter in TIME
Two poems in Light Quarterly: "Generation Gap" and "Heaven Bent."
"My Five" in The Hindu (India)
Many letters in The Tennessean
Two poems in Verse Weekly

Heaven Bent
by Michael R. Burch

This life is hell; it can get no worse.
Summon the coroner, the casket, the hearse!
But I’m upwardly mobile. How the hell can I know?
I can only go up; I’m already below!

See the entry for 1974 for the genesis of this poem.

2010

Burch begins writing a weekly column for the Nashville City Paper.
Letter about Palestinian reparations in USA Today
Five poems in Stremez (translated into Macedonian)
Burch-Elberry Peace Initiative published by the National Forum of India
Five poems published by The New Formalist
"Neglect" published by Daily Kos/Black Kos
Fifteen poems published by Litera (UK)
Thirty poems published by Poems About

2011

Letter about U.S. veto of Palestinian state in USA Today
"Just Smile" published by Victorian Violet Press and nominated for the Pushcart Prize
"Child of 9-11" in The Lyric
"Auschwitz Rose" appeared on the Virginia Tech website
Twenty-four poems in Inspirational Stories
"Yet Another Uprising" in Liberty's Vigil anthology

2012

Violets, for Beth published, a collection of love poems by Michael R. Burch for his wife.
Burch's first YouTube video is a kinetic version of his Einstein "Imagination" poem.
"Listen" in the Nonsuch Anthology (UK)
Four poems published in Czech translations.
"Child of 9-11" and "Epitaph for a Palestinian Child" in the first issue of Angle
"Child of 9-11" in Troubles of the World anthology.
"Mandela" published by New Age Newspaper (South Africa)
Quotes in Boloji Superb Quotes (India).
Thirty-six poems in Scoran.
"The Desk, for Jeremy" and "The Aery Faery Princess" appeared in Jean Milliken's lovely book of children's poems.

2013

O Terrible Angel, for Beth published, a collection of love poems by Michael R. Burch for his wife.
"Wulf and Eadwacer" and two other translations in Measure.
"Auschwitz Rose" taught at Burch's alma mater, Tennessee Tech.
Four poems published by Shot Glass Journal
Eight poems published by Boston Poetry Magazine

2014

Burch's second YouTube video is one of his "Child Poets of Gaza" poems.
"We Did Not Dye in Vain" published by The American Dissident

2015

Jasper Sole does YouTube readings of "Enigma," "Moments" and "Something."
Nine poems in Promosaik (Denmark/Germany) plus an interview.

2016


Trump "Green Party" letter published by CNN.com
Burch's translations of 15 poems by the immortal Sappho of Lesbos were read on BBC Radio 3 by the British actresses Diana Quick and Sophie Ward.

2017

"First They Came for the Muslims" published by Amnesty International in its Words That Burn anthology.
Nine poems from "The Children of Gaza" set to music by the composer Alexander Comitas (Eduard de Boer).
Lillian Y. Wong does YouTube videos of five Burch poems, including "Ali's Song" and "Something."
Two poems in Light Quarterly.
"Mother of Cowards" in Light Quarterly.

2018

Burch's "Fire/Rehire Robert Mueller" letter published by USA Today
"First They Came for the Muslims" published by The Hindu (India)
"The Bachelor Spectacular" in Light Quarterly.

2019

Burch's "Sweet Rose of Virtue" translation published by Academia.edu
"Willy Nilly" set to music by composer Gary Deslaurier.

2020

Kajal Ahmad does YouTube readings of three Burch translations of her Kurdish poems.
Burch becomes a board member of Borderless Journal (based in Singapore).
Borderless Journal publishes a large number of Burch poems, starting with "I Pray Tonight."
"Cherokee Traveler's Blessing III" set to music by composer Patricia Falanga.
Native American translations set to music by composer Paula Downes.
"I Pray Tonight" set to music by composer Mark Buller.
"I Pray Tonight" set to music by composer Kyle Scheuing.
"Epitaph for a Child of the Holocaust" set to music by composer Sloane Simon.
"How Long the Night" translation set to music by composer Seth Wright.
"Will There Be Starlight" to be set to music by composer Jerry Gerber (?).
Two poems in Lighten Up Online.
"Low-T Hel" in LIGHT.
Two poems in Hibiscus (India).
Burch's translation of "Let Us Be Midwives" published by Hiroshima University (Japan).
Burch's translation of "The Burning of the Books" published by The Hindu (India).d
"Rallying the Dupes" in Light Quarterly.

2021

Burch had the first five poems in the first issue of New Lyre.
More than 50 poems and translations by Burch are featured in New Lyre #2.
Burch's erotic poems and translations go viral on porn and escort websites!
Burch's translations of Robert Burns are published by the Alloway Burns Club (Scotland).
Ber Horvitz "Der Himmel" translation set to music by composer Ella Roberts.
Nine translations of Enheduanna at SindhuNews.net
Eight Rilke translations in Setu (India).
Five Shugyo translations in Brief Poems.
Ben Reads Poetry
recites three Burch poems on YouTube.
Five of Burch's translations of Sappho are published by Daily Kos.
"Chit Chat" in The Chained Muse.
Two poems in Bewildering Stories.
"Myth" wins a Dylan Thomas poetry contest.
Three translations front page at ALLPOETRY, billed as the world's biggest poetry website.
Burch's Herman Cain parody wins a prize at the Washington Post "Style Invitational."
Burch's translation of "Bede's Death Song" published by the Sri Lanka Guardian
"The Tapestry of Leaves" was set to music by composer David Hamilton and performed by a New Zealand choir.

2022

Ten poems in New Lyre #3.
"Hymn to an Art-o-Matic Laundromat" wins an Oldie poetry contest. 
Open University publishes Burch's translation of the Shugyo "rowboat" poem.
"Midnight Lullaby" was set to music by composer David Hamilton.
"We Came Together" was set to music by composer David Hamilton and performed by a New Zealand choir.
"For a Ukrainian Child, with Butterflies" set to music by composer Pauli Hansen.
"Epitaph for a Palestinian Child" is published by Dissident Voice.
Benjamin Jones publishes a book, Pete Rose Unforgiven Forever, based on Burch's extensive article on The HyperTexts, often quoting it at length, verbatim.
Burch's epigram "A question that sometimes drives me hazy: Am I or are the others crazy?" at one time returned 34K Google results and is now being used to sell t-shirts and coffee mugs! The quote went viral after Pharrell Williams retweeted it.

2023

David Gosselin did YouTube readings of 12 poems.
Age of Muses readings and discussions of two Burch poems.
Nine poems in New Lyre #4.
Los Angeles Harbor College published "Caedmon's Hymn" translation.
The artist Malika Favre used Burch's "cliff" translation of Baudelaire in an art book.
Nine poems in ArtVilla
Seven poems in Brief Poems
Six poems in Setu (India)
Four poems in Borderless Journal (Singapore)
Burch's translation of "Undine" by Renee Vivien published by Daily Kos
Two Burch translations of Uyghur poems published by Everyman's Library (Penguin Random House)
Burch's translation of Sappho's fragment 113 ("Honey nor Bee") published by the University of Arizona Poetry Center.
The Anti-Defamation League in partnership with the Aspen Institute publishes Burch's translation of "Enough for Me" by Fadwa Tuqan in a 115-page booklet that is used in conjunction with a series of seminars in Jerusalem, Tel-Aviv, Haifa and Jaffa in January 2023.

Poems about My Childhood Written as an Adult

"Ironic Vacation" (2020)

At age 65, the last time I checked I had over 8,000 publications, including poems that have gone viral. That does not include poems I published online myself on my literary journal The HyperTexts, or via websites like AllPoetry, HelloPoetry, PoemHunter, PoetrySoup, Quora and Writer's Cafe. If I included those publications, I would probably be getting close to 10,000.



PERSONAL FAVORITES: A TIMELINE

These are my personal favorites of my early poems, in roughly chronological order, all written (or at least started and largely created) in my teens.

KEY: *LJ = Published by a Literary Journal

• "Bible Libel" (1969-1971), age 11-13, is the first poem I can remember writing.

• "Happiness" (1971), age 13, was not one of my better early poems, but it's the first longish poem that I can remember writing.

• "Playmates" (1972), age 13-14, has some nice lines for the age at which it was written. My high school English teacher, Ann Meyers, called it "beautiful." It is the second longish poem that I can remember writing. *LJ

• "Smoke" (1972), age 14, was written after I saw an ad for the movie Summer of '42. It was my first "rhyme rich" poem. *LJ

• "Time" (1972-1973) and "Am I" (1972-1973), age 14-15, were written on the same day if I remember things correctly. I believe these are well-crafted poems for the age at which they were written. *LJ

• "Burn, Ovid" and "Sex 101" were started circa 1972-1973, age 14-15, but not finished till 2001 and have been revised more than most of the poems here. *LJ

• "Have I Been Too Long at the Fair" (1972-1973), age 14-15, was written during the summer prior to my starting 10th grade at Maplewood High School.

• "Leave Taking" was excerpted from the long poem "Jessamyn's Song" (1972-1974), circa age 14-16. "Jessamyn's Song" was my most ambitious boyhood project. While far from a great poem, it had some very good lines for the age at which it was written. *LJ

"An Illusion" circa age 15-16, *LJ

• "Observance" (1975) written in a McDonald's break room, around age 16-17, was my first "real poem." I started working at McDonald's once I had my driver's permit, so the poem could have been written at age 16. *LJ

• "Elegy for a little girl, lost" (1975), age 17, written while sneak-reading one of my sister's steamy historical romance novels. This was my first translation.

• "Davenport Tomorrow" (1975), age 17, *LJ

• "Listen" (1975-1976), age 17-18, *LJ

• "Infinity" (1976), age 18, was my second "real poem." *LJ

• "Will There Be Starlight" (1976), age 18, *LJ

"Styx" (1976), age 18, was reduced from a longer poem "Death" to an epigram. *LJ

• "Myth" (1976),  age 18, was my first and only "sprung rhythm" poem. *LJ


• "These Hallowed Halls" (1976-1977), age 18-19, was written from my freshman dorm window during rush week. I worked on it, on and off, during my freshman year. *LJ

• "In the Whispering Night" (1976-1977), age 18-19, was written as a freshman for my favorite college English teacher, George King, who was also a poet. *LJ

• "Poetry" (1976-1977), age 18-19, was my Ars Poetica, written during my freshman year. *LJ

• "Something" (1976-1977), age 18-19, was my first free verse/non-rhyming poem. *LJ

• "Shadows" (1976-1977), age 18-19, *LJ

• "Moon Lake" (1976-1978), age 18-20, *LJ


• "Floating/Entanglements" (1977), age 19, *LJ

• "Mare Clausum" (1977), age 19, *LJ

• "Shock" (1977), age 19, *LJ

• "The Sky Was Turning Blue" (1977), age 19

• "The Communion of Sighs" (1977-1978), age 19-20, *LJ

• "The Toast" (1977-1978), age 19-20, *LJ

• "Ince St. Child" (1977-1978), age 19-20, *LJ

• "R.I.P." (1977-1978), age 19-20, *LJ

• "Earthbound" (1977-1978), age 19-20, *LJ

• "The Leveler" (1977-1978), age 19-20, *LJ

• "Regret" (circa 1978), age 20, *LJ

• "Step Into Starlight" (1978-1979), age 20-21, *LJ

• "Sappho's Lullaby" (1979-1980), age 21-22, *LJ

• "Desdemona" (circa 1980), age 22, *LJ

• "The Harvest of Roses" (circa 1982), age 24, *LJ

Honorable Mention: "Stones" (1974), "Pilgrim Mountain" (1974), "i (dedicated to u)" (1975), "Sarjann" (1975), "Having Touched You" (1976), "Something of Sunshine" (1974), "hey pete" (1976), "The Beautiful People" (1976), "Son" (1977), "Unfoldings, for Vicki" (1977), "Christy" (1977), "Flying" (1974-1975), "Freedom" (1978), "Premonition" (1978-1979), "Reflections on the Loss of Vision" (1978), "Sea Dreams" (1976), "Sanctuary at Dawn" (1978), "Winter" (1978-1979), "Lay Down Your Arms" (1979), "Laughter from Another Room" (1977)

Following are other early poems of Michael R. Burch, in alphabetic order by title. Many of the dates are "educated guesses" but all poems were substantially complete by 1978, when I submitted them to a national poetry contest.

"A Midnight Shade of Blue" (circa 1974-1976; appears in 1978 poetry contest folder and was written in high school) *MS
"A Pledge for Ignorance" (circa 1973-1974; appears in 1978 poetry contest folder and was written in high school) *MS
"Blue Cowboy" (circa 1974-1976; appears in 1978 poetry contest folder and was written early in high school) *MS
"By and By" (circa 1972; appears in 1978 poetry contest folder and was written ~ age 14) *MS
"Cowpoke" (circa 1974-1976; appears in 1978 poetry contest folder and was written in high school) *MS
"Damp Days" (circa 1974-1976; appears in 1978 poetry contest folder and was written in high school) *MS
"Dance With Me" (circa 1976-1977; written as a college freshman after conversations with George King) *MS
"Dance With Me II" (circa 1976-1977; written as a college freshman after conversations with George King)
"Easter, in Jerusalem (circa 1974; appears in 1978 poetry contest folder and was written in high school) *MS
"El Dorado" (circa 1974-1976; appears in 1978 poetry contest folder, probably started in high school) *MS
"Every Time I Think of Leaving" (circa 1975-1978; appears in 1978 poetry contest folder) *MS
"Flying" (circa 1975-1978; appears in 1978 poetry contest folder and was written in high school) *MS
"I Held a Heart in My Outstretched Hand" (circa 1977-1978; appears in 1978 poetry contest folder, probably written in college) *MS
"Impressions of Darkness in the Aspects of Light" (circa 1977; converted to a short story for a college English class; appears in 1978 poetry contest folder) *MS
"Jessamyn's Song (circa 1972-1974; appears in 1978 poetry contest folder and was written early in high school) *MS
"Let's Dance / Dance With Me II" (circa 1976-1977; written in college; appears in 1978 poetry contest folder) *MS
"Moon Lake" also titled "Lake Echo" (circa 1978)
"Oh say that you are mine" (circa 1976; appears in 1978 poetry contest folder and was written in high school or early college) *MS
"Pilgrim Mountain" (circa 1974-1976; appears in 1978 poetry contest folder and was written in high school) *MS
"Reflections on the Loss of Vision" (1978; appears in 1978 poetry contest folder and was written in college) *MS
"Remembrance" (circa 1977-1978; appears in 1978 poetry contest folder, written with "dance" poems in college) *MS
"Rock" (circa 1977; appears in 1978 poetry contest folder and was written in high school during songwriting phase) *MS
"Sailor's Dreams / Sea Dreams" (circa 1976-1978; appears in 1978 poetry contest folder) *MS
"Sanctuary at Dawn" (circa 1973-1976; appears in 1978 poetry contest folder, written circa age 15) *MS
"Shanie" (1978; appears in 1978 poetry contest folder and was new-minted for contest) *MS
"Shadows" (1976-1977; appears in 1978 poetry contest folder and may have been started in high school) *MS
"Spirare and Amora" later re-titled "Amora's Complaint" (circa 1977-1978; appears in 1978 poetry contest folder) *MS
"Stewark Island/Ambiguity" (circa 1976; appears in 1978 poetry contest folder and was written in high school at age 18) *MS
"Sweet Inspiration" (circa 1975-1976; appears in 1978 poetry contest folder and was probably written as a high school senior) *MS
"Thoughts of the Everglades in Ontario" (1978; appears in 1978 poetry contest folder, written in college) *MS
"there is peace where i am going" (circa 1973 after watching a TV show about Woodstock; appears in 1978 poetry contest folder) *MS
"Where Have All the Flowers Gone" (circa 1976-1978; appears in 1978 poetry contest folder and was written in high school or early college) *MS
"Where, Oh Where Was I" (circa 1975; appears in 1978 poetry contest folder and was written in high school) *MS
"Why Did You Leave" (circa 1975-1976; appears in 1978 poetry contest folder and was written in high school) *MS
"Writing" (circa 1977-1978; appears in 1978 poetry contest folder and was probably written in college) *MS
"You Didn't Have Time (and Now You Have None)" (circa 1975-1978; appears in 1978 poetry contest folder and was written in high school) *MS
"Winter" (circa 1978-1979; then put aside and not revised until 1997)
"Regret" (circa 1978-1980, but perhaps a bit earlier due to the poem's Romantic style)



TIMELINE/CHRONOLOGY WITHOUT REGARD TO QUALITY

1969-1971

"Bible Libel" (circa 1969-1971) *LJ(7) [#1] (**)

1971

"Happiness" was my first "longish" poem and the beginning of my career as a poet. The title was ironic because as the poem says, "Happiness is like a bubble." (1971-1972)
"Playmates" is the second longish poem I can remember writing; it was published by The Lyric. (1971-1972) *P *LJ [#2] (**)
"Smoke" was published by The Eclectic Muse, Fullosia Press and Better Than Starbucks, and in a Romanian translation. (1971-1972) *L *H77 *LJ(4) [#3] (**)

1972

"I Remember You" was later dedicated to a schoolmate who died in an accident. (1972) *P
"So Little Time" (1972) *L
"Autumn Lament" (circa 1972)
"Belfast's Streets" (circa 1972, revised in 1978) (*)
"Gone" is actually gone, destroyed in a moment of frustration along with all the other poems I was not able to recreate from memory. (1972-1973)
"Time" (1972-1973) *P (**)
"Am I" (1972-1973) *P (**)
"Time" and "Am I" were companion poems written on the same day, or within a short period of time, if I remember correctly. They were among the earliest of what I call my "I Am" and "Am I" poems.
"Bound/Why Did I Go" (1972-1973) *L (**)
"Morning" (circa 1972-1973, revised in 1975) *L
"All My Children" (1972-1973)
"Dust (I)" (1972-1973) this was at one time the final stanza of "All My Children"
"Leave Taking" (1972-1974) *MS *LJ(5) [#4] (****)
"Jessamyn's Song" is a long poem I worked on over a period of several years. (1972-1974) *MS (*)
"Have I Been Too Long at the Fair" (1973-1974) *L (**)

Scorecard: age 14, four publications, by which I mean four poems that have been published by literary journals, not including duplicate publications.

1973

SONGWRITING PERIOD. After the conclusion of my freshman year of high school, ninth grade, my family moved from Goldsboro, North Carolina, to Nashville, Tennessee. It was during the hot, muggy summer of 1973, at age 15, that I became really serious about poetry. However, I had aspirations to be a songwriter. The last eight starred poems below were written as song lyrics. However, because I was a terrible singer and had no musical ability, my songwriting career never took off ...

"Burn, Ovid" (1972-1973) a poem written about my experiences with lust for a choir director at Faith Christian Academy, circa 1972-1973. *LJ [#5] (***)
"Sex 101" (1972-1973) is another poem written about my experiences at FCA. *LJ [#6] (***)
"there is peace where i am going" (1973) *MS
"You'll Never Know" (1973)
"A Pledge for Ignorance" (1973-1974) *H78 *MS
"Dust (II)" (1973-????) this one was written sometime after the first "Dust"
"Dust (III)" (1973-????) the third in the series, not sure about the year
Gainsboro(ugh) (1973)
"Paradise" (1973) *PWS
"Be Back Soon" (1973) *PWS
"Looking for Love" (1973) *PWS
"Heaven Help Us" (1973) *PWS
"Ain't It Beautiful" (1973) *PWS
"Prisoner" (1973) *PWS
"I Need You" (1973) *PWS
"Rose Colored Glasses" (1973) *PWS

Scorecard: age 15, six publications. A good bit of my writing during this period was songwriting. The best poems from this period are the first two, but they have been pretty heavily revised and seem more mature than my writing at this time. So I will chalk this year up more to musical aspirations than to poetry, per se.

