Michael R. Burch: Early Poems
Okay, I admit it: I'm a masochist, a glutton for punishment. Why else
would I publish my early effusions, my juvenilia, my wildly romantic flights of youthful poetic fancy? But then what
have I got to lose, really? Poets are already paid less than janitors, while
being studiously ignored by readers, like pimply nerds by cheerleaders. So I
may as well indulge my inner nerd. These are poems that I wrote, or began writing,
while I was in high school, or shortly thereafter. One poem, "Playmates," is the
second poem I remember writing; it appeared in a notebook that dates back to my
sophomore year in high school. I believe I was 14 when I wrote it. My English
teacher inscribed "this poem is beautiful" next to the missive. Convinced that I
was the second coming of Shelley, I immediately proceeded to deluge the world
with poems. The ones below were among the first waves of the Great Inundation.
My early poems have since been published by literary journals which include The
Lyric, Light Quarterly, Poet Lore, The Chariton Review, Romantics Quarterly, The
Raintown Review, The Eclectic Muse, The Neovictorian/Cochlea, Asses of
Parnassus, Contemporary Rhyme, Penny Dreadful, Songs of Innocence, Nebo,
Piedmont Literary Review, Homespun, The Lantern, Poetry Life & Times, Fullosia
Press, Sonetto Poesia and Trinacria.
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.
This poem appeared in my high school journal, the Lantern, in 1976. It also appeared in my college literary journal, Homespun,
in 1977. I believe I had The
Summer of '42 in mind when I wrote it. Ironically, I didn't see the movie
until many years later, but something about its advertisement touched me. Am I
the only poet who ever 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!
deep and dark and still . . .
all men have passed this way,
I don't remember exactly when I wrote this poem, but I do remember it being
part of a longer poem. The first four lines seemed better than the rest of
the poem, so I opted for the better part of valor: discretion. Years later I submitted the epigrammatic version of the poem to Harvey Stanbrough, the
founder and editor
of The Raintown Review, and he responded: "When I find a submission
like yours in the stack of generally mind-numbing pages, I feel both thrilled
and honored. I hope you'll let me see more of your work in the near future. The
poems I accepted are the excellent epigraph, 'Death,' and 'Rant: The Harvest of
Roses,' an excellent exercise in dactylic rhythm. I know how difficult it is to
write well AND maintain a dactylic meter throughout, and you handled it well." I
remember being somewhat perplexed, because I wrote poetry purely by ear and had
no idea what "dactylic meter" was. Here's the other poem Harvey mentioned:
The Harvest of Roses
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—
too forced not to fail;
gathered by poets who worship their luster,
they shimmer, impendent,
"The Harvest of Roses" is not quite as "early" as most of the other 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
unmoving. I was also fed up with the bizarre idea that meter and rhyme were somehow "bad."
"Torsioning" is one of my rare coinages.
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—
Many of my early poems were about aging, loss and death. Like "Death" 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
―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
Something unforgettable is past—
blown from a glimmer into nothingness, or less,
which finality 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
1977, which would have made me around 19 at the time. The poem came to me "from
blue nothing" (to borrow a phrase from Joe Ruggier, a Maltese poet who now
lives in Canada). Years later, I dedicated
the poem to the children of the Holocaust and the Nakba.
Have you tasted the bitterness of tears of despair?
Have you watched the sun sink through such pale, balmless air
that your heart sought its shell like a crab on a beach,
then scuttled inside to be safe, out of reach?
Might I lift you tonight from earth’s wreckage and damage
on these waves gently rising to pay the moon homage?
Or better, perhaps, let me say that I, too,
have dreamed of infinity . . . windswept and blue.
This is one of the first poems that made me feel like a "real" poet. I remember
reading the poem and asking myself, "Did I write that?"
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 the other early poem that made me feel like a poet. I remember
writing it in the break room of the McDonald's where I worked as a high school
student. Once again, I pared the poem down to its best lines.
The Communion of Sighs
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
and our lips met
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 was one of my earliest "scorchers." Since passion seems to out of favor in
literary circles, along with most other genuine human emotions, poems like this
one are unlikely to win any awards, but I still like my little "communion of
Have I been too long at the fair?
Have I been too long at the fair?
The summer has faded,
the leaves have
the Ferris wheel teeters . . .
not up, yet not down.
Have I been too long at the fair?
I believe this poem was published in my high school literary journal, the
Lantern, or it was written while I was in high school. My grandfather used to
live close to the Tennessee state fairgrounds, so I had grown up watching people
hanging suspended in mid-air, waiting for carnies to deposit them safely on
Terra firma again.
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 took an accounting class either my freshman or sophomore year, so
I was familiar with debits and credits. A guess for the composition date might
It was early in the morning, in 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.
