The HyperTexts

"My Influences" by Michael R. Burch

These are my influences: the poets, writers and songwriters who influenced my poetry.

I started writing poetry, not all that seriously, sometime between age 11 and 13. I became a "serious poet" around age 14. I was a great reader of books as a boy, thanks to an encouraging mother and a four-year stint of living in Germany from age 11-14 when my family didn't have a TV and there were no English-speaking boys to play with. During that four-year period, I would go to the library of the American air base where my father worked, check out the maximum eight books, read them in a few days, then repeat, repeat, repeat. My grades soared, I was always the top scholar in my classes from that time forward, and I ended up with a formidable "inventory" of literary influences.

As a boy poet and teen poet, my three primary influences were William Blake, Robert Burns and e. e. cummings.

Other early influences include Charles Baudelaire, Emily Dickinson, John Donne, T. S. Eliot, Robert Frost, Thomas Hardy, A. E. Housman, Langston Hughes, John Keats, Edgar Allan Poe, Percy Bysshe Shelley, Wallace Stevens, Alfred Tennyson, Dylan Thomas, Walt Whitman and William Butler Yeats.

Songwriters who influenced me as a boy and in my teens include Johnny Cash, Sam Cooke, Neil Diamond, Bob Dylan, Marvin Gaye, Carole King, John Lennon, Joni Mitchell, Paul Simon, Cat Stevens, Sly Stone and Stevie Wonder.

Later influences as an adult include Basho, Hart Crane, Issa, Lorca, Neruda, Rilke, Sappho, Shakespeare and Swinburne.

These are some of my early poems with the influences identified and bolded...

by Michael R. Burch

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

"Styx" is one of the early poems that made me feel like a "real poet." 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. "Styx" was influenced by my readings of Homer. Like most of the poems on this page, "Styx" was written in my teens. These are mostly poems that I wrote while in high school, or shortly thereafter. A few of them predate high school. For example, this one:

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. 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. "Smoke" was influenced by the musicality of Edgar Allan Poe.

The first poem I remember writing, sometime between age 11 and 13, is this one:

Bible Libel
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 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 the epigram above 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. The last time I checked, according to Google results the poem had gone viral and appears on over 50,000 web pages! Are people still reading poets, after all? In any case, 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, Brief Poems, Idle Hearts, AZquotes (in its Top 17 Very Witty Quotes) and numerous other quote websites. "Bible Libel" was influenced by my readings of the King James Bible.

by Michael R. Burch

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) but may have been influenced by the free verse of Wallace Stevens. 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.

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 one of the first poems 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 it around 1976, at age 18. "Infinity" was influenced by "The Love Song of J. Alfred Prufrock" by T. S. Eliot.

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 the other early poem that made me feel like a real poet. I remember writing it in the break room of the McDonald's where I worked as a high school student. I believe that was in 1975, at age 17. Once again, 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. "Infinity," which started out as "Dream of Infinity," has been published by TC Broadsheet Verses (my first paying gig, a whopping ten bucks!), Penny Dreadful, the Net Poetry and Art Competition, Songs of Innocence, Poetry Life & Times, Mindful of Poetry and Better Than Starbucks. "Observance" was influenced by the odes of John Keats.

Will There Be Starlight
by Michael R. Burch

for Beth

Will there be starlight
while she gathers
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
while she gathers
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. "Will There Be Starlight" was influenced by Percy Bysshe Shelley.

Leave Taking
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—

Several of my early poems were about aging, loss and death. Young poets can be so morbid! 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 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 poem appears later on this page. "Leave Taking" was influenced by A. E. Housman.

The Leveler
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. "The Leveler" was influenced by William Blake and Shakespeare.

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

for my mother, Christine Ena 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 ...

I was touched by this Latin prayer, which I discovered in a novel I read as a teenager. I decided to incorporate it into a poem, which I wrote in high school and revised 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 girl at heart, with a pure heart like a little girl.

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!

The Harvest of Roses
by Michael R. Burch

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

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

"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. Due to the coinage, I will say this poem may have been influenced by Shakespeare.

Shakespeare's Sonnet 130 Refuted
by Michael R. Burch

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

Seas that sparkle in the sun
without its light would have no beauty;
but the light within your eyes
is theirs alone; it owes no duty.
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." Ever the precocious teen, I decided to rebuke the Bard of Avon. At the time I didn't know the rules of the sonnet form, so mine is a bit unconventional. I think my sonnet is not bad for the first attempt of a teen poet. I remember writing the poem in my head on the way back to my dorm from a freshman English class "as visions of Shelley danced in my head." Yes, I was always very ambitious about my poetry. I would have been 18 or 19 at the time. Shakespeare is the obvious influence here, with Shelley helping me frame my objection and retort.

Moon Lake
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. I sense the influence of Keats and Poe here.

Tomb Lake
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. "Tomb Lake" was influenced by Edward Arlington Robinson's "The Mill."

Frail Envelope of Flesh
by Michael R. Burch

for the mothers and children of Gaza

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

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

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

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! To my knowledge, this is my only poem influenced by a comic book!

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. "Listen" was influenced by the King James Bible, the prophetic poems of William Blake, and by "madman" poems by Robert Burns and other poets.