1974

CUMMINGS PERIOD. Sometime around 1973-1974, at age 15 to 16, I discovered the poetry of e. e. cummings and began writing free verse, or freer verse. Like cummings, I wrote musical poems and employed rhyme, but I felt free to ignore and break rules that didn't appeal or make sense to me. I call this my "cummings period." The first six poems below were in that mold. But I continued to write more traditional verse as well. I think "Leave Taking" is the best poem from this period, and it's a poem I still like today.

"An Illusion" (1974) *LH *LJ [#7] (**)
"Something of sunshine" (1974) *L (**)
"As time walked by" (1974) *L (*)
"i (dedicated to u)" (1974-1975) (**)
"jasbryx" (1974-1976) (*)
"impressions of a desert" (1974-1976)
"She's a fable of metempsychosis" (1974) was a Cyrano poem I wrote for my friend Gary King to help him woo the lovely Demetria Morris.
"(Oh God) I Am Lonely" (1974-1975) *L
"Bound/Why Did I Go?" (1974-1975) *L (**)
"Tell Me" published as "Tell Me What I Am" (1973-1974) *L
"49th Street Serenade" *WS
"When last my love left me" (1974-1976) *H77
"Man" was published by a vanity press called World of Poetry before I knew what a vanity press was! (1974) *L
"Easter, in Jerusalem" (1974) was written in high school. *H78 *MS
"Sheila" (1974) *L
"A Midnight Shade of Blue" (circa 1974-1976) *MS
"I Saw the Sun Rising" (circa 1974, possibly slightly revised in 1979)
"Stones" (1974) (**)
"Pilgrim Mountain" (1974-1976) (**)
"Flight" or "Eagle, Raven, Blackbird, Crow" (1974) (*)
"Clown" (1974)
"Canticle" (circa 1974-1975)
"Observance" was written in a McDonald's break room, age 16-17. (1974-1975) *LJ(7) [#8] (****)
"Damp Days" (1974-1976)
"Liar" (1974-1975)
"El Dorado" (1974-1976)
"Cowpoke" (circa 1974-1976)
"Blue Cowboy" (circa 1974-1976; appears in 1978 poetry contest folder) *MS
"Keep Up" (circa 1974-1976) *LJ [#9] (*)
"Roll On, Red River" (circa 1974-1978)

Other 1974 poems: "Yesterday my father died," "The Poet," "Describing You"

Scorecard: age 16, nine publications.

1975

EARLY ROMANTIC PERIOD. "Observance" is the first poem I wrote that made me catch my breath and made me think I had written a "real poem." And I still feel that way today. "Observance" was originally titled "Reckoning." But I wasn't able to publish the poem for some time. It started out as a longer poem and I was never happy with some of the stanzas. Then one day it occurred to me to pare the poem down to just the best stanzas. That worked for me, but it took me several years to come up with that solution. Ditto for "Infinity," the second poem that made me feel like a real poet. So I was making progress, but didn't yet know all the tricks of the trade. Another poem I especially like from this period is my first translation, "Elegy for a little girl, lost."

"Morning" (circa 1972-1973, revised in 1975) *L
"The Resurrection" (1975) *L
"Elegy for a little girl, lost" (circa 1975), *LJ [#10] (***)
"Sarjann" (1975)
"Flying" (1974-1975, possibly revised in 1978)
"Embryo" (1975)
"The Snowman Sleeps in the Sea" (1975)
"War" (1975)
"Davenport Tomorrow" (1975) *LJ [#11] (***)
"Listen" (1975-1976) *LJ [#12] (***)
"Parting" (1975-1976) *L
"Of You" (1974-1976) *L
"Jack" (1975-1976) *H77
"Born to Run" (1975-1976) was a poem written after Bruce Springsteen appeared on the cover of TIME and finished my freshman year in college
"Poet to poet" (1975-1978) was inspired by the "I Have a Dream" poem/sermon/speech of Dr. Martin Luther King Jr. *LJ [#13] (**)
"You didn't have time" (written in 1975 then revised in 1978)

Other 1975 poems: "teacher," "Stewark Island (Ambiguity)," "Sharon," "Aubade," (a poem written in Ms. Davenport's English class), "Alice," "Hills," "Marie," "Twelve-Thirty" (the last two were written on or around the same day, I believe)

Scorecard: age 17, now up to 13 publications.

1976

MIDDLE ROMANTIC PERIOD. I was already a professional poet by age 18, as I would eventually receive a whopping ten dollars for allowing "Infinity" to be printed in broadsheets! Other poems I really like from this period include "Death/Styx," "In the Whispering Night," "Will There Be Starlight," "hey pete" and "These Hallowed Halls." I was making progress as a poet, and these poems have been admired by poets who know and appreciate good poems when they see them. "Death/Styx" was another poem pared down from a longer poem, in this case into an epigram.

"Death/Styx" (circa 1976) *LJ(3) [#15] (****)
"Because You Came to Me" (1976)
"Infinity" (1976) *LJ(11) [#14] (****)
"hey pete" (1976)
"Having Touched You" (1976)
"The Beautiful People" (1976)
"Be That Rock" (1976) *LJ [#20] (**)
"Ode to the Sun" (1976) *LJ [#21] (*)
"Will There Be Starlight" (1976) *LJ(10) [#16] (****)
"Be Strong" (circa 1976-1978)
"What is this 'love'?" was one of my first attempts at the sonnet form. (1976)
"Will you walk with me?" was another early attempt at a sonnet. (1976)
"Myth" was, I believe, written toward the end of my senior year of high school. (circa 1976) *LJ [#18] (***)
"The Beautiful People" (circa 1975-1976) *LJ [#22] (**)
"Beckoning" was written around 1976, then put aside and revised in 1982.
"Shadows" (1976-1977) *MS *LJ [#23] may have been started in high school. (**)
"Righteous" (1976) written toward the end of my senior year, I believe. *LJ [#24] (**)
"Something" (1976-1977) *LJ(10) [#25] written later in my senior year, I believe. (****)

I believe the poems below were all written early in my freshman year of college, although some may have been started in high school.

"These Hallowed Halls" (1976-1977) was written during rush week from my dorm room window. (***)
"Gentry" (1976) *H77
"Stryx" (1976-1977) *H77
"In the Whispering Night" is a poem I wrote for a college English teacher, George King. (1976-1977) *LJ [#26] (***)
"In the Whispering Night (II)" is the original version of the poem.
"Dance With Me" (circa 1976-1977; written as a college freshman after conversations with George King)
"Dance With Me II" (circa 1976-1977; written as a college freshman after conversations with George King)
"The Song of the Wanderers" and "Stryx" were written around the same time (1976-1977)
"With My Daughter, By a Waterfall" (1976-1977; written as a college freshman) H77
"Moon Lake" (1976-1978) *LJ [#19] (***)
"Tomb Lake" (1976-1981) (*)
"Sea Dreams" (circa 1976-1978)
"Son" (circa 1976-1977)
"Shadows" (1976-1977) *H79 *LJ [#23] (**)
"Poetry" (1976-1977), age 18-19, *LJ [#27] (***)

Other 1976 poems: "Phantasmagoria," "The Black Hills," "Whereas I am twenty," "We Kept the Dream Alive," "One summer's dream," "Searching," "Chains," "My Grandfather's Hills," "Rag Doll," "Where have all the flowers gone?"

Scorecard: age 18, now up to 26 publications. Finally, I have more publications than I have years!

1977

At least eight poems from this period were later published by literary journals (*LJ), so it seems I may have been been onto something fairly good, while still in my teens. I even made money on "The Toast" (a whopping five dollars). The best poems from this period, in my opinion, are "Something," "Floating/Entanglements," "Mare Clausum," and "Shock."

"Floating/Entanglements" (1977) *LJ [#30] (***)
"Mare Clausum" (1977) *LJ [#31] (***)
"Shock" (1977) *LJ [#32] (**)
"The Toast" (1977) *LJ [#29] (***)
"Ince St. Child" (1977) *LJ [#33] (***)
"Nevermore!" (1977) *LJ [#34] (**)
"R.I.P." (1977) *LJ [#35] (***)
"The Sky Was Turning Blue" (1977) (**)
"Ambition" (1977)
"The Poet's Condition" (1977)
"130 Refuted" was written in college as a response to Shakespeare's Sonnet 130. (circa 1976-1977) *LJ [#36] (***)
"Burn" (1977-1978) and later dedicated to Trump after he pulled the US out of the Paris climate change accords
"Unfoldings, for Vicki" (1977)
"Love Unfolded Like a Flower" (originally titled "Christy") was a poem I wrote as a college sophomore for a "major crush." (1977) *LJ [#37] (**)
"Laughter from Another Room" (1977-1982)
"Milestones Toward Oblivion" (circa 1977) *LJ [#38]
"Playthings" a sequel to my very early poem "Playmates" (1977)
"alien" (1977), a poem I would revise nearly a quarter century later, in 2001.
"Analogy" (1977-1980)

Other 1977 poems: "Hush, my darling," "Charlie Hustle," "Olivia," "Son," "My Fair Love"

Scorecard: age 19, now up to 38 publications.

1978

By age 20, I think I was more consistent as a poet. The first eight poems below seem like strong ones to me, and the editors of the literary journals who published them seem to agree.

"The Communion of Sighs" (1978) *LJ [#40] (****)
"Earthbound" (1978) *LJ [#41] (***)
"The Leveler" (1978) *LJ(4) [#39] (***)
"Step Into Starlight" (1978-1979) was published by The Lyric many years later. *LJ [#42] (***)
"Winter" (1978-1979) was published by Songs of Innocence, The Aurorean and Contemporary Rhyme. *LJ(3) [#43] (**)
"Rant: An Obscenity Trial" (1977-1978; appears in 1978 poetry contest folder, probably written in college, published by two journals but heavily revised) *MS *LJ [#44] (**)
"Accounting" (circa 1978) *LJ [#45] (**)
"Frail Envelope of Flesh" was published by The Lyric, Promosaik (Germany), Setu (India) and Poetry Life & Times; also translated into Arabic by Nizar Sartawi and Italian by Mario Riglic. *LJ(6) [#46] (****)
"Premonition" (1978-1979) was a poem I wrote after my first office party, while co-oping as a college sophomore. *LJ [#47] (**)
"Regret (circa 1978) *LJ [#48] (***)
"Reflections on the Loss of Vision" (1978) *MS (**)
"Sanctuary at Dawn" (1978) (**)
"Freedom" (1978) (**)
"Huntress" (1978) *LJ [#49] (**)
"It's Halloween" (1978) *LJ [#50] (*)

Other 1978 poems: "All the Young Sailors," "Every time I think of leaving," "The Song of Roland," "Again and Again and Again"

Scorecard: age 20, now up to 51 publications, more than double my age!

1979

My favorite poem from this period is "Sappho's Lullaby." Around this time I got pretty deep into hustling pool and chasing girls, so I was not putting as much time or effort into my writing.

"Lay Down Your Arms" (one of my earliest published poems in The Romantist, circa 1992-1994) *LJ (**)
"Sappho's Lullaby" (1979-1980, originally titled "Hushed Yet Melodic" then later dedicated to my wife Beth and son Jeremy) *LJ (***)
"Regret" (circa 1978-1980) *LJ (***)
"absinthe sea"
"Adagio"
"Cameo" (**)
"Chains"
"Dark Eyes"
"Dreamer"
"Each Color a Scar" (**)
"Every Time I Think of Leaving ..."
"Ghosts of the Shawnee"
"Go down to the hoe-down"
"I'll Meet Her in a Memory"
"In Affection"
"Insane Asylum Songs"
"Intricate Melody" inspired by the Bobby Hatfield version of "Unchained Melody"
"Leaden-eyed lovers"
"Meg"
"Natashe"
"Revisitation" (**)
"Snapdragons"
"The Swing" (**)
"The Offering" (*)
"The Organ Grinder"
"The spinster waltz"
"There Must Be Love"
"War"
"Won't You"

Scorecard: age 21, now up to 54 publications.

1980

Ditto with the time demands of hustling pool and chasing girls. My favorite poem from this period is "Fairest Diana," which I wrote for Princess Diana. I also especially like "Desdemona," "Impotent," "Stars" and "Kinder that Light" (which I turned into "After the Deluge" after I almost lost my wife Beth to the Great Nashville Flood).

"Fairest Diana" (circa 1980) *LJ (***)
"Desdemona" (circa 1980) *LJ(5) (***)
"Impotent" (circa 1980) (***)
"Analogy" (circa 1980)
"Kinder Than Light/After the Deluge" (1980) (***)
"Stars" (circa 1980-1982) (**)
"As the Flame Flowers" (circa 1980)
"Ashes" (circa 1980)
"Recursion" (circa 1980)
"Perspective" (1980)
"Childhood's End" (circa 1980-1982) *LJ (**)
"The Latter Days" (1980)
"Lying" (1980)
"Sundown" (1980)
"When i was in my heyday" (1980)

Scorecard: age 22, now up to 58 publications.

1981

Apparently, I didn't write much poetry in 1981. My notes show that I worked on a revision of "Tomb Lake" and that's about it. Or maybe I stopped taking notes that year.

"Tomb Lake" revision (1981)

1982

It seems 1982 was another light year for poetry writing.

"Every Man Has a Dream" (1982) was written in a bar while wooing a young lady that I ended up living with, on-and-off, for five years.
"The Harvest of Roses" (1982) *LJ
"Beckoning" revision (1982)
"Childhood's End" revision (1982)
"The Last Enchantment" first revision (1982)
"When Last My Love Left Me" revision (1982)
"There Are Dreams" (1982) is a poem I wrote when Jack Nicklaus lost the 1982 US Open.
"Styx" revision (1982)
"Ecstasy" revision (1982)
"If Not For Love" (1982)
"jasbryx" revision (1982)
"Laughter from Another Room" revision (1977-1982)

Scorecard: age 24, now up to 59 publications.

1983

Another slow year.

1984

"Bound" revision (1984)
"The Last Enchantment" second revision (1984)
"Smoke" revision (1984)
"Ode to the Sun" revision (1984)
"Rachel Lindsey" (1984)

1985

As far as I can tell, 1985 was pretty much a blank for me, poetry-wise.

1986

"Musings at Giza" (1986) *LJ
"Desdemona" revision (1986)
Poems written for CC (1986)

Scorecard: age 28, up to 60 publications.

1987

"For Jack Nicklaus, at the 1987 Open" (1987)
"I wish you all the best" and other poems for CC (1987)

1988

"Thirty" was written on my 30th birthday (1988) *LJ
"You" (1988) *LJ

Scorecard: age 30, up to 62 publications.



POEMS


These are my "cummings period" poems, circa age 15 to 19 ....


alien
by michael r. burch, circa age 19

there are mornings in england
when, riddled with light,
the Blueberries gleam at us—
plump, sweet and fragrant.

but i am so small ...
what do i know
of the ways of the Daffodils?
“beware of the Nettles!”

we go laughing and singing,
but somehow, i, ...
i know i am lost. i do not belong
to this Earth or its Songs.

and yet i am singing ...
the sun—so mild;
my cheeks are like roses;
my skin—so fair.

i spent a long time there
before i realized: They have no faces,
no bodies, no voices.
i was always alone.

and yet i keep singing:
the words will come
if only i hear.

One of my earliest memories is picking blueberries amid the brambles surrounding the tiny English hamlet, Mattersey, where I and my mother lived with her parents while my American father was stationed in Thule, Greenland, where dependents were not allowed. Was that because of the weather or the nukes? In any case, England is free of dangerous animals, but one must be wary of the copious thorns and nettles. I seem to remember writing this poem as a college sophomore, around age 19, in 1977. According to my notes, I revised the poem many years later, in March 2001.



hymn to Apollo
by Michael R. Burch, circa age 16

something of sunshine attracted my i
as it lazed on the afternoon sky,
                                  golden,
splashed on the easel of god ...

what,
i thought,
could this elfin stuff be,
to, phantomlike,
                          flit
            tall
through      trees
on       days, such as these?
     fall

and the breeze
whispered a dirge
to the vanishing light;
enchoired with the evening, it sang;
its voice
enchantedly
rang
chanting “Night!” ...

till all the bright light
retired,
expired.

This poem appeared in my high school literary journal, the Lantern, so I was no older than 18 when I wrote it, probably younger. I will guess around 16 or 17. It was titled "Something of Sunshine" at the time. The first half of the poem is largely the same but the second half is probably the most revised in this collection. The three closing lines were written around 45 years later, at age 61. There was a companion poem, also published in the Lantern, called "as Time walked by."




as Time walked by
by Michael R. Burch, circa age 16

yesterday i dreamed of u(s) again,
when
the air, like honey,
trickled through cushioning grasses,
softly flowing, pouring itself upon the masses
of dreaming flowers ...

then the sly impish Hours
were tentative, coy and shy
while the sky
swirled all its colors together,
giving pleasure to the appreciative eye
as Time walked by.

sunbright, ur smile
could fill the darkest night
with brilliant light
or thrill the dullest day
with ecstasy
so long as Time did not impede o(ur) way ...
until It did,
as It did.

for soon the summer hid
her sunny smile ...
the honeyed breaths of wind
became cold,
biting to the bone
as Time sped on,
fled from u(s)
to be gone
Forevermore.

this morning i awakened to the thought
that u were near
with honey hair and happy smile
lying sweetly by my side,
but then i remembered—u were gone,
that u'd been toppled long ago
like an orchid felled by snow
as the bloom called “us” sank slowly down to die
and Time roared by.

This poem appeared in my high school journal the Lantern in 1976 and was probably written around age 16 or thereabouts. It was written during my "cummings period," which started around 1974 after I discovered him in a high school English book.



i (dedicated to u), circa age 15
by michael r. burch

i.

i move within myself
i see beyond the sky
and fathom with full certainty:
this life’s a lethal lie

my teachers try to tell me
that they know more than i
(and well they may
but do they know
shrewd TIME is slipping by
and leaving us all to die?)

i shout within myself
i stand up to be seen
but only my eyes
watch as i rise
and i am left between
the nightmare of “REALITY”
and sleep's soothing scenes
and both are only dreams

i cry out to my “friends”
but none of them can hear
i weep in dark frustration
but they swim beyond my tears
i reach out to assist them
but they cannot find my hand
they all believe in “GOD”
yet all of them are damned

come, my self, come with me
move within your shell
cast aside ur “enlightenment”
and let us leave this living hell

ii.

i watch the maidens play
their fickle games of love
and if this is what
life is of
then i have had enough

all my teachers tell me
to con-form to SOCIETY
yet none of them will venture
how (false) it came to be
this gaud, SOCIETY

i watch the maidens play
and though i want them much
i know the illusion of their purity
would shatter at my touch
leaving annihilated truth
to be pieced together to dispel
the lies that accompany youth

i watch the maidens play
and know that what i want
i cannot take because
then it would be gone

iii.

i watch the lovely maidens
i search their sightless eyes
i find that only darkness
behind each bright orb lies

i try to touch their feelings
but they have been replaced
by intelligence and manners
and tact and social grace

i want to make them love me
but they cannot love themselves
and though they seek love desperately
and care for little else
they stand little chance
of much more than romance
for a few days

i try to friend the men
but they have even less
for they want nothing more
than whatever seems “the best”
their hollow, burnt-out eyes
reveal: their souls have flown
and all that loss has left
is a strange, sad fear of debt
and a love for things of gold

iv.

ive never seen a day break
but ive seen a life shatter
it was mine
and i suppose it still is:
all ten thousand pieces

id.

id like to put it together
(someONE please tell me how!)
for i am out of the glue
called u
that held my life together

i.e.

and i wish that u
and i were thru
but whatever u do
don’t say that we are!