I may have been reading too many gothic ghost stories when I wrote this one!
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.
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 Poe-like poems. It is obviously a wild flight of romantic
fancy, but I think it has nice images and sounds. I believe this one was written
when I was 19.
The Last Enchantment
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 . . .
I have long been fascinated by the tales of Arthur and Merlin, including the
older Celtic myths (hence the Merlyn spelling).
Roses for a Lover, Idealized
When you have become to me
as roses bloom, in memory,
exquisite, each sharp thorn forgot,
will I recall―yours made me bleed?
When winter makes me think of you,
whorls petrified in frozen dew,
bright promises blithe spring forgot,
will I recall your words―barbed, 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." This may be the
most "mature" poem on this page.
When you were my playmate and I was yours,
we spent endless hours with simple toys,
and the sorrows and cares of the world in those days
were uncomprehended . . . far, far away . . .
for the temptations and trials we had yet to face
were lost in the shadows of an illumined haze.
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 a penny too many, a penny to spend.
Then feelings were feelings and love was just love,
not a strange, complex mystery to be understood.
Then sin and damnation meant little to us,
for we never pondered salvation, or trust;
and 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 injustice, or fate.
Then we never thought about the next day,
for tomorrow seemed hidden—adventures away.
Though sometimes we dreamed of adventures past,
and wondered, at times, why things didn't last.
Still, we never worried about getting by,
and we didn't know that we were to die . . .
when we spent childish hours with simple toys,
and I was your playmate, and we were boys.
This is probably the poem that "made" me, simply because my high
school English teacher liked it,
and called it "beautiful." It's not one of my best poems, but I think it has a
number of good lines and does a pretty good job of capturing what it's like to
be a young boy who has suddenly wizened into wisdom, becoming aware of aging,
loss and death. I believe I was 14 or 15 when I wrote it.
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 15 when I wrote it.
where have you gone?
What turned out so short,
had seemed like so long.
where have you flown?
What seemed like mere days
were years come and gone.
see what you've done:
now I am old,
when once I was young.
do you even know why
your days, minutes, seconds
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 15 when I
Having Touched You
What I have lost
is not less
than what I have gained.
And for each moment passed
like the sun to the west,
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
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.
I wrote this poem after watching The Boy in
the Bubble: a made-for-TV movie, circa 1976, starring John
Travolta. 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 are wise 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?
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.
This is yet another of my wild flights of romantic fantasy. It is probably my
Ars Poetica and my Prufrock, along with "These Hallowed Halls." In this
poem I profess to be Poetry's lover and savior. Of course such things are no
longer allowed in respectable poetic
circles. But then . . . why be a conformist?
An Obscenity Trial
The defendant was a poet held in many iron restraints
against whom several critics had brought 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.
Clerics called him 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 was a farce.
"It is obscene,"
"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,
for no poets were let in.
Later, the clashing symbols of their pronouncements drove him mad
and he admitted both rhyme and reason were bad.
A well-known poet 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
romantic poet about to be burned at the stake by his peers.
Whether the poem succeeds or not is, of course, up to the reader. I invariably grin
when I read it, so I don't think the "unpoetic" language is a deal-killer,
although I don't plan to make a living writing in this (or any other) vein. This
poem was completed by the end of my sophomore year in college.
Yesterday the wind whispered my name
while the blazing locks
of her rampant mane
lay heavy on mine.
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.
In the Whispering Night
In the whispering night, when the stars bend low
till the hills ignite to a shining flame,
when a shower of meteors streaks the sky,
and the lilies sigh in their beds, in pain,
we must steal our souls as they once were stolen
and gather our vigor, and all our intent.
We must heave our bodies into an 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,
rise, Rise in our yearning,
twin spirits returning
to a world of resplendence from which we were seized.
I wrote this poem to a college English teacher I liked and admired, George King.
He was also a poet. I believe I wrote the poem my freshman or sophomore year,
age 18 or perhaps 19.
I wrote it with the idea of poetic kinship in mind.
Excerpt from "Jessamyn's Song"
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.
"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,
forty seemed to be beyond superannuated, so I believe I killed off the hero at that
ripe old age.
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. I think the questions are
interesting. Do all lovers love first in the dark? Is love an oration, or is it
Nevermore! O, nevermore
shall the haunts of the sea —
the swollen tide pools
and the dark, deserted shore —
mark her passing again.
And now the raging sea
shall never kiss her lips
nor caress her trembling hips
as she dreamt it did before,
one night, attuned to the surf's savage roar.
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.
Yet though they sleep together,
they share no love today,
for the sea has wracked and torn
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 another of my Poe-like creations, written around age 19. I think the
poem has an interesting ending, since a male skeleton is missing an important
Reflections on the loss of vision
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,
crouch there, I know, in the heart of the snow,
yet now I can't see them at all.