I wrote this poem after discovering the poetry of e. e. cummings while reading independently in high school. My “cummings period” started around 1974 at age 15-16. I believe this poem was the first of its genre. I seem to remember working on it my sophomore and junior years, making mostly minor revisions in 1975.



jasbryx
by michael r. burch

hidden deep inside of Me
is someone else, and he is free;
he laughs aloud, yet never is heard;
he flits about, as free as a bird,
so unlike Me

silently within MySelf,
he shouts aloud and shuns the shelf
s'm'OTHERS deem to be his place;
yet SOCIETY is not disgraced,
for he is never heard
above the spoken word

o, i am not as others are —
inhuman things devoid of fire,
for i am all i seem to be —
innocent, childlike, frolicsome, free —
and i raise no ire

no, he is not as others are —
keeping up with the JONESES, raising the BAR;
for he lives his life like a soul free of CARE:
never brushing his TEETH, never parting his HAIR,
and he's no ONE's sire

yes, he is all he seems to be —
wild, rambunctious, innocent, free,
so unlike Me

I wrote this poem in high school, under the influence of e. e. cummings, sometime around 1974 at age 16 or thereabouts.



hey pete
by Michael R. Burch, circa age 18

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." I wrote this poem around age 18.



Tell me what i am
by Michael R. Burch, circa age 15-16

Tell me what i am,
for i have often wondered why i live.
Do u know?
Please, tell me so ...
drive away this darkness from within.

For my heart is black with sin
and i have often wondered why i am;
and my thoughts are lacking light,
though i have often sought what was right.

Now it is night;
please drive away this darkness from without,
for i doubt that i will see
the coming of the day
without ur help.

This poem appeared in my high school journal, the
Lantern. I believe I wrote it around age 15 to 16 during the period I wrote related "I am/am I" poems such as "I Am Lonely," "Am I," "Time" and "Why Did I Go?"



impressions of a desert
by michael r. burch

a barren
wasteland

nothing grows

from the sky
molten gold
heats, congeals

oases vanish

or waver
,unreal,

even scorpions
languish

somber
mountains
shift and merge

dustbowl seas
at the verge
of the horizon
stretch, converge

the sky is poison

sand storms
surge

lizards
whining
curse the sky
squinting fire
from burnt eyes

slipping, squirming
rattlesnakes
quench awful
yearning
for moisture
and hate

a flower
every thousand miles
rustles
crinkles
worn and dry

I wrote this poem during my “cummings period” around age 16 in 1974-1975 and revised it around 1976, according to my memory and notes.



These are other early poems of mine, in no particular order ...



Frail Envelope of Flesh, published in The Lyric and nine other journals, *LJ
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 ...

Published by The Lyric, Promosaik (Germany), Setu (India), SindhuNews (India), Tho Tru Tinh (in a Vietnamese translation by Ngu Yen), Orphans of Gaza, Irish Blog, Alarshef, Daily Motion and Poetry Life & Times; translated into Arabic by Nizar Sartawi and Italian by Mario Rigli; set to music by composer Eduard de Boer and performed in Europe by the Palestinian soprano Dima Bawab

The phrase "frail envelope of flesh" was one of my first encounters with the power of poetry, although I read it in a superhero comic book as a boy (I forget which one). I believe this was around age ten. Years later, the line kept popping into my head, so I wrote the poem. The first version of the poem was longer, about twice the length of the version above ...



Frail Envelope of Flesh
by Michael R. Burch

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

In the rookery of Time
immortal stars collide;
why mention lives of babes
when infant planets glide
through orbits weak, unstable?


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

Through dying galaxies'
strange, dark, imploding stars,
stunned planets glide and soar
like fiery meteors
for a last bewildered kiss.


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

In the soundless black abyss
where light’s a lost surmise,
dark planets spin forever
or die sometimes with never
a kiss to seal their eyes
.

I can't remember when I wrote the original, longer poem. I do know from my records that I first submitted it for publication in 1998, so it was written sometime between age ten and forty! But I think it was probably during my early or mid twenties. In any case, I submitted the shorter version to The Lyric in 2002, and it was accepted and published then. I have since dedicated the poem to the mothers and children of Gaza and the Nakba. The word Nakba is Arabic for "Catastrophe." The children of Gaza and their parents know all too well how fragile life and human happiness can be. I agree with Gandhi, who said that if we want to live in a better world, we will have to start with the children. On an interesting note, I did Google searches for the phrase "frail envelope of flesh" a number of times in the early going, trying to find the comic book where I encountered the phrase, but it was nowhere to be found on the Internet. However, recently I tried the search again and it turned up 1,650 results. Most were pages with my poem (that's a lot of cutting and pasting), but other writers are now using the phrase. I have to believe that I started a trend!



Death
by Michael R. Burch

Black waters—deep and dark and still.
All men have passed this way, or will.
The seed returns to earth; the shell
lies rooted in dark clay; the spell
of senselessness—the mind swept clear—
is all of Death we have to fear ...
And yet a lofty, troubled bell
still sadly bids the freed, “Farewell!”

I wrote “Death” around age 18 but wasn’t happy with the poem and published the first two lines separately as “Styx.” A mere 45 years later I returned to the longer poem and finally completed it, at age 63!



Desdemona
by Michael R. Burch

Though you possessed the moon and stars,
you are bound to fate and wed to chance.
Your lips deny they crave a kiss;
your feet deny they ache to dance.
Your heart imagines wild romance.

Though you cupped fire in your hands
and molded incandescent forms,
you are barren now, and—spent of flame—
the ashes that remain are borne
toward the sun upon a storm.

You, who demanded more, have less,
your heart within its cells of sighs
held fast by chains of misery,
confined till death for peddling lies—
imprisonment your sense denies.

You, who collected hearts like leaves
and pressed each once within your book,
forgot. None—winsome, bright or rare—
not one was worth a second look.
My heart, as others, you forsook.

But I, though I loved you from afar
through silent dawns, and gathered rue
from gardens where your footsteps left
cold paths among the asters, knew—
each moonless night the nettles grew

and strangled hope, where love dies too.

Published by Penny Dreadful, Carnelian, Romantics Quarterly, Grassroots Poetry and Poetry Life & Times

I believe I wrote the first version of this poem in my early twenties, around age 22 in 1980, then according to my notes revised and filed it in 1986.



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 damned
who lingered long past morning, till they learned

why it is named:
Mare Clausum.

Originally published by Penny Dreadful

Mare Clausum is Latin for "Closed Sea." I believe this poem was written around age 19. This one has been changed more than most of the poems on this page, over the years. However, the poem remains essentially the same in meaning and the ending lines have survived unchanged. I seem to remember the poem being inspired by merely reading the term Mare Clausum somewhere and finding it eerie, haunting and a bit chilling. Over the years, I tried to find words and images with a similar eerie, haunting, chilling feel.



Accounting
by Michael R. Burch

And so I have loved you, and so I have lost,
accrued disappointment, ledgered its cost,
debited wisdom, accredited pain ...
My assets remaining are liquid again.

I think I wrote this poem around the time my sister Debby decided to major in accounting. I had taken an accounting class either my freshman or sophomore year, so I was familiar with debits and credits. A guess for the composition date might be 1978-1980.



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.

“Huntress” was written around age 20, or perhaps a bit earlier, and was originally published by Sonnetto Poesia (Canada).



The Communion of Sighs, *LJ
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 poems 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.



Earthbound
by Michael R. Burch

Tashunka Witko, better known as Crazy Horse, had a vision of a red-tailed hawk at Sylvan Lake, South Dakota. In his vision he saw himself riding a floating and crazily-dancing spirit horse through a storm as the hawk flew above him, shrieking. When he awoke, a red-tailed hawk was perched near his horse.

Earthbound,
and yet I now fly
through the clouds that are aimlessly drifting ...
so high
that no sound
echoing by
below where the mountains are lifting
the sky
can be heard.

Like a bird,
but not meek,
like a hawk from a distance regarding its prey,
I will shriek,
not a word,
but a screech,
and my terrible clamor will turn them to clay—
the sheep,
the earthbound.

I believe I wrote this poem as a college sophomore in 1978, or perhaps a bit earlier, age 19 or 20. I did not know about the vision and naming of Crazy Horse at the time. But when I learned about the vision that gave Crazy Horse his name, it seemed to explain my poem and I changed the second line from "and yet I would fly" to "and yet I now fly." I believe that is the only revision I ever made to this poem.



Burn
by Michael R. Burch

for Trump

Sunbathe,
ozone baby,
till your parched skin cracks
in the white-hot flash
of radiation.

Incantation
from your pale parched lips
shall not avail;
you made this hell.
Now burn.

This was one of my early poems, written around age 19. I dedicated the poem to Trump after he pulled the United States out of the Paris climate change accords.



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 breasts,
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."



Ironic Vacation
by Michael R. Burch

Salzburg.
Seeing Mozart’s baby grand piano.
Standing in the presence of sheer incalculable genius.
Grabbing my childish pen to write a poem & challenge the Immortals.
Next stop, the catacombs!

This is a poem I wrote about a vacation my family took to Salzburg when I was a boy, age 11 or perhaps a bit older. But I wrote the poem much later in life: around 50 years later, in 2020.



Roses for a Lover, Idealized
by Michael R. Burch

When you have become to me
as roses bloom, in memory,
exquisite, each sharp thorn forgot,
will I recallyours made me bleed?

When winter makes me think of you,
whorls petrified in frozen dew,
bright promises blithe spring forgot,
will I recall your wordsbarbed, cruel?

I don't remember the exact age at which I wrote this poem, but it was around the time I realized that "love is not a bed of roses." It may be the most "mature" poem on this page, as I wrote it after breaking up with my first live-in girlfriend, in my early twenties. We did get back together, before a longer, final separation. The poem has been published by The Lyric, Trinacria, Better Than Starbucks, The Chained Muse and Glass Facets of Poetry. It has also been translated into Italian by Comasia Aquaro and published by La luce che non muore.



Martin Luther King Jr. was a poet in his famous "I Have A Dream" poem-sermon-speech. I recognized this as a boy in a poem I wrote in which an older Poet (with a capital "P") speaks to a younger poet (with a lower-case "p") who echoes his thoughts. I believe I was around 16 or 17 when I wrote the first version of the poem, due to its Romantic style and some of the word choices. In the original poem the younger poet speaks in italics but that doesn't always work with Internet cut-and-pasting, so I have also used ellipses in case the italics disappear ...

Poet to poet
by Michael R. Burch

I have a dream
...pebbles in a sparkling sand...
of wondrous things.

I see children
...variations of the same man...
playing together.

Black and yellow, red and white,
...stone and flesh, a host of colors...
together at last.

I see a time
...each small child another's cousin...
when freedom shall ring.

I hear a song
...sweeter than the sea sings...
of many voices.

I hear a jubilation
...respect and love are the gifts we must bring...
shaking the land.

I have a message,
...sea shells echo, the melody rings...
the message of God.

I have a dream
...all pebbles are merely smooth fragments of stone...
of many things.

I live in hope
...all children are merely small fragments of One...
that this dream shall come true.

I have a dream!
...but when you're gone, won't the dream have to end?...
Oh, no, not as long as you dream my dream too!

Here, hold out your hand, let's make it come true.
...i can feel it begin...
Lovers and dreamers are poets too.
...poets are lovers and dreamers too...



Love Unfolded Like a Flower
by Michael R. Burch

for Christy

Love unfolded
like a flower;
Pale petals pinked and blushed to see the sky.
I came to know you
and to trust you
in moments lost to springtime slipping by.

Then love burst outward,
leaping skyward,
and untamed blossoms danced against the wind.
All I wanted
was to hold you;
though passion tempted once, we never sinned.

Now love's gay petals
fade and wither,
and winter beckons, whispering a lie.
We were friends,
but friendships end . . .
yes, friendships end and even roses die.

This is a love poem I wrote in my late teens for a girl I had a serious crush on. The poem was originally titled "Christy."



Laughter from Another Room
by Michael R. Burch

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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



Smoke (I)
by Michael R. Burch

The hazy, smoke-filled skies of summer I remember well;
farewell was on my mind, and the thoughts that I can't tell
rang bells within (the din was in) my mind, and I can't say
if what we had was good or bad, or where it is today.
The endless days of summer's haze I still recall today;
she spoke and smoky skies stood still as summer slipped away ...
We loved and life we left alone and deftly was it done;
we sang our song all summer long beneath the sultry sun.

This is the slightly longer version of "Smoke" as it appeared in my high school journal, the Lantern, in 1976, and in my college literary journal, Homespun, in 1977. I had The Summer of '42 in mind when I wrote the original version of "Smoke." Ironically, I didn't see the movie until many years later, but something about its advertisement touched me. The movie came out in 1971 or 1972, so I was probably around 14 when I wrote the poem. The next two poems were also inspired by the movie that touched me so deeply and strangely, long before I watched it. These poems are addressed to Hermie, the movie's teenage protagonist who might have been my nebbish twin, or doppelganger. But these poems are much "later" than the other poems on this page because I didn't watch the full movie until 2001, around age 43.



Listen, Hermie
by Michael R. Burch

Listen, Hermie . . .
you can hear the strangled roar
of water inundating that lost shore . . .

and you can see how white she shone

that distant night, before
you blinked
and she was gone . . .

But is she ever really gone from you . . . or are
her lips the sweeter since you kissed them once:
her waist wasp-thin beneath your hands always,
her stockinged shoeless feet for that one dance
still whispering their rustling nylon trope
of—“Love me. Love me. Love me. Give me hope
that love exists beyond these dunes, these stars
.”

How white her prim brassiere, her waist-high briefs;
how lustrous her white slip. And as you danced—
how white her eyes, her skin, her eager teeth.
She reached, but not for sex . . . for more . . . for you . . .
You cannot quite explain, but what is true
is true despite our fumblings in the dark.

Hold tight. Hold tight. The years that fall away
still make us what we are. If love exists,
we find it in ourselves, grown wan and gray,
within a weathered hand, a wrinkled cheek.

She cannot touch you now, but I would reach
across the years to touch that chord in you
which still reverberates, and play it true.



Tell me, Hermie
by Michael R. Burch

Tell me, Hermie — when you saw
her white brassiere crash to the floor
as she stepped from her waist-high briefs
into your arms, and mutual griefs —
did you feel such fathomless awe
as mystics do, in artists’ reliefs?

How is it that dark night remains
forever with us, present still,
despite her absence and the pains
of dreams relived without the thrill
of any ecstasy but this —
one brief, eternal, transient kiss?

She was an angel; you helped us see
the beauty of love’s iniquity.



Sanctuary at Dawn
by Michael R. Burch

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

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

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

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

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

"My father!"
"My son!"

This poem appeared in my 1978 poetry contest manuscript, so it was written either in high school or during my first two years of college. While 1976 is an educated guess, it was definitely written sometime between 1974 and 1978. At that time thirty seemed "old" to me and I used that age more than once to project my future adult self. For instance, in the poem "You."



Be that Rock
by Michael R. Burch

for George Edwin Hurt Sr.

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

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

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

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

I don't remember when I wrote this poem, but I will guess around age 18 in 1976. The verse quoted is from an old, well-worn King James Bible my grandfather gave me after his only visit to the United States, as he prepared to return to England with my grandmother. I was around eight at the time and didn't know if I would ever see my grandparents again, so I was heartbroken—destitute, really. Fortunately my father was later stationed at an Air Force base in Germany and we were able to spend four entire summer vacations with my grandparents. I was also able to visit them in England several times as an adult. But the years of separation were very difficult for me and I came to detest things that separated me from my family and friends: the departure platforms of train stations, airport runways, even the white dividing lines on lonely highways and interstates as they disappeared behind my car. My idea of heaven became a place where we are never again separated from our loved ones. And that puts hell here on earth.



Having Touched You
by Michael R. Burch

What I have lost
is not less
than what I have gained.

And for each moment passed
like the sun to the west,
another remained,

suspended in memory
like a flower in crystal
so that eternity

is but an hour, and fall
is no longer a season
but a state of mind.

I have no reason
to wait; the wind
does not pause for remembrance

or regret
because there is only fate and chance.
And so then, forget ...

Forget we were utterly
happy a day.
That day was my lifetime.

Before that day I was empty
and the sky was grey.
You were the sunshine,

the sunshine that gave me life.
I took root and I grew.
Now the touch of death is like a terrible knife,

and yet I can bear it,
having touched you.

Odd, the things that inspire us! I wrote this poem after watching The Boy in the Bubble: a made-for-TV movie, circa 1976, starring John Travolta. So I would have been around 17 or 18 at the time. It may be an overtly sentimental poem, but I still like it. I don't think poets have to be too "formidable" to feel. But how many contemporary poets are foolhardy enough to admit writing sappy poems in response to other people's tear-jerkers? Once again, I may be unique!



Fairest Diana
by Michael R. Burch

Fairest Diana, princess of dreams,
born to be loved and yet distant and lone,
why did you linger—so solemn, so lovely—
an orchid ablaze in a crevice of stone?

Was not your heart meant for tenderest passions?
Surely your lips—for wild kisses, not vows!
Why then did you languish, though lustrous, becoming
a pearl of enchantment cast before sows?

Fairest Diana, fragile as lilac,
as willful as rainfall, as true as the rose;
how did a stanza of silver-bright verse
come to be bound in a book of dull prose?

I believe this poem was written in the late 1970s or very early 1980s, around the time it became apparent that the lovely Diana Spencer was going to marry into the British royal family. It really did seem like an orchid being placed in a crevice of stone. My mother is English and our family had considerable interest in the courtship. I believe I wrote the poem before the wedding, but I'm not sure. I will guess 1980.



R.I.P.
by Michael R. Burch

When I am lain to rest
and my soul is no longer intact,
but dissolving, like a sunset
diminishing to the west ...

and when at last
before His throne my past
is put to test
and the demons and the Beast

await to feast
on any morsel downward cast,
while the vapors of impermanence
cling, smelling of damask ...

then let me go, and do not weep
if I am left to sleep,
to sleep and never dream, or dream, perhaps,
only a little longer and more deep.

Originally published by Romantics Quarterly. This is a poem from my "Romantic Period" that was written in my late teens. I will guess around 1977 at age 19.



The Last Enchantment
by Michael R. Burch

Oh, Lancelot, my truest friend,
how time has thinned your ragged mane
and pinched your features; still you seem
though, much, much changed—somehow unchanged.

Your sword hand is, as ever, ready,
although the time for swords has passed.
Your eyes are fierce, and yet so steady
meeting mine ... you must not ask.

The time is not, nor ever shall be,
for Merlyn’s words were only words;
and now his last enchantment wanes,
and we must put aside our swords ...

Originally published by Trinacria

I have long been fascinated by the tales of Arthur and Merlin, including the older Celtic myths (hence the Merlyn spelling). I believe I wrote this poem in my late teens or early twenties, around 1980. I distinctly remember working on the poem on a flight to England in 1982 because an attractive girl was sitting beside me on the plane and I remember wishing she would ask me what I was doing. No such luck! According to my notes the poem was revised and filed in 1984, but it remains largely as it was originally written.



My boyhood introduction to the Prophet Laureate and how I became his Mini-Me at age eleven
by Michael R. Burch

for Martin Mc Carthy, author of “The Perfect Voice”

Atop a London rooftop
on a rare cloudless day,
between the potted geraniums,
I hear the strange music play ...

Not quite a vintage Victrola,
but maybe a half step up:
late ’69 technology.
I sat up, abrupt.

What the hell was I hearing,
a prophet from days of yore?
Whatever it was, I felt it —
and felt it to the core.

For the times, they are a-changin’ ...

The unspoken answer meandered
on the wings of a light summer breeze,
unfiltered by the geraniums
and the dove in me felt ill at ease.

For the times, they are a-changin’ ...

I was only eleven and far from heaven,
intent on rock music (and lust),
far from God and his holy rod
(seduced by each small budding bust).

For the times, they are a-changin’ ...

Who was this unknown prophet
calling me back to the path
of brotherhood through peace?
I felt like I needed a bath!

For the times, they are a-changin’ ...

Needless to say, I was altered.
Perhaps I was altared too.
I became a poet, peace activist,
and now I Am preaching to you!

For the times, they are a-changin’ ...

Get off your duffs, do what you can,
follow the Prophet’s declaiming:
no need to kneel, just even the keel,
For the times, they are a-changin’!



An Obscenity Trial
by Michael R. Burch

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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



Excerpt from "Jessamyn's Song"
by Michael R. Burch

By the window ledge where the candle begs
the night for light to live,
the deepening darkness gives
the heart good cause to shudder.
For there are curly, tousled heads
that know one use for bed
and not any other.

"Goodnight father."
"Goodnight mother."
"Goodnight sister."
"Goodnight brother."
"Tomorrow new adventures
we surely shall discover!"

"Jessamyn's Song" was a long poem about a relationship that began when a boy and girl were very young and lasted into "old age." At the time I wrote the poem, 40 seemed to be beyond superannuated, so I believe I killed off the hero at that ripe old age.



Dust (I)
by Michael R. Burch

God, keep them safe until
I join them, as I will.

God, guard their tender dust
until I meet them, as I must.

This is one of my earliest poems, written around 1972, circa age 14. This was around the same time as “Jessamyn’s Song.” In fact, I believe "Dust" was part of the longer poem, toward the end. No, I take that back. "Dust" was at one time the closing stanza of “All My Children,” written around 1972 and before "Jessamyn’s Song" if I remember correctly.



Dust (II)
by Michael R. Burch

We are dust
and to dust we must
return ...
but why, then,
life’s pointless sojourn?

I believe this poem was written some time after the first "Dust" poem, but I'm not sure exactly when. Thus, I will keep them together because the titles and themes are the same.



Dust (III)
by Michael R. Burch

Flame within flame,
  we burned and burned relentlessly
    till there was nothing left to be consumed.
    Only ash remained, the smoke plumed
  like a spirit leaving its corpse, and we
were left with only a name
ever common between us.
  We had thought to love “eternally,”
    but the wick sputtered, the candle swooned,
    the flame subsided, the smoke ballooned,
  and our communal thought was: flee, flee, flee
the choking dust.

The third in the series, I'm not sure when this poem was written, but I will keep it with its companions.



Nevermore!
by Michael R. Burch

Nevermore! O, nevermore
shall the haunts of the sea—
the swollen tide pools
and the dark, deserted shore—
mark her passing again.

And the salivating sea
shall never kiss her lips
nor caress her breasts and hips
as she dreamt it did before,
once, lost within the uproar.

The waves will never rape her,
nor take her at their leisure;
the sea gulls shall not have her,
nor could she give them pleasure ...
She sleeps forevermore.

She sleeps forevermore,
a virgin save to me
and her other lover,
who lurks now, safely covered
by the restless, surging sea.

And, yes, they sleep together,
but never in that way!
For the sea has stripped and shorn
the one I once adored,
and washed her flesh away.

He does not stroke her honey hair,
for she is bald, bald to the bone!
And how it fills my heart with glee
to hear them sometimes cursing me
out of the depths of the demon sea ...

their skeletal love—impossibility!

This is one of my Poe-like creations, written around age 19. I think the poem has an interesting ending, since the male skeleton is missing an important "member."



Sarjann
by Michael R. Burch

What did I ever do
to make you hate me so?
I was only nine years old,
lonely and afraid,
a small stranger in a large land.

Why did you abuse me
and taunt me?
Even now, so many years later,
the question still haunts me:
what did I ever do?

Why did you despise me and reject me,
pushing and shoving me around
when there was no one to protect me?

Why did you draw a line
in the bone-dry autumn dust,
daring me to cross it?
Did you want to see me cry?
Well, if you did, you did.

... oh, leave me alone,
for the sky opens wide
in a land of no rain,
and who are you
to bring me such pain? ...

This is one of the few "true poems" I've written, in the sense of being about the "real me." I had a bad experience with an older girl named Sarjann (or something like that), who used to taunt me and push me around at a bus stop in Roseville, California (the "large land" of "no rain" where I was a "small stranger" because I only lived there for a few months). I believe this poem was written around 1975 at age 16-17, but could have been written earlier.



Step Into Starlight
by Michael R. Burch

Step into starlight,
lovely and wild,
lonely and longing,
a woman, a child ...

Throw back drawn curtains,
enter the night,
dream of his kiss
as a comet ignites ...

Then fall to your knees
in a wind-fumbled cloud
and shudder to hear
oak hocks groaning aloud.

Flee down the dark path
to where the snaking vine bends
and withers and writhes
as winter descends ...

And learn that each season
ends one vanished day,
that each pregnant moon holds
no spent tides in its sway ...

For, as suns seek horizons—
boys fall, men decline.
As the grape sags with its burden,
remember—the wine!

I believe I wrote the original version of this poem in my early twenties, circa 1978-1979.



Unfoldings, for Vicki
by Michael R. Burch

Time unfolds ...
Your lips were roses.
... petals open, shyly clustering ...
I had dreams
of other seasons.
... ten thousand colors quiver, blossoming.

Night and day ...
Dreams burned within me.
... flowers part themselves, and then they close ...
You were lovely;
I was lonely.
... a virgin yields herself, but no one knows.

Now time goes on ...
I have not seen you.
... within ringed whorls, secrets are exchanged ...
A fire rages;
no one sees it
.
... a blossom spreads its flutes to catch the rain.

Seasons flow ...
A dream is dying.
... within parched clusters, life is taking form ...
You were honest;
I was angry.
... petals fling themselves before the storm.

Time is slowing ...
I am older.
... blossoms wither, closing one last time ...
I'd love to see you
and to touch you.
... a flower crumbles, crinkling—worn and dry.

Time contracts ...
I cannot touch you.
... a solitary flower cries for warmth ...
Life goes on as
dreams lose meaning
.
... the seeds are scattered, lost within a storm.

I wrote this poem for a college girlfriend, circa age 18-19. I intensely wanted to be with her best friend, who was dating my best friend at the time. When I finally got my chance with my best friend's girlfriend, I was so drunk, I couldn't seize the opportunity. Meanwhile, when my girlfriend was so drunk she offered me the opportunity I had always wanted, I felt compelled to be a gentleman. So it was all very strange, as if the Fates had ordained that none of us should end up being together. It was a very sad, confused time ... a time when longings threatened to overwhelm us, and yet a strange sort of honor seemed to win the day, although none of us really meant to act with honor. Perhaps we were all saving ourselves for other people we hadn't yet met, or perhaps hormones and alcohol have completely different agendas ...



Ince St. Child
by Michael R. Burch

When she was a child
     in a dark forest of fear,
          imagination cast its strange light
               into secret places,
               scattering traces
           of illumination so bright,
     years later, she could still find them there,
their light undefiled.

When she was young,
     the shafted light of her dreams
          shone on her uplifted face
               as she prayed ...
               though she strayed
          into a night fallen like woven lace
     shrouding the forest of screams,
her faith led her home.

Now she is old
     and the light that was flame
          is a slow-dying ember ...
               what she felt then
               she would explain;
          she would if she could only remember
     that forest of shame,
faith beaten like gold.

This was an unusual poem that I wrote in my late teens, and it took me some time to figure out who the old woman was. She was a victim of childhood incest, hence the title I eventually came up with.



Each Color a Scar
by Michael R. Burch

What she left here,
upon my cheek,
is a tear.

She did not speak,
but her intention
was clear,

and I was meek,
far too meek, and, I fear,
too sincere.

What she can never take
from my heart
is its ache;

for now we, apart,
are like leaves
without weight,

scattered afar
by love, or by hate,
each color a scar.

I honestly don't remember when I wrote this poem. I am going to guess around 1979, based on the poem's style.



Because You Came to Me
by Michael R. Burch

for Beth

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.

I wrote the first version of this poem around age 18, then forgot about it for 30 years. Then something about my wife Beth made me remember the poem, so I revised it and dedicated it to her.



Ambition
by Michael R. Burch

Men speak of their “ambition”
and I smile to hear them say
that within them burns such fire,
such a longing to be great ...

But I laugh at their “Ambition”
as their wistfulness amasses;
I seek Her tongue’s indulgence
and Her parted legs’ crevasses.



absinthe sea
by Michael R. Burch

i hold in my hand a goblet of absinthe

the bitter green liqueur
reflects the dying sunset over the sea

and the darkling liquid froths
up over the rim of my cup
to splash into the free,
churning waters of the sea

i do not drink

i do not drink the liqueur,
for I sail on an absinthe sea
that stretches out unendingly
into the gathering night

its waters are no less green
and no less bitter,
nor does the sun strike them with a kinder light

they both harbor night,
and neither shall shelter me

neither shall shelter me
from the anger of the wind
or the cruelty of the sun

for I sail in the goblet of some Great God
who gazes out over a greater sea,
and when my life is done,
perhaps it will be because
He lifted His goblet and sipped my sea.

I seem to remember writing this poem in college, just because I liked the sound of the word “absinthe.” I had no idea, really, what it was or what absinthe looked or tasted like, beyond something I had read somewhere.



Beckoning
by Michael R. Burch

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

This poem is a bit "later" than most of the poems on this page. I believe I wrote the first version around age 18, but wasn't happy with the poem, put it aside, then revised it in 1982.



You didn't have time
by Michael R. Burch, circa age 17

You didn't have time to love me,
always hurrying here and hurrying there;
you didn't have time to love me,
and you didn't have time to care.

You were playing a reel like a fiddle half-strung:
too busy for love, "too old" to be young . . .
Well, you didn't have time, and now you have none.
You didn't have time, and now you have none.

You didn't have time to take time
and you didn't have time to try.
Every time I asked you why, you said,
"Because, my love; that's why." And then
you didn't have time at all, my love.
You didn't have time at all.

You were wheeling and diving in search of a sun
that had blinded your eyes and left you undone.
Well, you didn't have time, and now you have none.
You didn't have time, and now you have none.

This is a song-poem that I wrote during my early songwriter phase, around age 17. According to my notes, I wrote it in 1975 and revised it in 1978.



Describing You
by Michael R. Burch, circa age 16

How can I describe you?

The fragrance of morning rain
mingled with dew
reminds me of you;

the warmth of sunlight
stealing through a windowpane
brings you back to me again.

I believe "Describing You" was written in my teens. It feels younger, like "Of You," and may have been written around age 16 in 1974.



Winter
by Michael R. Burch

The rose of love's bright promise
lies torn by her own thorn;
her scent was sweet
but at her feet
the pallid aphids mourn.

The lilac of devotion
has felt the winter hoar
and shed her dress;
companionless,
she shivers—nude, forlorn.

I believe I wrote the first version of this poem around 1978 or 1979, in my early twenties. According to my notes, I revised the poem in 1997 and it was published in 2001 by Songs of Innocence, then subsequently by The Aurorean and Contemporary Rhyme.



Shadows
by Michael R. Burch

Alone again as evening falls,
I join gaunt shadows and we crawl
up and down my room's dark walls.

Up and down and up and down,
against starlight—strange, hopeless clowns—
we merge, emerge, submerge ... then drown.

We drown in shadows starker still—
shadows of the moonlit hills,
shadows of the souls we spill,

tumbling, to the ground below.
There, caked in grimy, clinging snow,
we flutter feebly, moaning low

for days dreamed once an age ago
when we weren't shadows, but were men ...
when we were men, or almost so.

This poem was published in my college literary journal, Homespun. It was substantially finished by my sophomore year in college and appeared in a folder of poems I submitted to a poetry contest.



Analogy
by Michael R. Burch

Our embrace is like a forest
lying blanketed in snow;
you, the lily, are enchanted
by each shiver trembling through;
I, the snowfall, cling in earnest
as I press so close to you.
You dream that you now are sheltered;
I dream that I may break through.

I believe I wrote this poem in my late teens or early twenties. I will guess around 1977 although it feels a bit "younger" than that. It definitely belongs to my early Romantic period. The lily symbolizes purity and virginity.



Impotent
by Michael R. Burch

Tonight my pen
is barren
of passion, spent of poetry.

I hear your name
upon the rain
and yet it cannot comfort me.

I feel the pain
of dreams that wane,
of poems that falter, losing force.

I write again
words without end,
but I cannot control their course . . .

Tonight my pen
is sullen
and wants no more of poetry.

I hear your voice
as if a choice,
but how can I respond, or flee?

I feel a flame
I cannot name
that sends me searching for a word,

but there is none
not over-done,
unless it's one I never heard.

I believe this poem was written in my early twenties, around 1980.



Cameo
by Michael R. Burch

Breathe upon me the breath of life;
gaze upon me with sardonyx eyes.
Here, where times flies
in the absence of light,
all ecstasies are intimations of night.

Hold me tonight in the spell I have cast;
promise what cannot be given.
Show me the stairway to heaven.
Jacob's-ladder grows all around us;
Jacob's ladder was fashioned of onyx.

So breathe upon me the breath of life;
gaze upon me with sardonic eyes . . .
and, if in the morning I am not wise,
at least then I’ll know if this dream we call life
was worth the surmise.

My notes say that I copied and filed this poem in 1979, around age 21. Since I don’t have an earlier recollection of this poem, I will stick with that date. This one does feel a bit more mature than some of my teenage poems, so the date seems about right.



Childhood's End
by Michael R. Burch

How well I remember
those fiery Septembers:
dry leaves, dying embers of summers aflame,
lay trampled before me
and fluttered, imploring
the bright, dancing rain to descend once again.

Now often I’ve thought on
the meaning of autumn,
how the rainbows' enchantments defeated dark clouds
while robins repeated
ancient songs sagely heeded
so wisely when winters before they’d flown south.

And still, in remembrance,
I’ve conjured a semblance
of childhood and how the world seemed to me then;
but early this morning,
when, rising and yawning,
I found a gray hair ... it was all beyond my ken.

I believe I wrote this poem in my early twenties, probably around 1980. This is another early poem with an usual form.



Eternity beckons . . .
by Michael R. Burch

Eternity beckons . . .
the wine becomes fire in my veins.

You are a petal,
unfolding,
cajoling.
I am your sun.

I will shine with the fierceness of my desire;
touched, you will burst into flame.

I will shine and again shine and again shine.
I will shine. I will shine.

You will burn and again burn and again burn.
You will burn. You will burn.

We will extinguish ourselves in our ecstasy;
We will sigh like the wind.
We will ebb into darkness, our love become ashes . . .
never speaking of sin.

Never speaking of sin.

I believe I wrote this poem my freshman year in college, around 1976-1977, and according to my notes finished and filed it in early 1980.



Pilgrim Mountain
by Michael R. Burch

I have come to Pilgrim Mountain
to eat icicles and to bathe in the snow.
Do not ask me why I have done this,
for I do not know . . .
but I had a vision of the end of time
and I feared for my soul.

On Pilgrim Mountain the rivers shriek
as they rush toward the valleys, and the rocks
creak and groan in their misery,
for they comprehend they're prey to
night and day,
and ten thousand other fallacies.

Sunlight shatters the stone,
but midnight mends it again
with darkness and a cooling flow.
This is no place for men,
and I know this, but I know
that that which has been must somehow be again.

Now here on Pilgrim Mountain
I shall gouge my eyes with stone
and tear out all my hair;
and though I die alone,
I shall not care . . .

for the night will still roll on
above my weary bones
and these sun-split, shattered stones
of late become their home
here, on Pilgrim Mountain.

I believe this poem was originally written around 1974 at age 16 or thereabouts. According to my notes, it was modified in 1978, then again in 1983. However, the poem remains very close to the original. I seem to remember writing this poem in Mr. Purcell’s history trailer.



Flying
by Michael R. Burch

i shall rise
and try the bloody wings of thought
ten thousand times
before i fly ...

and then i'll sleep
and waste ten thousand nights
before i dream;
but when at last ...

i soar the distant heights of undreamt skies
where never hawks nor eagles dared to go,
as i laugh among the meteors flashing by
somewhere beyond the bluest earth-bound seas ...

if i'm not told
i’m just a man,
then i shall know
just what I am.

This is one of my early "I Am" poems, written around age 16-17. According to my notes, I may have revised the poem later, in 1978, but if so the changes were minor because the poem remains very close to the original.



Embryo
by Michael R. Burch

You sail on an ocean of crystalline water
somewhere just beyond where the Hebrides part,
listening for the whispers and murmurs
of a life-giving heart.
Then you glide through the eerie, impregnable darkness
somewhere far beyond the harsh brightness of birth,
listening for a monotonous tremor
that, half-forgotten,
you now remember.

You rest on the surface of silver-tongued waters
somewhere far beyond a life that is lost,
listening to a voice gently calling
you to the coast.
Then you dive through the depths’ strange, unfathomable darkness,
caught somewhere between the beginning and end,
listening for a sound through the stillness,
with a stubborn willfulness,
wondering when.

You laze on a surface of shimmering clearness,
trapped somewhere between fiery sunset and night,
listening for a trumpet to sound
its message bright.
Then you plummet through the unsolvable darkness,
somewhere far beyond any star, moon or sun,
listening for the sound of the laughter
of the gay daughters
of Poseidon.

You bask in the brilliance of cascading raindrops,
somewhere within reach of a life you once lived,
listening for the peal of a trumpet
and a shiver of the sea and the wind.
Then you drop through the depths of an alien ocean,
sluggishly moving through its gravity,
somewhere between the dead and the living,
the dark and the livid,
the end and eternity.

So sail on your ocean of crystal-clear water,
or ride on the crest of a bright tidal wave;
tomorrow, perhaps, the trumpet will call you
back from the grave.
Or crawl through the depths of the pulsating darkness
with the thud of a heartbeat strong in your ears,
and do not worry that you might not awaken;
for your time is not measured in years,
but in changes.

I remember writing this poem around 1975 at age 16-17, around the time I wrote “The Snowman Sleeps in the Sea.”



Ghosts of the Shawnee
by Michael R. Burch

I sleep in moodless blue of starry skies,
lost to a dream of many ancient things;
death's rivers seek to drench me as they rise,
but I stand above them, watching through the night,
for a maiden more mysterious than spring.