It seems that time weakened my vision;
though the patterns are almost as clear,
some things that I saw
when I was a boy,
I cannot see after nineteen years.
The possum that clings to the tree trunk
and the geese now preparing to leave
are there as they were, and yet they are not . . .
oh, I know it seems childish to grieve,
but who would chasten 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 small country lad I endeavored
to see things that others could not--
the camouflaged nest of the blue jay
and the hoot owl's favorite spot--
but now I no longer can see them,
nor understand how I once could,
and it seems such a waste
of those long-ago days
spent searching this beautiful wood.
I believe I wrote this poem around age 18 or 19. It was substantially finished
by my sophomore year in college and appeared in a folder of poems I submitted to
a poetry contest. The poem is pure fiction, since
I'm a city boy through and through.
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).
She was kinder than light
to an up-reaching flower
and sweeter than rain
to the bees in their bower
and I loved her at once,
if but for an hour . . .
and now she is gone,
but that is her power.
Like the sun that soon set
and confined me to darkness,
like May’s transforming rains
that contained all spring’s sweetness,
she has gone, with my heart—
Alas, our completeness!
I now wilt in pale beams
of her occult remembrance.
This is a poem that I really don't remember much about, as far as the writing of
Step Into Starlight
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 longing,
I believe I wrote the original version of this poem in my early twenties.
These Hallowed Halls
a young Romantic Poet mourns the passing of an age . . .
A final stereo fades into silence
and now there is seldom a murmur
to trouble the slumber
of these ancient halls.
I stand by a window where others have watched
the passage of time alone,
not untouched . . .
and I am as they were—
and the days
stretch out ahead,
a bewildering maze.
Ah, faithless lover—
that I had never touched your breast,
nor felt the stirrings of my heart,
which until that moment had peacefully slept.
For now I have known the exhilaration
of a heart debased at the pinnacle of love,
and the result of every miscegenation—
the long freefall to earth, as the moon glides above.
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—
we never pay Time heed
because He moves unobtrusively
about His task.
Still, when at last
we reckon His mark upon our lives,
we may well be surprised
at His thoroughness.
when Time has etched His little lines
so carelessly across your brow,
perhaps I will love you less than now.
And when at last He 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.
A measureless rhythm rules the night—
few have ever 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.
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?
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.
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.
Yes, I must discipline myself
and adjust to these lackluster days
when men display no chivalry
and romance is the "old-fashioned" way.
A single stereo flares into song
and the first faint light of morning
has pierced the sky's black awning
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,
pale sprigs of ivy to the walls
of these hallowed halls.
I wrote this poem during my first year in college. I remember the poem's
genesis: I was looking out my dorm window one night . . . full of despair . . .
wanting to be with someone, but feeling alienated from everyone and everything.
The campus clock struck the midnight hour, and I created the poem's "ungentle
maiden" out of thin air. The only "real" things in the poem are the clock, the
window, the stereo fading into silence, and the young poet's sense of loneliness
Now it is winter and is night
and, as the light of the streetlamp casts its shadows to the ground,
I have lost what I once found
in your arms.
Now it is winter and is night
and, as the light on my headboard plays upon the windowpanes,
I have made again my chains
and am bound.
This poem appeared in my high school journal, the Lantern.
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 my college girlfriend. 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
When she was a child
in a dark forest of fear,
imagination cast its strange light
into secret places,
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, 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.
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.
The men shined their shoes
and the ladies chose their clothes;
the rifle stocks were varnished
till they were not tarnished
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.
Easter, in Jerusalem
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."
I Remember You
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
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 chord in love’s 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 more than life;
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;
wonder, 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.
The land was as hushed as the breath of a bee
and the world was bathed in patterns of 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
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.
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 meter.
These are the riptides of my soul—
dark waters pierced by eerie, haunting screams.
And these uncharted islands bleakly home
wild nightmares and deep, strange, forbidding dreams.
Don’t think to find pearls’ pale, unearthly glow
within its shoals, nor corals in its reefs.
For, though you 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 leaving, till they learned
why it is named:
Mare Clausum means "Closed Sea." This poem is a bit like one of those
movies about an island haunted by monsters and the ghosts of pirates.
Tell me what I am,
for I have often wondered why I live.
Do you know?
Please, tell me so . . .
drive away the darkness from within.
For my life is black with sin
and I have often wondered why I am;
and my thoughts are black as night
though I have often sought what was right.
Shed some light . . .
drive away the darkness from without
for I doubt that I will see
the coming of the day
without your help.
This poem appeared in my high school journal, the Lantern.