As I dream in deepest blue of brooding seas,
a flow past flooding washes down the night.
O, I sip the bitter nectar of Shawnee
and wonder at the blazing northern light
that flares as though some day it might ignite.

Then shadows steeped in starlight call my name
and I know, somehow, that she at last has come.
There I rise to meet her as she enters in
with eyes aflame and hair as black as sin,
and I kiss her though I long to turn and run.

My notes say this poem was written in 1979, in my early twenties, and since I don’t have a recollection of an earlier version that seems about right.



Gone
by Michael R. Burch, circa age 14

Tonight, it is dark
and the stars do not shine.

A man who is gone
was a good friend of mine.

We were friends.

And the sky was the strangest shade of orange on gold
when I awoke to find him gone ...

This is one of my very earliest poems, one that was lost when I destroyed all the poems I had written in a fit of frustration and despair. The opening lines and "the strangest shade of orange on gold" are all of the original poem that I have been able to remember. I believe I wrote the original poem in 1972 around age 14.



I'll meet her in a memory
by Michael R. Burch

I'll meet her in a memory
of August nights and flaming wine,
of river barges on the Rhine,
of dying leaves
and haunted trees . . .
I'll meet her in an eclipse of time.

I'll raise my cup toward the fire
as gaunt shadows leap and lean . . .
I'll raise my cup,
she'll raise hers higher
till her eyes—still veiled, when seen—
entice me from this world of men.

Bright silver cup, dark purple glow,
I love the feelings that you bring . . .
your warmth can dull the edge of pain;
but now she calls me, as you know,
to meet where only spirits go
till morning calls me home again.

According to my notes, this poem was written around 1979, in my early twenties.



Go down to the hoe-down
by Michael R. Burch

Go down
to the hoe-down.
Pause in the pungent,
moonless night,
watching the partners as they dance;
go down . . .
don’t you know . . .
it's your only chance?
Go down
to the hoe-down.

Go down
to the hoe-down,
and whirl as you dance
through a dream of wine,
through a world once your world,
through a world without time,
through a world rich and rhythmic,
through a world full of rhyme.
O, go down
to the hoe-down.

Go down.
As they slow down,
the couples will whirl
to a reel of romance,
for the music has called them,
and so they must dance.
Go down, don't you know
that this is your chance?
Go down
to the hoe-down.

My notes say this poem was filed in 1979 and that seems about right for the poem’s composition. This one might have been written a bit earlier, but I will stick with 1979 for this one.



Stars
by Michael R. Burch

Though night has come,
I'm not alone,
for stars appear
—fierce, faint and far—
to dance until they disappear.

They reappear
as clouds roll by
in stormy billows
past bent willows;
sometimes they almost seem to sigh.

And time rolls on,
on past the willows,
on past the stormclouds as they billow,
on to the stars
so faint and far . . .

on to the stars
so faint and far.

I believe this poem was written in my early twenties, around 1980, then revised and filed in 1982.



Premonition
by Michael R. Burch

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

I rather vividly remember writing this poem after an office party the year I co-oped with AT&T (at that time the largest company in the world, with presumably a lot of office parties). This would have been after my sophomore year in college, making me around 20 years old. The poem is “true” except that I was not the host because the party was at the house of one of the upper-level managers. Nor was I dating anyone seriously at the time. Oh, and I changed the season too because it was a Christmas/New Year's party and there were no katydids or crickets to be seen or heard.



Recursion
by Michael R. Burch

Love is a dream the pale dreamer imagines;
the more he imagines, the less he can see;
the less he can see, the more he imagines,
for dreams lead to blindness, and blindness
—to dreams.

My notes tell me that I filed this poem in January, 1980, meaning it was written in my early twenties if not younger.



Lying
by Michael R. Burch

Lying here beside you, I cannot meet your eyes,
and yet, somehow, I still can see the tears
welling up and glistening, blue,
a part of me, a part of you . . .
a part of all we've been throughout the years.

Now the night is dark and fading into darkness deeper still,
and your body shakes beside me as you weep,
but what am I to say to you—
a pleasing lie, the painful truth?
I close my eyes and wish that I could sleep.

I don’t remember writing this poem, so I will go with its filing date of 1980.



When I was in my heyday
by Michael R. Burch

When I was in my heyday,
I howled to see the moon;
the wail of a wolf,
shrill, rising . . . then gruff
echoed through night, such an impassioned tune!

When I was in my heyday,
hearts fluttered at my feet;
I gathered them in
like blossoms the wind
had slaughtered and flung, but their fragrance was sweet.

When I was in my heyday,
I cursed the cage of stars
that blocked me from rising
above them and flying
in rapture, uncaptured, beyond their bright bars.

When I was in my heyday,
my dreams were a dazzling mist
that baffled my vision
and hid farthest heaven,
but what did I care? I clenched fire in my fist!

My notes say I filed this poem in 1980 and that date seems about right.



Every time I think of leaving ...
by Michael R. Burch

Every time I think of leaving ...
I see my mother's eyes
staring at me in despair,
and I feel the old scar
throbbing again.

And I think of the father
that I never knew;
I remember how,
as a child,
I could never understand
not having a father.

And when the tears start falling,
running slowly down my cheeks,
I think of our two sons
and all their many dreams—
dreams no better than dust
the day that I leave.

And when my hands start shaking,
when my eyes will not adjust,
when I know there's no tomorrow
for the two of us,

then I think of our young daughter
who prays, eyes tightly shut,
not to lose her mother or father . . .
and I know that I can't leave.

Every time I think of going,
I close my eyes and see
the days we spent together
when love was all we dreamed,
and I wish that I could find
(how I wish that I could find!)
a reason to believe.

I believe I started this poem toward the end of my senior year in high school, in 1976 at age 18, then finished in college.



Perspective
by Michael R. Burch

Childhood is a summer sky —
the clouds are always passing by.
Old age is a winter storm —
the clouds are always coming on.

This poem was written in my early twenties, and filed in 1980.



With my daughter, by a waterfall
by Michael R. Burch

By a fountain that slowly shed
its rainbows of water, I led
my youngest daughter.

And the rhythm of the waves
that casually lazed
made her sleepy as I rocked her.

By that fountain I finally felt
fulfillment of which I had dreamt
feeling May’s warm breezes pelt

petals upon me.
And I held her close in the crook of my arm
as she slept, breathing harmony.

By a river that brazenly rolled,
my daughter and I strolled
toward the setting sun,

and the cadence of the cold,
chattering waters that flowed
reminded us both of an ancient song,

so we sang it together as we walked along
—unsure of the words, but sure of our love—
as a waterfall sighed and the sun died above.

This poem was published by my college literary journal, Homespun 1976-1977. I believe I wrote it at age 18.



I saw the sun rising
by Michael R. Burch

I saw ten billion stars shine with the brilliance of but one,
and I thought, "What strange, satanic deed has some foul demon done,
to steal the luster from the stars, to dim the autumn sky?"
But as I mused upon the moment, deep within your eyes,
I saw a hint of morning within moonlit blue residing,
I noticed glints of blazing dawn within blue depths deriding,
I caught a glimpse of coming days, still, secret and surprising,
within the silent seas that flowed, stark silver and enticing;
yes, looking in your eyes, my love, amid a flash of lightning,
I saw the darkness going down . . . I saw the sun rising.

I believe this poem was originally written in 1974 at age 16, around the time I wrote “A Midnight Shade of Blue” and “When Last My Love Left Me.” According to my notes, it may have been revised and filed in 1979, but I believe any revisions were minor.



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 fast-piling 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 now preparing to leave
are there as they were, and yet they are not; and if it seems childish to grieve,
still, 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.

NOTE: I believe I wrote the first version of this poem around 1978 at age 19 or 20. I put it aside for many years and didn’t finish it until 2020 during the coronavirus pandemic. This is one of my more Robert-Frost-like poems and perhaps not a bad one for the age at which it was written.



Lay Down Your Arms, circa age 20-21, *LJ, published in The Romantist
by Michael R. Burch

Lay down your arms; come, sleep in the sand.
The battle is over and night is at hand.
Our voyage has ended; there's nowhere to go ...
the earth is a cinder still faintly aglow.

Lay down your pamphlets; let's bicker no more.
Instead, let us sleep here on this ravaged shore.
The sea is still boiling; the air is wan, thin ...
lay down your pamphlets; now no one will “win.”

Lay down your hymnals; abandon all song.
If God was to save us, He waited too long.
A new world emerges, but this world is through ...
so lay down your hymnals, or write something new.

I believe I wrote this poem around 1979, in my early twenties. This was one of my first published poems, maybe. It was accepted for publication by The Romantist in either 1992 or 1994, but I never received a copy so I'm not absolutely certain that it was published.



Flight
by Michael R. Burch

Eagle, raven, blackbird, crow ...
What you are I do not know.
Where you go I do not care.
I’m unconcerned whose meal you bear.
But as you mount the sunlit sky,
I only wish that I could fly.
I only wish that I could fly.

Robin, hawk or whippoorwill ...
Should men care that you hunger still?
I do not wish to see your home.
I do not wonder where you roam.
But as you scale the sky's bright stairs,
I only wish that I were there.
I only wish that I were there.

Sparrow, lark or chickadee ...
Your markings I disdain to see.
Where you fly concerns me not.
I scarcely give your flight a thought.
But as you wheel and arc and dive,
I, too, would feel so much alive.
I, too, would feel so much alive.

This is a poem that I believe I wrote around 1974 as a high school sophomore. But it could have been written a bit later. I was never satisfied with the poem, and I seem to remember submitting it to Bird Watcher's Digest and another nature-oriented magazine or two, then giving up. Then around 45 years later, I began revising the poem. That was on August 15-16, 2019. So this is one of my "newer older" poems.

I vividly remember the original poem being inspired and influenced by William Cullen Bryant's "To a Waterfowl."



The Beautiful People
by Michael R. Burch

They are the beautiful people,
and their shadows dance through the valleys of the moon
to the listless strains of an ancient tune.

Oh, no ... please don't touch them,
for their smiles might fade.
Don’t go ... don’t approach them
as they promenade,
for they waltz through a vacuum
and dream they're not made
of the dust and gross dankness
to which men degrade.

They are the beautiful people,
and their spirits sighed in their mothers’ wombs
as the distant echoings of unearthly tunes.

Winds do not blow there
and storms do not rise,
and each hair has its place
and each gown has its price.
And they whirl through the darkness
untouched by our cares
as we watch them and long for
a "life" such as theirs.

I believe I wrote this poem around 1976, at age eighteen or thereabouts.



Liar
by Michael R. Burch

Chiller than a winter day,
quieter than the murmur of the sea in her dreams,
eyes softer than the diaphanous spray
of mist-shrouded streams,
you fill my dying thoughts.

In moments drugged with sleep
I have heard your earnest voice
leaving me no choice
save heed your hushed demands
and meet you in the sands
of an ageless arctic world.

There I kiss your lifeless lips
as we quiver in the shoals
of a sea that, endless, rolls
to meet the shattered shore.
Wild waves weep, "Nevermore,"
as you bend to stroke my hair.

That land is harsh and drear,
and that sea is bleak and wild;
only your lips are mild
as you kiss my weary eyes,
whispering lovely lies
of what awaits us there

in a land so stark and bare,
beyond all hope . . . and care.

This is one of my early poems, written around 1974-1975 as a high school sophomore or junior.



Damp Days
by Michael R. Burch

These are damp days,
and the earth is slick and vile
with the smell of month-old mud.

And yet it seldom rains;
a never-ending drizzle
drenches spring's bright buds
till they droop as though in death.

Now Time
drags out His endless hours
as though to bore to tears
His fretting, edgy servants
through the sheer length of His days
and slow passage of His years.

Damp days are His domain.

Irritation
grinds the ravaged nerves
and grips tight the gorging brain
which fills itself, through sense,
with vast morasses of clumped clay
while the temples throb in pain
at the thought of more damp days.

I believe I wrote the first version of this poem sometime between 1974 and 1976, then revised it around 1978.



Canticle: an Aubade
by Michael R. Burch

Misty morning sunlight hails the dawning of new day;
dreams drift into drowsiness before they fade away.
Dew drops on the green grass speak of splendor in the sun;
the silence lauds a songstress and the skillful song she's sung.
Among the weeping willows the mist clings to the leaves;
and, laughing in the early light among the lemon trees,

there goes a brace of bees.

Dancing in the depthless blue like small, bright bits of steel,
the butterflies flock to the west and wander through dawn's fields.
Above the thoughtless traffic of the world, intent on play,
a flock of mallard geese in v's dash onward as they race.
And dozing in the daylight lies a new-born collie pup,
drinking in bright sunlight through small eyes still tightly shut.
And high above the meadows, blazing through the warming air,
a shaft of brilliant sunshine has started something there . . .

it looks like summer.

I distinctly remember writing this poem in Ms. Davenport’s class at Maplewood High School. I believe that was in 1974 at age 15-16, but I could be off by a year. This is another early poem that makes me think I had a good natural ear for meter. It’s not a great poem, but the music is pretty good for a beginner.



Gentry
by Michael R. Burch

The men shined their shoes
and the ladies chose their clothes;
the rifle stocks were varnished
till they were untarnished
by a speck of dust.

The men trimmed their beards;
the ladies rouged their lips;
the horses were groomed
until the time loomed
for them to ride.

The men mounted their horses,
the ladies did the same;
then in search of game they went,
a pleasant time they spent,
and killed the fox.

This poem was published in my college literary journal, Homespun, in 1977, along with "Smoke" and four other poems of mine. I have never been a fan of hunting or fishing, or inflicting pain on other creatures.



Easter, in Jerusalem *MS
by Michael R. Burch

The streets are hushed from fervent song,
for strange lights fill the sky tonight.
A slow mist creeps
up and down the streets
and a star has vanished that once burned bright.
Oh Bethlehem, Bethlehem,
who tends your flocks tonight?
"Feed my sheep,"
"Feed my sheep,"
a Shepherd calls
through the markets and the cattle stalls,
but a fiery sentinel has passed from sight.

Golgotha shudders uneasily,
then wearily settles to sleep again,
and I wonder how they dream
who beat him till he screamed,
"Father, forgive them!"
Ah Nazareth, Nazareth,
now sunken deep into dark sleep,
do you heed His plea
as demons flee,
"Feed my sheep,"
"Feed my sheep."

The temple trembles violently,
a veil lies ripped in two,
and a good man lies
on a mountainside
whose heart was shattered too.
Galilee, oh Galilee,
do your waters pulse and froth?
"Feed my sheep,"
"Feed my sheep,"
the waters creep
to form a starlit cross.

This poem was published in my college literary journal, Homespun, in 1978, along with another poem, "A Pledge for Ignorance." It also appeared in a folder of poems I submitted to a poetry contest after my sophomore year in college.



Remembrance
by Michael R. Burch

That eerie night I met you, the moon bathed all the land
in strange, enchanting patterns which stirred in my chilled mind
forgotten dreams of fiery youth and hopes of things to come
that I had seen destroyed or lost to cold, uncaring Time.

The goblet of wine I held gleamed with a wildly-flickering light
and the pool of fragrant liquid seemed a shade too close to blood;
there, in its mirror-like surface, I saw you passing by,
and suddenly, shockingly, I felt the pang of Love . . .

You wore a long white gown and when the moonlight caught your hair
you seemed a slender taper lit by a silver flame . . .
and . . . though we had never met before . . .
. . . somehow . . . I knew your name . . .

I sought to speak, but I could not,
for the demon wine had numbed my tongue . . .
Oh, I turned to follow you through the door,
looking about, but you were gone . . .

"Remembrance" was written in my late teens, circa 1977-1978, and appears in my 1978 poetry contest folder.



Ode to the Sun
by Michael R. Burch

Day is done ...
on, swift sun.
Follow still your silent course.
Follow your unyielding course.
On, swift sun.

Leave no trace of where you've been;
give no hint of what you've seen.
But, ever as you onward flee,
touch me, O sun,
touch me.

Now day is done ...
on, swift sun.
Go touch my love about her face
and warm her now for my embrace,
for though she sleeps so far away,
where she is not, I shall not stay.
Go tell her now I, too, shall come.
Go on, swift sun,
go on.

I seem to remember writing this poem toward the end of my senior year in high school, in 1976, around age 18.



there is peace where i am going ...
by Michael R. Burch

lines written after watching a TV documentary about Woodstock as a teenager, around age fifteen

there is peace where i am going,
for i hasten to a land
that has never known the motion
of one windborne grain of sand;
that has never felt a tidal wave
nor seen a thunderstorm;
a land whose endless seasons
in their sameness are one.

there i will lay my burdens down
and feel their weight no more,
and sleep beneath the unstirred sands
of a soundless ocean’s shore,
where Time lies motionless in pools
of lost experience
and those who sleep, sleep unaware
of the future, past and present

(and where Love itself lies dormant,
unmoved by a silver crescent).

and when i lie asleep there,
with Death's footprints at my feet,
not a thing shall touch me,
save bland sand, lain like a sheet
to wrap me for my rest there
and to bind me, lest i dream,
mere clay again,
of strange domains
where cruel birth drew such harrowing screams.

yes, there is peace where i am going,
for i am bound to be
safe here, within the dull embrace
of this dim, unchanging sea ...
before too long; i sense it now,
and wait, expectantly,
to feel the listless touch
of Immortality.

This is one of my earliest poems. It was written circa 1973, around age 15, after I watched a TV documentary about Woodstock.



So little time
by Michael R. Burch, circa age 14

There is so little time left to summer,
to run through the fields or to swim in the ponds . . .
to be young.
There is so little time left till autumn shall come.
There is so little time left for me to be free . . .
so little time, just so, so little time.

If I were handsome and brawny and brave,
a love I would make and the time I would save.
If I were happy — not hamstrung, but free —
surely there would be one for me . . .
Perhaps there'd be one.

There is so little left of the sunshine
although there’s much left of the rain . . .
there is so little left in my life not of strife and of pain.

I seem to remember writing this poem around age 14, in 1972. It was published in my high school journal, the Lantern, in 1976. The inversion in L8 makes me think this was a very early poem. That’s something I weaned myself of pretty quickly. Also, I was extremely depressed from age 14 to 15 because my family moved twice and I had trouble making friends because I was so shy and introverted.



The next two poems are the longest and most ambitious of my early poems. I believe I started "Jessamyn's Song" around age 14 and had it substantially finished by age 15 or thereabouts. But I was never happy with the complete poem and settled for publishing the final stanza as "Leave Taking."

Jessamyn's Song
by Michael R. Burch

16

There are meadows heathered with thoughts of you,
where the honeysuckle winds
in fragrant, tangled vines
down to the water's edge.

Through the wind-bent grass I watch time pass
slow with the dying day
on its lolling, rolling way ...
And I know you’ll soon be mine.

17

There are oak trees haggard and gnarled by Time
where the shrewd squirrel makes his lair,
sleeping through winters unaware
of the white commotion below.

By the waning sun I keep watch upon
the earth as she spins—so slow!
and I know within
                 they're absolved from sin
who sleep beneath the snow.

They do not sin, and we sin not
although we sleep and dream, of bliss,
while others rage, and charge ... and die,
and all our nights’ elations miss.

For life is ours, and through our veins
it pulses with a tranquil flow,
though in others’ it may surge and froth
and carry passions to and fro.

18

By murmuring streams
                               I sometimes dream
of whirling reels, of taut bows lancing,
when my partner’s the prettiest dancing,
and she is always you.

So let the meadows rest in peace,
and let the woodlands lie ...
Life’s the pulse in your heart, and in mine—
let us not let it die.

19

By the windmill we have often kissed
as your clothing slipped,
exposing pale breasts and paler hips
to the shameless glory of the sun.

Yes, my darling, I do love you
with all my wicked heart.
Promise that you'll be my bride
and these lips will never part
for any other’s.

20

There are daisies plaited through the fields
that make the valleys shine
(though the darker hawthorns wind
up to the highest ledge).

As the rising sun
               blinks lazily on
the horizon’s eastern edge,
I watch the tangerine dawn
blossoming into lime.

Oh, the season I love best is fall—
the trees coyly shedding their leaves, and all
creation watching, in thrall.

And you in your wedding dress, so calm,
seem less of the earth than the sky.

I expect you at moment to
ascend through the brightening dimensionless blue
to softly go floating by—
a cloud, or a pure-white butterfly.

21

There are rivers sparkling bright as spring
and others somber as the Nile,
but whether they may frown or smile,
none can match this brilliant stream
beside whose banks I lie and dream;
her waters, flowing swift yet mild,
lull to sleep my new-born child!

22

There are mountains purple and pocked with Time,
home to goats and misfit trees ...
in lofty grandeur above vexed seas
they lift their haughty heads.

When the sun explodes over tonsured domes
and bright fountains splash in youthful ruin
against strange, ancient, cryptic runes
of tales to this day untold ...

I taste with my eyes the dawn's harsh gold
and breathe the frigid mountain air,
drinking deeply, wondering where
the sultry days of youth have flown.

23

There are forests aged and ripe with rain
that loom at the brink of the trout's blue home.
There deer go to feast of the frothy foam,
to lap the gurgling water.

In murky shallows, swamped with slime,
the largemouth bass now sleeps,
his muddy memories dark and deep,
safe 'neath the sodden loam.

And often I have wondered
how it must feel to sleep
for timeless ages, fathoms deep
within a winter dream.

36

By the window ledge where the candle begs
the night for light to live,
the deepening darkness gives
the heart good cause to shudder.

For there are curly, tousled heads
that know one use for bed
and not any other ...

“Goodnight father.”
“Goodnight mother.”
“Goodnight sister.”
“Goodnight brother.”
“Tomorrow new adventures
we surely shall discover!”

65

Brilliant leaves abandon battered limbs
to waltz upon ecstatic winds
until they die.

But the barren and embittered trees,
lament the frolic of the leaves
and curse the bleak November sky.

Now, as I watch the leaves' high flight
before the fading autumn light,
I think that, perhaps, at last I may
have learned what it means to say
goodbye.



Sea Dreams
by Michael R. Burch

I.
In timeless days
I've crossed the waves
of seaways seldom seen.

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

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

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

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

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


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

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

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

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

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


It's almost nine
and I must be back home by ten,
and then . . . what then?
I have less than an hour to stroll this beach,
less than an hour old dreams to reach . . .
And then, what then?

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

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

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

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

“Sea Dreams” is one of my longer and more ambitious early poems, along with the full version of “Jessamyn’s Song.” To the best of my recollection, I wrote “Sea Dreams” around age 18, circa 1976-1977. For years I thought I had written “Sea Dreams” around age 19 or 20, circa 1978. But then I remembered a conversation I had with a friend about the poem in my freshman dorm, so the poem must have been started around age 18 or earlier. Dating my early poems has been a bit tricky, because I keep having little flashbacks that help me date them more accurately, but often I can only say, “I know this poem was written by about such-and-such a date, because ...”

The next poem, "Son," is a companion piece to “Sea Dreams” that was written around the same time and discussed in the same freshman dorm conversation. I remember showing this poem to a fellow student and he asked how on earth I came up with a poem about being a father who abandoned his son to live on an island! I think the meter is pretty good for the age at which it was written.

Son
by Michael R. Burch

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

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

[etc., see handwritten version, the father laments abandoning his son]

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



I Remember You
by Michael R. Burch

for Kevin Hickman (1958-1975)


Now that winter has passed away
and spring is in the air,
it seems so wrong that you are gone;
it seems so unfair.
It doesn't seem right that I am here
when you have passed away.
It seems so sad that you have fled
and cannot see the breaking day
or see the flowers everywhere,
or hear the robin's song so fair ...

And now that summer is on the way
and school's-end is closing fast,
it doesn't seem right you've taken flight
now that we're free at last.
It doesn't seem fair that you're not here
now that the sun will shine;
it seems so cruel that you were doomed
now that the weather's fine,
now that we can swim again,
now that there's no snow or rain ...

Now that winter's days have flown
and summer's are here again,
it seems so sad you've left this life
and suffered so much pain.
It seems so wrong that you have gone
and can't enjoy the summertime.
It seems unfair that I'm left here
now that the gardens bloom with thyme,
now that the flowers line the lane,
now that the fields stand tall with grain,
now that there's no snow or rain ...

This is one of my earliest poems. A Maplewood High School student, Kevin Hickman, died in 1975, and although I didn’t know him, this poem resulted. Or, if I remember correctly, I had written it before he died, then dedicated the poem to his memory.



Olivia
by Michael R. Burch

for Olivia Newton-John

Turn your eyes toward me
though in truth you do not see,
and pass once again before me
though you are distant as the sea.

And smile once again, smile for me,
though you do not know my name ...
and pass once again before me,
and fade, and yet remain.

Remain, for my heart still holds you
soft chords in a dying song!
Stay, for your image is with me
though it will not linger long.

And smile, for my heart is breaking
though you do not know my name.
Laugh, for your image is fading
though I wish it to remain.

But die, for I cannot have you,
though I want you here, tonight;
darken, and fade and be silent
though your voice and presence are light.

Yet frown, for you cannot touch me
though I have touched you now;
then go, for you have not met me
and never, never shall.

I believe I wrote this poem my first year in college, around age 18. I had seen Olivia Newton-John on TV, and was thinking about the strangeness of being attracted to someone I didn't know, and who had no idea I even existed. The "but die" simply means for her image to disappear. The "I have touched you now" imagines her reading the poem and wondering about the person who wrote it.



War
by Michael R. Burch

lysander lies in lauded greece
and sleeps and dreams, a stone for a pillow,
unseeing as sunset devours lithe willows,
but War glares on.

and joab's sightless gaze is turned
beyond the jordan's ravaged shore;
his war-ax lies to be taxed no more,
but War hacks on.

and roland sleeps in poppied fields
with flowers flowing at his feet;
their fragrance lulls his soul to sleep,
but War raves on.

and patton sighs an unheard sigh
for sorties past and honors gone;
he does not heed the battle drum,
but War rolls on.

for now new heroes grab up guns
and rush to fight their fathers' wars,
as warriors' children must, of course,
while War laughs on.

I believe I wrote the first version of this poem in 1975, around age 17. I was never fully happy with the poem, although I liked some of the lines and revised it 46 years later, on 4-27-2021.



I Am Lonely
by Michael R. Burch, circa age 16

God, I am lonely;
I am weak and sore afraid.
Now, just who am I to turn to
when my heart is torn in two?

God, I am lonely
and I cannot find a mate.
Now, just who am I to turn to
when the best friend that I’ve made

remains myself?

This poem appeared in my high school journal the Lantern, so it was written no later than 1976. I believe it was written around 1974-1975, circa age 16.



Sheila
by Michael R. Burch, circa age 16

When they spoke your name,
“Sheila,”
I imagined a flowing mane
of reddish-orange hair
tinged with fire
and blazing eyes of emerald green
spangled with desire.

When I saw you first,
Sheila,
I felt an overwhelming thirst
for the taste of your lips
dry my lips and parch my tongue ...
and, much worse,
I stuttered and stammered and lisped
in your presence.

But when I kissed you long,
Sheila,
I felt the morning come
with temperamental sun
to drive away the night
with reddish-orange light
and distant-sounding drums.

Now I will love you long,
as long as longing is,
Sheila.

This poem appeared in my high school journal the Lantern, so it was written no later than 1976. But it feels like one of my earlier poems, so I will guess that it was written around age 16 during my early Romantic phase. I’m not sure why the name Sheila made me think of reddish-orange hair. The poem is virtually the same today as when I wrote it in my teens. I did add L12 “dry my lips and parch my tongue” and changed the penultimate line from “as long as long is” to “as long as longing is.” But it remains essentially the same poem I wrote around age 16.


Stryx: An Astronomer’s Report
by Michael R. Burch

Yesterday
(or was is an eon ago?)
a sun spit out its last remnants of light
over a planet long barren of life,
and died.

It was not a solitary occasion,
by any stretch of the imagination,
this decoronation
of a planet conceived out of desolation.

For her to die as she was born
—amidst the glory of galactic upheaval—
is not strange,
but fitting.

Fitting in that,
shorn of all her preposterous spawn
that had littered her surface like horrendous hair,
she died her death bare
and alone.

Once she was home to all living,
but she died home to the dead
who bereaved her of life.

Unfit for life she died that night
as her seas shone fatal, dark and blue.
Unfit for life she met her end
as mountains fell and lava spewed.
Unfit she died, agleam with death
whose radiance she wore.
Unfit she died as raging waves
obliterated every shore.

Unfit! Unfit! Unfit! Unfit!
Contaminated with the rays
that smoldered in her radiant swamps
and seared her lifeless bays.

Unfit! Unfit! Unfit! Unfit!
a virgin world no more,
but a planet raped and left to face
her death as she was born—
alone, so all alone.

Yesterday,
a planet green and lovely was no more.

Yesterday,
the whitecaps crashed against her shores
and then they were no more.

Yesterday,
a soft green light
no longer brushed the moon's dark heights . . .

There was no moon,
there was no earth;
there were only the bastards she had given birth
watching from their next raped world.

I wrote this poem around age 18 and it was published in the 1976-1977 issue of my college literary journal, Homespun.



Of You
by Michael R. Burch, circa age 16

There is little to write of in my life,
and little to write off, as so many do ...
so I will write of you.

You are the sunshine after the rain,
the rainbow in between;
you are the joy that follows fierce pain;
you are the best that I've seen
in my life.

You are the peace that follows long strife;
you are tranquility.
You are an oasis in a dry land
                and
you are the one for me!

You are my love; you are my life; you are my all in all.
Your hand is the hand that holds me aloft ...
without you I would fall.

This was the first poem of mine that appeared in my high school journal, the Lantern, and thus it was my first poem to appear on a printed page. A fond memory, indeed. And although I wrote “Of You” around age 16, I wouldn’t change a word today. The poem, written so long ago, still says what I meant it to say. The only change to the original poem was L6, which originally read “you are the joy after the pain.”

“Of You” was definitely written by 1976 because it appeared in the Lantern then. But many of those poems were written earlier and this one feels “younger” to me, so I will guess a composition date around age 16 at the height of my youthful Romantic period.



Red Dawn
by Michael R. Burch, circa age 14

The sun, like a spotlight,
is spinning round the trees
a web of light.

And with her amber radiance
she is
driving off the night.

Oh, how like a fire
she is
burning off the black.

And in her flaming wake
she has left a track
of puffy smoke.

I believe this is one of my very earliest poems, written around age 14, due to the fact that the original poem had three somewhat archaic apostrophes: ’round, ’way and ’luminance. I weaned myself of such things pretty quickly. According to my notes, I revised the poem in 1975.



El Dorado
by Michael R. Burch

It's a fine town, a fine town,
though its alleys recede into shadow;
it's a very fine town for those who are searching
for an El Dorado.

Because the lighting is poor and the streets are bare
and the welfare line is long,
there must be something of value somewhere
to keep us hanging on
to our El Dorado.

Though the children are skinny, their parents are fat
from years of gorging on bleached white bread,
yet neither will leave
because all believe
in the vague things that are said
of El Dorado.

The young men with outlandish hairstyles
who saunter in and out of the turnstiles
with a song on their lips and an aimless shuffle,
scuffing their shoes, avoiding the bustle,
certainly feel no need to join the crowd
of those who work to earn their bread;
they must know that the rainbow's end
conceals a pot of gold
near El Dorado.

And the painted “actress” who roams the streets,
smiling at every man she meets,
must smile because, after years of running,
no man can outdo her in cruelty or cunning.
She must see the satire of “defeats”
and “triumphs” on the ambivalent streets
of El Dorado.

Yes, it's a fine town, a very fine town
for those who can leave when they tire
of chasing after rainbows and dreams
and living on nothing but fire.

But for those of us who cling to our dreams
and cannot let them go,
like the sad-eyed ladies who wander the streets
and the junkies high on snow,
the dream has become a reality
—the reality of hope
that grew too strong
not to linger on—
and so this is our home.

We chew the apple, spit it out,
then eat it "just once more."
For this is the big, big apple,
however rotten to the core,
and we are its worm
in the night when we squirm
in our El Dorado.

I believe I wrote the first version during my “Romantic phase” around age 16 or perhaps a bit later, circa 1974. It was definitely written in my teens because it appears in a poetry contest folder that I put together and submitted during my sophomore year in college.



49th Street Serenade
by Michael R. Burch

It's four o'clock in the mornin'
and we're alone, all alone in the city . . .
your sneakers 're torn
and your jeans 're so short
that your ankles show, but you're pretty.

I wish I had five dollars;
I'd pay your bus fare home,
but how far canya go
through the sleet 'n' the snow
for a fistful of change?
'Bout the end of Childe’s Lane.

Right now my old man is sleepin'
and he don't know the hell where I am.
Why he still goes to bed
when he's already dead,
I don't understand,
but I don't give a damn.

Bein' sixteen sure is borin'
though I guess for a girl it's all right . . .
if you'd let your hair grow
and get some nice clothes,
I think you'd look outta sight.

And I wish I had ten dollars;
I'd ask you if you would . . .
but wishin's no good
and you'd think I'm a hood,
so I guess I'll be sayin' good night.

NOTE: This is one of my earliest poems; I actually started out writing songs when some long-haired friends of mine started a band around 1974. But I was too introverted and shy to show them to anyone. This one was too racy for my high school journal.



A midnight shade of blue
by Michael R. Burch

You thought you saw a shadow moving somewhere in the night—
a lost and lonely stranger searching for a little light—
so you told me to approach him, ask him if he'd like a room . . .
how sweet of you to think of someone wandering in the gloom,
but he was only
a midnight shade of blue.

I thought I saw an answer shining somewhere in the night—
a spark of truth irradiating wisdom sweet and bright—
but when I sought to seize it, to bring it home to you . . .
it fluttered through my fingers like a wispy curlicue,
for it was only
a midnight shade of blue.

We thought that we had found true love together in the night—
a love as fine and elegant as wine by candlelight—
but when we woke this morning, we knew it wasn't true . . .
the "love" we'd shared was less than love; I guess we owe it to
emotion,
and a midnight shade of blue.

I seem to remember writing this one during my early songwriting phase. That would be around 1974, give or take. While I don’t claim it’s a great poem, I think I did show a pretty good touch with meter in my youth.



As the Flame Flowers
by Michael R. Burch

As the flame flowers, a flower, aflame,
arches leaves skyward, aching for rain,
but it only encounters wild anguish and pain
as the flame sputters sparks that ignite at its stem.

Yet how this frail flower aflame at the stem
reaches through night, through the staggering pain,
for a sliver of silver that sparkles like rain,
as it flutters in fear of the flowering flame.

Mesmerized by a distant crescent-shaped gem
which glistens like water though drier than sand,
the flower extends itself, trembles, and then
dies as scorched leaves burst aflame in the wind.

I believe I wrote the first version of this poem in my late teens or early twenties, filed it away in January of 1980, wasn’t happy with it, put it aside, then revised nearly 20 years later, in 1998, then again another 20 years later in 2020. The flower aflame yet entranced by the moon is, of course, a metaphor for destructive love and its passions.



Ashes
by Michael R. Burch

A fire is dying;
ashes remain . . .
ashes and anguish,
ashes and pain.

A fire is fading
though once it burned bright . . .
ashes once embers
are ashes tonight.

I wrote this poem either in my late teens or early twenties: I will guess somewhere around age 18-19, but no later than age 21 according to the dated copy I have. This is a companion poem to “As the Flame Flowers,” written the same day, I believe.



Dance With Me
by Michael R. Burch

circa age 18-19

Dance with me
to the fiddles’ plaintive harmonies.
Enchantingly,
each highstrung string,
each yearning key,
each a thread within the threnody,
bids us, "Waltz!"
then sets us free
to wander, dancing aimlessly.

Let us kiss
beneath the stars
as we slowly meet ...
we'll part
laughing gaily as we go
to measure love’s arpeggios.

Yes, dance with me,
enticingly;
press your lips to mine,
then flee.

The night is young,
the stars are wild;
embrace me now,
my sweet, beguiled,
and dance with me.

The curtains are drawn,
the stage is set
—patterned all in grey and jet—
where couples in like darkness met
—careless airy silhouettes—
to try love's timeless pirouettes.

They, too, spun across the lawn
to die in shadowy dark verdant.

But dance with me.

Sweet Merrilee,
don't cry, I see
the ironies of all the years
within the moonlight on your tears,
and every virgin has her fears ...

So laugh with me
unheedingly;
love's gaiety is not for those
who fail to heed the music`s flow,
but it is ours.

Now fade away
like summer rain,
then pirouette ...
the dance of stars
that waltz among night's meteors
must be the dance we dance tonight.

Then come again—
like a sultry wind.

Your slender body as you sway
belies the ripeness of your age,
for a woman's body burns tonight
beneath your gown of virgin white—
a woman's breasts now rise and fall
in answer to an ancient call,
and a woman's hips—soft, yet full—
now gently at your garments pull.

So dance with me,
sweet Merrilee ...
the music bids us,
"Waltz!"

Don't flee;
let us kiss
beneath the stars.
Love's passing pains will leave no scars
as we whirl beneath false moons
and heed the fiddle’s plaintive tunes ...

Oh, Merrilee,
the curtains are drawn,
the stage is set,
we, too, are stars beyond night's depths.
So dance with me.

I distinctly remember writing this poem my freshman year in college, circa 1976-1977, after meeting George King, who taught the creative writing classes there. I would have been 18 when I started the poem, but it didn’t always cooperate and I seem to remember working on it the following year as well.



Dance With Me (II)
by Michael R. Burch

While the music plays
remembrance strays
toward a grander time . . .

Let's dance.

Shadows rising, mute and grey,
obscure those fervent yesterdays
of youth and gay romance,
but time is slipping by, and now
those days just don't seem real, somehow . . .

Why don't we dance?

This music is a memory,
for it's of another time . . .
a slower, stranger time.

We danced—remember how we danced?—
uncaring, merry, wild and free.
Remember how you danced with me?

Cheek to cheek and breast to breast,
your nipples hard against my chest,
we danced
     and danced
          and danced.

We cannot dance that way again,
for the years have borne away the flame
and left us only ashes,
but think of all those dances,

and dance with me.

I believe I wrote this poem around the same time as the original “Dance With Me,” this time from the perspective of the same lovers many years later. So this poem would have been written sometime between 1976 and 1977, around age 18-19. It was also titled "Let's Dance."



Belfast’s Streets
by Michael R. Burch

Belfast’s streets are strangely silent,
deserted for a while,
and only shadows wander
her alleys, slick and vile
with children’s darkening blood.

Her sidewalks sigh and her cobblestones
clack in misery
beneath my booted feet,
longing to be free
from their legacy of blood,
and yet there’s no relief,
for it seems that there’s no God.

Her sirens scream and her PAs plead
and her shops and churches sob,
but the city throbs
—her heart the mobs
that are also her disease—
and still there’s no relief,
for it seems there is no God.

I listen to a radio
and men who seem to feel
that only “right” is real.

“We can’t give in
to men like them,
for we have an ideal
and God is on our side!”
one angrily replies,
but the sidewalks seem to chide,
clicking like snapped teeth.
And if God is on our side,
then where is God’s relief?
And if there is a God,
then why is there no love
and why is there no peace?

“Sweet innocence! this land was wild
and better wild again
than torn apart beneath the feet
of ‘educated’ men!”
The other screams in rage and hate,
and a war’s begun that will not end
till the show goes off at ten.

Now a little girl is singing,
walking t’ward me ’cross the street,
her voice so high and sweet
it hangs upon the air,
and her eyes are Irish eyes,
and her hair is Irish hair,
all red and wild and fair,
and she wears a Catholic cross,
but she doesn’t really care.

She’s singing to a puppy
and hugging him between
the verses of her hymn.

Now here’s a little love
and here’s a little peace,
and maybe here’s our Maker,
present though unseen,
on Belfast’s dreary streets.

This is one of my earliest poems, as indicated by the occasional use of archaisms.

I believe I wrote "Belfast's Streets" under the influence of the song “Molly Malone” and news reports about religious strife in Belfast. I think the first version was written around age 14 in 1972, then the poem was updated and filed in 1978, around age 19-20.



Blue Cowboy
by Michael R. Burch

He slumps against the pommel,
a lonely, heartsick boy—
his horse his sole companion,
his gun his only toy
—and bitterly regretting
he ever came so far,
forsaking all home's comforts
to sleep beneath the stars,
he sighs.

He thinks about the lover
who awaits his kiss no more
till a tear anoints his lashes,
lit by uncaring stars.
He reaches to his aching breast,
withdraws a golden lock,
and kisses it in silence
as empty as his thoughts
while the wind sighs.

Blue cowboy, ride that lonesome ridge
between the earth and distant stars.
Do not fall; the fiends of hell
would leap to feast upon your heart.

Blue cowboy, sift the burnt-out sand
for a drop of water warm and brown.
Dream of streams like silver seams
even as you gulp it down.

Blue cowboy, sing defiant songs
to hide the weakness in your soul.
Blue cowboy, ride that lonesome ridge
and wish that you were going home
as the stars sigh.

I believe I wrote this poem during my songwriting phase, sometime between 1974 and 1976, around age 16 or a bit later.



Cowpoke
by Michael R. Burch

Sleep, old man ...
your day has long since passed.
The endless plains,
cool midnight rains
and changeless ragged cows
alone remain
of what once was.

You cannot know
just how the Change
will rape the windswept plains
that you so loved ...
and so sleep now,
O yes, sleep now ...
before you see just how
the Change will come.

Sleep, old man ...
your dreams are not our dreams.
The Rio Grande,
stark silver sands
and every obscure brand
of steed and cow
are sure to pass away
as you do now.

I believe this poem was written around the same time as “Blue Cowboy,” perhaps on the same day. That was probably sometime around 1974, at age 16 or thereabouts.



Roll on, Red River
by Michael R. Burch

Roll on, Red River,
a cowboy has died.
Roll on; we lay him
down here at your side.
Carry him off
to the wild, raging sea . . .
Roll on, Red River,
and set his soul free.

Roll on, Red River,
roll on to the sea,
and sing him to sleep
as you roll up his dreams.
Sing him to sleep
with some old, lonesome song . . .
Now roll on, Red River,
and roll him along.

Roll on, Red River
and say a kind word
for an old surly cowhand
who died poor and hurt;
poor as a pauper
and hurt by his friends . . .
Roll on, Red River,
roll on to the end.

Roll on, Red River,
a cowboy has died.
Nobody loved him
and nobody cried.
A cowboy's not much,
but at least he's a man . . .
So roll on, Red River,
roll on and be damned.

I believe I wrote the original version of this poem around the time I wrote “Blue Cowboy” and “Cowpoke” – perhaps even on the same day. I believe I had been reading Zane Grey and Louis L’Amour around this time, and I pretty religiously watched the Kung Fu western TV series from 1972 to 1975.



Be Strong
by Michael R. Burch

Don't imagine the future will be brighter
when this world is as it is;
don't keep an account of the sorrow
and the pain and the loneliness
you suffer today, hoping tomorrow
will repay you for all you have lost;
don't expect happiness in repayment,
and never complain at its cost,
but seize it while it is with you
and hold it as long as you can;
then, when it is gone, do not mourn it,
though it may never touch you again.

For happiness crumbles to softness;
a man must be hardened by pain.
The ruggedest trees grow in deserts;
only lilies and daisies crave rain.
So dance while the moment is with you,
as desert flowers dance in the sun,
then crawl to the dunes when the wind dies
and the blossom-strewn showers are gone.

Sing while the cords of your heart
snap in the blistering sun;
thank God for the bleak accompaniment
they give you as they, snapping, strum
the bitter song of the dying young.
Rejoice! Rejoice! and, right or wrong,
at least you'll know that you are strong.

I don’t remember anything about the writing of this poem. Based on its theme and style, I will guess somewhere between 1976 to 1978, in my late teens or early twenties.



Clown
by Michael R. Burch

My “friends” often remind me
that I am a sluggard, a fool.
They say that I resemble a clown
and I suppose it is true
that I do.

There’s no need to mince words,
for I know how ugly I am.
And though I always tell myself
that I don’t give a damn,
I do.

How can I say that which I must
—“Embrace me. Shelter me. Be mine”—
when my appearance always
bothers me as much
as it does?

And yet with you I’m sure that I
could live my life and never mind;
just the touch of your lips in the night
could fill my troubled mind
with trust.

Just your presence at my side
could give me all the strength I need;
and your understanding touch
could help my broken heart to heal
a little each day.

But what’s the use? This cannot be
although I wish it so.
My love, you’re far too beautiful
for me to ever have or know
for even a day.

So when you send me upon my way
—a tragic, foolish clown—
you don’t have to struggle to kiss me goodbye.
Don’t give me the runaround.
Just please don’t put me down.

This was a painful poem for me to write, and it’s a painful one to publish so many years later. I believe I wrote this poem around 1974, age 15-16, when I was wrestling with dark depression and feelings of low self-esteem about my looks. The person being addressed is imaginary.



A pledge for ignorance
by Michael R. Burch

In these troubled times,
when truth and conjecture
are no longer distinguished
by the common man,
who accepts all things
as part of some ultimate plan,
believing, perhaps rightly so,
that any gods existing now
shall soon be overthrown,
I have closed my eyes and seen
the dissolution of my beliefs.

Once I thought myself secure
belonging to a race of logic and science,
infallible, perhaps capable
of conquering the universe . . .
but as I have seen the plight
of my people growing worse and worse,
today I attempt not to think at all,
nor do I scale the heights that I once did;
having experienced one harrowing fall,
I will not risk another
even to save a brother.

For thought is like the flight of birds
that rise to heights unknown to men,
till, grazing the orbits of fiery stars,
they fall to earth, their feathers singed.
So I will not venture those starry paths
by moons unseen and planets ringed,
but I will live my life below,
secure in blissful ignorance,
never approaching thought's orbs aglow . . .
and though I may be wrong in this,
what I have not seen, I have not missed.

In this poem, I unleashed my inner 15-year-old cynic and I don't think it can be taken seriously. This poem was published in my college literary journal, Homespun, in the 1977-1978 issue. It was the first poem in that issue.



I held a heart in my outstretched hand
by Michael R. Burch

I held a heart in my outstretched hand;
it was bloody and red and raw.
I ripped it and tore it;
I gnashed it and gnawed it;
I gored it with fingers like claws,
but it never missed a beat
of the heartfelt song it sang.

There my bruised heart wept in my open palm
and the gore dripped down my wrist;
I reviled it,
defiled it;
I gave it a twist
and wrung it dry of blood;
still it beat with a hearty thud,
and its movement was warm with love.

But I flung it into the ditch and walked
angrily, cruelly away . . .
There it lay in the dust
with a bloody crust
caking the crimson stain
that my claw-like fingers had made,
and its flesh was grey with death.

Oh, I cannot say why,
but I turned and I cried,
and I lifted it once again,
holding it to my cheek,
where it began to beat,
but to a tiny, tragic measure
devoid of trust or pleasure.

Then it kissed my fingers and sighed,
begging forgiveness even as it died.

Now that was many years ago,
and I am wiser, for I know
that a heart can last out any pain,
but cannot bear to be alone.

And my lifeless heart is wiser too,
having seen the way a careless man
can take his being into his hands
and crush it into a worthless ooze.

According to my notes, I wrote this poem in my late teens. It appears in my 1978 poetry contest folder and thus was complete by my sophomore year of college.



Amora’s Complaint
by Michael R. Burch

Will you walk with me tonight?
for the moon hangs low and travelers seldom
disturb the silence of this ghostly kingdom . . .
We shall not be seen
if we linger by this stream
that shimmers in the starlight.

Will you talk to me awhile?
For sounds don’t carry very far;
the interminable silence is barely marred
by the labored breathing
of the "giant" who lies sleeping
in caverns fetid and vile,
and I crave your immaculate smile.

So close to death, the final sleep,
he hastens as he lies.
Silence louder than his sighs
drifts on the languid air
toward his musty lair,
and all life that it finds, it keeps.

And though he sleeps,
in dreams content,
he mistakes bile for dew,
for he knows not what is true.
His eyes are worse than blind men's eyes,
for the images they “see” disguise
how swift and sure is death's descent.

His ears hear songs that are not sung;
his nostrils scent a faint perfume
permeating midnight's gloom,
when all the while his rotting flesh
heralds worms to view his death.
He festers, having long been stung.

O, once he was as you are now —
full of passion, wild and free,
majestic, formed most perfectly.
But tonight, hideously deformed,
he himself becomes a worm;
though he doesn't see that he's changed, somehow.

Why, he still calls me his “dearest friend,”
although I cannot bear to near
that stinking, dying sufferer!

He asks me why I stray so far
from the "comfort" of his arms . . .
Tonight, I said, "This is the end."

O, he swore to not let me depart,
but when he couldn't even rise
to chase me as I leapt the skies,
I think he almost understood.
He frowned. His skin, like rotting wood,
seemed to come apart. He almost touched my heart.

But such a vile and leprous being
I cannot have to be my love.
So while the stars shine high above
and you and I are here alone,
help me undress; unzip my gown.
Come, sate my Desire this perfect evening.

This poem, written my late teens and originally titled “Amora to Spirare, with Intellecta dying,” appeared in my 1978 poetry contest folder, which I compiled after my sophomore year in college.



This poem was inspired by the plight of a schoolmate who had a rare disorder that made it dangerous for him to exercise. However, the details of the poem are imagined; we didn’t grow up together and weren’t close friends.

Jack
by Michael R. Burch

I remember playing in the mud
Septembers long ago
when you and I were young
with dreams of things to come
and hopes for feet of snow.

And at eight years old the days were long
—long enough to last—
and when it snowed
the smiles would show
behind each pane of glass.

At ten years old, the fights were few,
the future—far away,
and when the snow showed on the streets
there was always time to play . . .
almost always time to play.

And when you smiled your eyes were green,
but when you cried they seemed ice blue;
do you remember how we cried
as little boys will do—
trying hard not to, because we wanted to be "cool"?

At twelve years old, the world was warm
and hate had never crossed our minds,
and in twelve short years we had not learned
to hear the fearsome breath of Time
behind.

So, while the others all looked back,
you and I would look ahead.
It's such a shame that the world turned out
to be what everyone said
it would.

And junior high was like a dream—
the girls were mesmerized by you,
sighing, smiling bright and sweet,
as we passed them on the street
on our way to school.

And we did well; we never tried
to make straight "A's,"
but always did.
And just for kicks, when we saw cops,
we ran away and hid.

We seldom quarreled, never fought,
for in our way,
we loved each other;
and had the choice been ours to make,
you would have been my elder brother.

But as it was, it always is—
one's life is lost
before it's lived.
And when our mothers called our names,
we ran away and hid.

At fifteen we were back-court stars,
freshman starters on the team;
and every time we drove and scored
the cheerleaders would scream
our names.

You played tennis; I played golf;
you debated; I ran track;
and whenever grades came out,
you and I would lead the pack.
I guess that we just had the knack.

Whatever happened to us, Jack?



Morning
by Michael R. Burch, circa age 14

It was morning
and the bright dew drenched the grasses
like tears the trembling lashes of my lover;
another day had come.

And everywhere the flowers
were turning to the sun,
just as the night before
I had turned to the one
for whom my heart yearned.

It was morning
and the sun shone in the sky
like smoldering embers in the eyes of my lover—
another night gone by.

And everywhere the terraces
were refreshed by bright assurances
of the early-fallen rain
which had doused the earth
and morning’s birth
with their sweet refrain.

It was morning
and the bright dew drenched the grasses
like tears the trembling lashes of my lover;
another day had come.

I believe I wrote this poem around age 14, then according to my notes revised it around age 17. In any case, it was published in my high school literary journal.



Autumn Lament
by Michael R. Burch

Alas, the earth is green no more;
her colors fade and die,
and all her trampled marigolds
lament the graying sky.

And now the summer sheds her coat
of buttercups, and so is bared
to winter’s palest furies
who laugh aloud and do not care
as they await their hour.

Where are the showers of April?
Where are the flowers of May?
And where are the sprites of summer
who frolicked through fields ablaze?

Where are the lovely maidens
who browned ’neath the flaming sun?
And where are the leaves and the flowers
that died worn and haggard although they were young?

Alas, the moss grows brown and stiff
and tumbles from the trees
that shiver in an icy mist,
limbs shivering in the breeze.

And now the frost has come and cast
itself upon the grass
as the surly snow grows bold
and prepares at last
to pounce upon the land.

Where are the sheep and the cattle
that grazed beneath tall, stately trees?
And where are the fragile butterflies
that frolicked on the breeze?
And where are the rollicking robins
that once roamed so wild and free?
Oh, where can they all be?

Alas, the land has lost its warmth;
its rocky teeth chatter
and a thousand dying butterflies
soon’ll dodge the snowflakes as they splatter
flush against the flowers.

Where are those warm, happy hours?
Where are the snappy jays?
And where are the brilliant blossoms
that set the meadows ablaze?

Where are the fruitful orchards?
Where are the squirrels and the hares?
How has our summer wonderland
become so completely bare
in such a short time?

Alas, the earth is green no more;
the sun no longer shines;
and all the grapes ungathered
lie rotting on their vines.

And now the winter wind grows cold
and comes out of the North
to freeze the flowers as they stand
and bend toward the South.

And now the autumn becomes bald,
is shorn of all its life,
as the stiletto wind comes slicing in
to cut the skin like a paring knife,
carving away all warmth.

Alas, the children laugh no more,
but shiver in their beds
or’ll walk to school through blinding snow
with caps to keep their heads
safe from the cruel cold.

Oh, where are the showers of April
and where are the flowers of May?
And where are the spirits of summer
who frolicked through fields ablaze?

Where are the lovely maidens
who browned ’neath the flaming sun?
And where are the leaves and the flowers
that died worn and haggard although they were young?

This is one of the earliest poems that I can remember writing. The use of “’neath” is an indication of its antiquity. Unfortunately, I don’t remember when I wrote the first version, but I will guess around 1972 at age 14.



All My Children
by Michael R. Burch

It is May now, gentle May,
and the sun shines pleasantly
upon the blousy flowers
of this backyard cemet'ry,
upon my children as they sleep.

Oh, there is Hank in the daisies now,
with a mound of earth for a pillow;
his face as harsh as his monument,
but his voice as soft as the wind through the willows.

And there is Meg beside the spring
that sings her endless sleep.
Though it’s often said of stiller waters,
sometimes quicksilver streams run deep.

And there is Frankie, little Frankie,
tucked in safe at last,
a child who weakened and died too soon,
but whose heart was always steadfast.

And there is Mary by the bushes
where she hid so well,
her face as dark as their berries,
yet her eyes far darker still.

And Andy ... there is Andy,
sleeping in the clover,
a child who never saw the sun
so soon his life was over.

And Em'ly, oh my Em'ly!,
the prettiest of all ...
now she's put aside her dreams
of beaus kind, dark and tall
for dreams dreamed not at all.

It is May now, gentle May
and the sun shines pleasantly
upon this backyard garden,
on the graves of all my children ...

God, keep them safe until
I join them, as I will.
God, guard their tender dust
until I meet them, as I must.


This is a poem I had forgotten for nearly 50 years until another poet, Robert Lavett Smith, mentioned the poem "We Are Seven" by William Wordsworth. As I read Wordsworth's poem about a little girl who refused to admit that some of her siblings were missing, I remembered a poem I had written as a teenager about a mother who clung as tenaciously to the memory of her children. The line "It is May now, merry May" popped into my head and helped me locate the poem in my archives. I believe I wrote this poem about the same time as "Jessamyn's Song," which would place it around 1972-1974 at age 14-16, or thereabouts. I can tell it's one of my early poems because I was still allowing myself archaisms like "cemet'ry" which I would have avoided in my late teens and twenties. It feels a bit older than "Jessamyn's Song" so I will guess 1972, around age 14. It is admittedly a sentimental poem, but then human beings are sentimental creatures. I believe the poem was influenced by Little Women, the first book that made me cry.



Parting
by Michael R. Burch, circa age 16

I was his friend, and he was mine; I knew him just a while.
We laughed and talked and sang a song; he went on with a smile.
He roams this land in search of life, intent on being “free.”
I stay at home and write my poems and work on my degree.
I hope to be a writer soon, and dream of wild acclaim.
He doesn't know what he will do; he only knows he loves the wind and rain.

I didn't say goodbye to him; I know he'll understand.
I'll never write a word to him; I don't know that I can.
I knew he couldn't stay, and so . . . I didn't even ask.
We both knew that he had to go; I tried to ease his task.
We both know life's a winding road, with potholes every mile,
and if we hit a detour, well, it only brings vague sadness to our smiles.

One day he's bound to stop somewhere; perhaps he'll take a wife,
but for now he has to travel on to seek a more “natural” life.
He knows such a life's elusive, but still he has to try,
just as I must write my poems although none please my eye.
For poetry, like life itself, is something most men rue;
still, we meet disappointments with a smile, and smile until the time that they are through.

He left me as I left a friend so many years ago;
I promised I would call him, but I never did; you know,
it's not that I didn't love him; it's just that gone is gone.
It makes no sense to prolong the end; you cannot stop the sun.
And I hope to find a lover soon, and I hope she'll love me too;
but perhaps I'll find disappointment; I know that it’s a rare girl who is true.

I've been to many foreign lands, but now my feet are fast,
still, I hope to travel once again when my college days are past.
Our paths are very different, but we both do what we can,
and though we don't know what it means, we try to "act like men."
We were friends, and nothing more; what more is there to be?
We were friends for just a while . . . he went on to be free.



Charlie Hustle
by Michael R. Burch

Crouch at the plate,
intensity itself.

Follow the flight
of the streak of white
with avid eyes
and a heartfelt urge
to let it fly.

Sweep the short arc,
feel the crack of a clean hit,
pound the earth
toward first.

Edge into the base path,
eyes relentlessly relentless.

Watch his every movement;
feel his every thought;
forget all save his feet;
see him stretch
toward the plate ...
and fly!

Fly along the basepath
churning up the dirt,
desire in your eyes.

Slide around the outstretched glove,
hear the throaty cry,
"He's safe!"
And lie in a puddle of sunlight
soaking up the cheers.

A Texas Leaguer dropping
to the left-field side of center
sends you on your way back home.

Take the turn past third
with fervor in your eyes
and a fever in your step,
the game just strides away ...
take them all and then
slide your patented head-first slide
across the guarded plate.

Pause in the dust of your desires,
loving the feel of the scalding sun
and the roar of the crowd.

Shake your head and tip your cap
toward the clouds.

Slap the dirt
from your grass-stained shirt
and head toward the clubhouse ...
just doing your job,
but loving it
because it is your life.

This is another poem I had forgotten about for nearly 50 years. According to my notes, I wrote it in 1977 around age 19. This was one of my early attempts at free verse.



Gainesboro(ugh)
by Michael R. Burch

Times forgotten, times reviled
were all you gave a child, beguiled,
besides one ghostly memory
to haunt him down Life’s winding wild.
And though his character was formed
somewhere within your lightless shade,
not a fragment of the man
that he became today remains
anywhere within the gloom
cast by your dark insidious trees ...
for fleeting dreams and memories
are only dreams and memories.

According to my memory and notes, I wrote the first version of this poem around 1973, circa age 15, revised it in 1978, then finally completed it a mere 48 years later at age 63! I actually have quite a few memories of Gainsborough and none are as dark as the poem might make it seem. The poem is really a complaint about life on earth resulting in divisions and losses. Gainsborough is mostly lost to me, and I am entirely lost to Gainsborough. We are divided by time and distance, and while I hazily remember Gainsborough, I’m sure Gainsborough remembers me not at all, since I was so small when we knew each other. However, if a poet is read, he may be remembered ...



Every Man Has a Dream
by Michael R. Burch, circa age 23

lines composed at Elliston Square

Every man has a dream that he cannot quite touch ...
a dream of contentment, of soft, starlit rain,
of a breeze in the evening that, rising again,
reminds him of something that cannot have been,
and he calls this dream love.

And each man has a dream that he fears to let live,
for he knows: to succumb is to throw away all.
So he curses, denies it and locks it within
the cells of his heart and he calls it a sin,
this madness, this love.

But each man in his living falls prey to his dreams,
and he struggles, but so he ensures that he falls,
and he finds in the end that he cannot deny
the joy that he feels or the tears that he cries
in the darkness of night for this light he calls love.

I wrote this poem in a Nashville bar, at around age 23 or 24, for a young woman I would end up dating seriously, then live with on-and-off for around five years. I believe the poem was written in late 1981 or early 1982.



It's Halloween!
by Michael R. Burch, circa age 20

If evening falls
on graveyard walls
far softer than a sigh;
if shadows fly
moon-sickled skies,
while children toss their heads
uneasy in their beds,
beware the witch's eye!

If goblins loom
within the gloom
till playful pups grow terse;
if birds give up their verse
to comfort chicks they nurse,
while children dream weird dreams
of ugly, wiggly things,
beware the serpent's curse!

If spirits scream
in haunted dreams
while ancient sibyls rise
to plague nightmarish skies
one night without disguise,
as children toss about
uneasy, full of doubt,
beware the Devil's lies . . .

it's Halloween!

I wrote this poem around 1978, circa age 20.



Resurrection?
by Michael R. Burch, circa age 16-17

Sentinels stalk the garden:
it’s true! Armed men are guarding
the tomb of Jesus Christ
for it’s here his body lies
Tonight.

The twelve said he was God’s own son,
but it seems they must be wrong,
for three days ago he died
and in this tomb his body lies
Tonight.

He claimed that he would rise again;
the Sanhedrin are afraid his friends
will steal his body if they can;
so they appointed guards and there they stand
Tonight.

The land is dark and cold tonight;
the stars above emit faint light;
there is silence, not a sound at all;
a soldier stoops and then he falls
Tonight.

The other staggers at his side,
then falls. The stone’s been rolled aside!
Who are these shadowy figures? Men
or Angels? Twelve? Eleven? Ten?
Tonight.

I wrote this poem around age 16 or 17 and it was published in my high school journal the Lantern in 1976 as “The Resurrection” with a more orthodox ending.



“Man” is one of my earliest poems, written around age 16. It was published by a vanity press called World of Poetry before I realized such rip-offs existed. “Man” also appeared in my high school journal the
Lantern in 1976.

Man
by Michael R. Burch, circa age 16

Man levels woodlands to the ground and thinks that makes him “strong.”
He lives until he's eighty and he thinks his life is “long.”
He flings a tin can to the moon and thinks that makes him “wise.”
He thinks he’s mastered “logic” yet falls for shysters’ lies.

Earth’s mountains rise and fall and rise without the aid of man,
and who's lived longer than the sea: what is its lifespan?
Ten thousand meteors reach the moon, and all they are is dust.
As for the truth, what is it? We've barely scraped the crust.

Man studies anthropology and thinks he’s mastered “life.”
He fights his wars with capguns and thinks he knows of strife.
He rules the land and braves the sea; he thinks he's over all;
but compared to the youngest galaxy, he's not old enough to crawl.

For the universe is ageless, and man knows no life but ours;
and what weight hold wars when compared with the gravity of stars?
And can man rule the elements? How can he take on airs,
having only managed one small step on an infinite set of stairs?

Man writes his faulty philosophies, his poetries and songs;
he thinks he's all-important, that his Bibles can't be wrong.
He tells himself he's “thoughtful,” that he's “rational” and “wise.”
He thinks he'll build an empire that stretches beyond the skies.

He puts himself above the stars; he's sentient, stalwart, brave.
He thinks he'll tame the universe, but he remains its slave.
More energy than he can use flows each second from the sun.
More space than he imagines lies from here to the next one.

Yes, he speaks in terms of "light-years" but he cannot pass their bar.
He'll be born and die a billion times in one heartbeat of a star.
He's going to conquer time itself! Can he tell me what time is?
Can he imagine his conceit, or the vanity that's his?

The universe is boundless; it knows no end, nor time.
It sings in crackling energy, supernovas are its rhyme.
And the universe can form a sun, but man can't make a tree.
And when we've used up everything, then what will there be?



Say You Love Me
by Michael R. Burch, circa age 25

Joy and anguish surge within my soul;
contesting there, they cannot be controlled;
now grinding yearnings grip me like a vise.
Stars are burning;
it's almost morning.


Dreams of dreams of dreams that I have dreamed
parade before me, forming formless scenes;
and now, at last, the feeling grows
as stars, declining,
bow to morning.


For you are music in my undreamt dreams,
rising from some far-off lyric spring;
oh, somewhere in the night I hear you sing.
Stars on fire
form a choir.


Now dawn's fierce brightness burns within your eyes;
you laugh at me as dancing starlets die.
You touch me so and still I don't know why . . .
But say you love me.
Say you love me.


According to my notes, I write this poem in 1983, circa age 25.



Adagio
by Michael R. Burch, circa age 21

Speed, splendid light,
through webbed membranes of the mind
enmeshed in sleep.


Beat
and beat
and beat,
sweet soothing spray.
Dance within a dream of yester days.

Rush
and rush
and rush,
red rivers—on!
Flood yourselves and rage beyond the sun.

Dance
and dance
and dance,
electric thoughts.
Calculate life's worth, and all its costs.

Rage
and rage
and rage
strange passions where
the darkness rises, stifling the air.

Throb
and throb
and throb
O, ecstasies!
Burst in glorious grandeur through night’s dreams.

Rise
and rise
and rise
now Poetry.
Laugh and weep and curse life's fallacies.

And speed, splendid light
through webbed membranes of the mind
enmeshed in sleep.

I believe I wrote this poem in college, around 1979, which would have made me around 21 years old. This one is all about the music of words.



All the young sailors
by Michael R. Burch, circa age 20

All the young sailors
follow the sea,
leaving their lovers
to live and be free,

to brave violent tempests,
to ride out wild storms,
to dream of new lovers
seductive and warm,

to drink until sunset
then stretch out at dawn
in the dew of emotions
they don't understand,

to follow the sunlight,
to flee from the rain,
to live out their longings
though often in pain,

to dream of the children
they never shall see
while bucking the waves
of an unending sea . . .

till, racked by harsh coughing,
his lungs almost gone,
straining to catch one last glimpse of the sun,
the last of the sailors finally succumbs,

for all the young sailors
die young.

I think there may have been an earlier version of this poem. But the paper copy I have says 1978, so it was composed no later than 1978.



Will you walk with me
by Michael R. Burch, circa age 18

Will you walk with me a mile down this lane?
for there is something I must say to you.
And, as my feelings cry to be explained,
this silence is a lie, bereft of truth.
As does the bird that sings, I so must tell
the feelings that my heart cannot keep in,
for it must be a sin to speechless dwell
when love entreats the trembling tongue to sing.
And now I cannot watch you silently,
although I cringe to think that I must speak—
my lisping lips then tremble shamelessly,
my heart grows numb even as my knees go weak—
but now the time has come to not delay,
so listen closely to the words I say . . .

If I could only hold you through the night,
then wake to find you near me, each new day,
my life would be so full of sheer delight
that I would never notice should you stray.
If I could only kiss your wanton lips
and do so without fear of God's revenge,
then I would even kneel to kiss your whip,
and I would gladly bend to your demands.
For I not only love your loving moods,
fierce kisses and caresses and wild eyes,
but darling, I still love you when you brood.
I love you though you rail at me and lie.
For love is not a passion that should fade;
it burns!—the heat of sunlight on a cage.

This was one of my first sonnets, or “sonnet attempts,” written around age 18, either as a high school senior or college freshman in 1976.



Shanie
by Michael R. Burch, circa age 20

You never asked anything of life
but the sun and a song to sing.
Well, the sun shines upon everyone,
but a song? Now that’s another thing...



Thoughts of the Everglades in Ontario
by Michael R. Burch

We burned wildfire of September in a distant grass,
watching the many variations of light devour the blades.

All night long I tended the smoldering campfire
remembering those sweat-drenched nights we spent in the ’glades
listening as gators sang love songs to one another,
curious serenades,
their huge tails lashing the shallow swampland water.

That night, camped out distantly beyond the closest farm,
I did not hold you, as I so often have, to keep you warm,
but rather to feel the restless movements of our unborn daughter.

Now she’s three and the Everglades are in her eyes—
dark and swampy, all muddled green and gray,
and they seem to knowingly say,
“It’s time to be on our way.”

I wrote this poem as a college sophomore, age 20, in 1978.



"Stewark Island/Ambiguity" (circa 1976; appears in 1978 poetry contest folder and was written in high school at age 18).

Stewark Island (Ambiguity)
by Michael R. Burch, circa age 18

“Take your child, your only child, whom you love...”

Seas are like tears—
they are never far away.
I have fled them now these eighteen years,
but I am nearer them today
than I ever have been.

Oh, I never could bear
the warm, salty water
or the cool comfort here
in the shade of an altar
sweeter than sin ...

Sweeter than sin,
yet cleansing, like love;
still its feel to doomed skin
either too little or too much
of whatever it is.

Seas and tears
are like life—
ridiculous,
ambiguous.



Every time I think of leaving ...
by Michael R. Burch, circa age 16-17

Every time I think of leaving ...
I see my mother's eyes
staring at me in despair,
and I feel the old scar
pulsating.

Then I think of the father
that I never knew;
I remember how,
as a child,
I could never understand
not having a father...



"Oh say that you are mine" (circa 1976; appears in 1978 poetry contest folder and was written in high school or early college, around age 18).

Oh, say that you are mine
by Michael R. Burch, circa age 18

Your lips are sweeter than apricot brandy;
your breath invites with a pleasant warmth;
you sweep through the darkest corridors of my soul—
a waltzing maiden born of a dream;
you brush the frailest fibre of my hopes
and I sink to my knees—
a quivering beggar.

Your eyes are bluer than aquamarine
set ablaze by the sun;
your lips as inviting as cool streams
to a wanderer of desert lands;
I sleep in your hand,
safe in the warmth of your tender palm,
lost in the fragrance of your soft skin.

We make love as deep as purple pine forests,
your laughter richer and sweeter than honey
poured in a pitcher of peaches and cream,
your malice more elusive than the memory of a dream,
your cheeks tenderer than eiderdown
and cooler than snow-fed streams;
you touch my lips with the lightest of kisses
and my soul sings.




I submitted this poem as a “short story,” sans line breaks, for a college English class taught by George King. The poem had been written before I took his class. I believe I was 18 when I wrote it, and no older than 19. The poem was inspired by coeds sunbathing...

Impressions of Darkness in the Aspects of Light
by Michael R. Burch, circa age 18-19

The afternoon hours pass slowly,
moment blending into golden moment as Time flows tranquilly by,
and only the deepening shadows portend the Evening’s coming,
for within their mystic twilight she sleeps, a Goddess immune to light.

Meanwhile the dreaming maidens—half dark as the Darkness itself—
bask in the amber radiance, oblivious to all save Time,
for they sense the fragrance of dying flowers ...

Fascinating aromas of poppy and hemp once cured by the Sun arise with the Wind,
caressing the senses while numbing the spirit,
inducing vague dreams and a willingness to sleep ... perhaps forevermore.

For cruel Death awaits her hour and the lilies surely shall die.

All the while Death’s dread Sister lurks in the shadows murmuring songs of a ghostly Moon haunting purple skies.

Listen! I can hear the refrain far-off on the naked wind—
rising, then falling, strengthening, then dying...
calling me “home” once again.

And even now Darkness stalks earth’s unsuspecting flocks with feline nonchalance,
as the willows bow and their limbs scrape the earth seemingly in regret.

And even now the skylark’s luting song harbors an elusive melancholy...

And even now the spiraling hawk pauses momentarily to cast a sorrowful eye earthward,
then rises slowly, as if unwilling to dare the utmost heights...

And even now the Moon-drawn sea pauses from its rocking to lift a wave or two toward the engorging Darkness,
imploring, despairing, an innocent child in the hands of a savage Master.

“Oh Lord!” the anguished waves cry out, in the agony of despair,
“Give us a little time ... a little time!”
But their cries die out deep into the descending Nothingness.

Who knows that it lurks there, now, but the sorrowing sea and I?

Who else reckons the assuredness of its arrival or the insincerity of its departure?

Not the flashy cardinal—he cares not but to fly.

Never the solemn-eyed hoot owl, for he loves the Nighttime better than the day.

Only, perhaps, the dying sun understands the arcane reasons
for the coming on of Night and the changing of the seasons.

For at her back she must always hear the chariots of Night drawing closer and closer,
the hooves of coal-black stallions shattering the serenity of the heavens,
creating the fiery sparks we call stars.

But I am not alone in my unceasing vigil: the sun and the sea, my constant companions, console me, as does the enigmatic nightingale.

And they shall comfort me tonight when the curtains of the Night are drawn and clouds obscure the stars.

Together we shall count the hours until Dawn’s deliverance, when she comes to free us, bearing God’s bright banner, enlisting the glowering mountains and angry heavens.




"Why Did You Leave" (circa 1975-1976; appears in 1978 poetry contest folder and was written in high school around age 17).

Why did you leave?
by Michael R. Burch, circa age 17

Your touch was the warmth of a summer day,
the revivingness of showers in May,
the festivity of the coming of fall,
the sparkle of winter’s icicled walls,
the splendor of sunset,
the furor of dawn,
as soft as a feather,
as clear as a pond
enchantingly blue.

Your laughter was lilac and lemon and low;
your tears were dimensions of sorrow untold;
your kiss was enchanting—slow dancing and wine;
your love was a lyric in search of a rhyme;
your eyes were green islands;
your curls formed a sea
of dark, dancing ringlets . . .
Love, why did you leave?




“Writing” appeared in my 1978 poetry contest notebook and was probably written as a college freshman or sophomore, around age 19.

Writing
by Michael R. Burch, circa age 19

I don’t want to write tonight
for it’s far too late and the feeling’s not right . . .
I would much rather sleep
safe in the arms of a girl soft and sweet
as the magic month of May.
But there are bills to be paid
and a child to be kept
and a roof to be patched
—just so many debts—
and if it’s worry or write,
I’d much rather write . . .

[etc., see the poetry contest notebook]





This poem was written either in high school or early my freshman year of college.

Where have all the flowers gone?
by Michael R. Burch, circa age 18-19

Where have all the flowers gone
that once shone in your hair
when the sunlight touched them there?
    Now summer's fields are dark and bare.
And what of all your lovely curls
that caught the sunlight till a halo
ringed their masses, golden-yellow?
    Into ash-grey their fire has mellowed...



“Sweet Inspiration” appeared in my 1978 poetry contest notebook and was probably written around 1974 at age 16.

My Inspiration / Sweet Inspiration
by Michael R. Burch, circa age 19

There is little to write of in my life;
events as predictable as the morning dew
bathing the flowers, then vanishing at noon
are all the excitement I've ever known.

You are my only fantasy come true;
you entered my life and you made it worthwhile;
my first hope was a blossom that bloomed when you smiled . . .
you brighten my days though their birth was dark blue.

With eyes twinkling merriment and a smile of sweet cheer,
you promptly dispel all my doubts and my fears,
and when I am lonely, depressed and put out,
you laughingly "beat" me and storm, rage and pout

until, in grave danger, I solemnly swear
that I will be happy. What else do I dare
as long as you watch me, staring me down,
threatening to "bash" me if I should frown?

No, there is not much in my life to write of,
save a deep, abiding, passionate love
and you as dear to me as my poems . . .
no, dearer, in fact, for because of you they come.



Where, Oh Where Was I
by Michael R. Burch, circa age 17

You whispered the words
that I wanted to hear...



Rock like muddy water
by Michael R. Burch, circa age 19

Rock like muddy water,
dark and fantastic,
sing me to sleep...



Bio: Michael R. Burch is an American poet who lives in Nashville, Tennessee with his wife Beth, their son Jeremy, and three outrageously spoiled puppies. His poems, epigrams, translations, essays, articles, reviews, short stories and letters have appeared more than 6,000 times in publications which include TIME, USA Today, The Hindu, BBC Radio 3, CNN.com, Daily Kos and hundreds of literary journals, websites and blogs. Mike Burch is also the founder and editor-in-chief of The HyperTexts, a former columnist for the Nashville City Paper, a former editor of International Poetry and Translations for the literary journal Better Than Starbucks, and a translator of poems about the Holocaust, Hiroshima, the Trail of Tears, Gaza and the Palestinian Nakba. He has two published books, Violets for Beth (White Violet Press, 2012) and O, Terrible Angel (Ancient Cypress Press, 2013). A third book, Auschwitz Rose, is still in the chute but long delayed. Burch's poetry has been translated into 14 languages, taught in high schools and colleges, and set to music by 27 composers.

For an expanded bio, circum vitae and career timeline of the author, please click here: Michael R. Burch Expanded Bio.

Michael R. Burch related pages: Early Poems, Rejection Slips, Epigrams and Quotes, Epitaphs, Romantic Poems, Sonnets, Free Verse, Family Poems, Free Love Poems by Michael R. Burch, "Will There Be Starlight" Analysis, Poems about Shakespeare

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