Davenport Tomorrow
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 of "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. "Davenport Tomorrow" was influenced by my wide-ranging readings of science fiction as a boy and teenager.

hey pete
by Michael R. Burch

for Pete Rose

hey pete,
it's baseball season
and the sun ascends the sky,
encouraging a schoolboy's dreams
of winter whizzing by;
go out, go out and catch it,
put it in a jar,
set it on a shelf
and then you'll be a Superstar.

When I was a boy, Pete Rose was my favorite baseball player; this poem is not a slam at him, but rather an ironic jab at the term "superstar." I wrote this poem around age 18. The poetic influence here is e. e. cummings.

The Toast
by Michael R. Burch

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

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. I cannot identify a specific influence here and will have to go with Romanticism.

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. "Desdemona" was influenced by Swinburne.

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

NOTE: 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. "Mare Clausum" was influenced by Samuel Taylor Coleridge, Ernest Dowson and Edgar Allan Poe.

An Illusion
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 16. This one was influenced by the lushness of Keats.

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.

I may have been reading too many gothic ghost stories when I wrote this one, around age 19. I think it shows a good touch with meter for a young poet. "Shock" was influenced by William Blake and Edgar Allan Poe.

The Communion of Sighs
by Michael R. Burch

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

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

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

This is one of my early 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. I cannot detect a specific influence and will go with Romanticism.

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.

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 will attribute this poem to Crazy Horse.

by Michael R. Burch

for Trump

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

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 out of the Paris climate change accords. No idea on this one.

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." The poem may have been influenced by Shakespeare's "Full Fathom Five" and surrealistic poems by Charles Baudelaire.

In the Whispering Night
by Michael R. Burch

for George King

In the whispering night, when the stars bend low
till the hills ignite to a shining flame,
when a shower of meteors streaks the sky
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. The poem was influenced by Keats, Shelley and Swinburne.

Burn, Ovid
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, 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 on the poem. Another poem, "Sex 101," was also written about my experiences at FCA that year. I will attribute this poem to the influence of Ovid.

Sex 101
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. I will attribute this poem to the influence of Ovid.

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 it in 1974, around age 14 or 15. It was originally titled "Why Did I Go?" I believe the influence here is Paul Simon.

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. I believe the influence here is Thomas Hardy.

Am I
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." The influence is the King James Bible.

by Michael R. Burch

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:
for now I am old,
when once I was young.

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. The influence is the King James Bible.

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...

The influence here is the "I Have a Dream" speech of Dr. Martin Luther King Jr.

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!

by Michael R. Burch

a bitter
ache to bear ...

once starlight
in your hair ...

a shining there
as brief
as rare.

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

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.

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 youshivering, 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 the longer poem down to its best lines.

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.

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 called it "beautiful" and I took that to mean I was surely the Second Coming of Percy Bysshe Shelley! "Playmates" is the second intentional, longish poem I remember writing; I believe I was around 13 or 14 at the time. By "intentional" I mean that I wrote it intentionally to be a poem. "Happiness" was my first intentional, longish poem, and "Playmates" 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. "Playmates" was originally published by The Lyric. The influence here was probably Peter Pan and songs like "House at Pooh Corner."

hymn to Apollo
by Michael R. Burch

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

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

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

till all the bright light

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, under the influence of e. e. cummings. 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."

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.

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. I believe the influence here is Peter Pan.

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. All three "Dust" poems were influenced by A. E. Housman.

Dust (II)
by Michael R. Burch

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

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."

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 ...

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.

These Hallowed Halls
by Michael R. Burch
a young Romantic Poet mourns the passing of an age ...


A final stereo fades into silence
and now there is seldom a murmur
to trouble the slumber
of these ancient halls.

I stand by a window where others have watched
the passage of time alone,
not untouched,
and I am as they were—
for the days
stretch out ahead,
a bewildering maze.


Ah, faithless lover—
that I had never touched your breast,
nor felt the stirrings of my heart,
which until that moment had peacefully slept.

For now I have known the exhilaration
of a heart having leapt from the pinnacle of love,
and the result of each such infatuation ...
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
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.


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.


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.


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
once again.


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. The poem's influence is Romanticism.

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. "Absinthe" is a poem influenced by e. e. cummings and Charles Baudelaire.

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. Poe and cummings are influences.

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. Charles Baudelaire is an influence.

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 ...

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. The influence here is Zane Grey.

by michael r. burch

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. "Alien" was influenced by e. e. cummings and Sylvia Plath.

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.

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 do remember the original poem being 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 18 or thereabouts. It was influenced by Charles Baudelaire.

as Time walked by
by Michael R. Burch

yesterday i dreamed of us again,
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, your smile
could fill the darkest night
with brilliant light
or thrill the dullest day
with ecstasy
so long as Time did not impede our 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 us
to be gone

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 in 1976 and was probably written around 1974 at 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 and was strongly influenced by his poetry and eclectic style.

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. "Canticle" was influenced by the odes of John Keats.

Easter, in Jerusalem
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. The influence was the King James Bible.

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. "Ode to the Sun" was influenced by the odes of Shelley and Keats.

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.

Sea Dreams
by Michael R. Burch

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

It's almost nine
and I must be back home by ten,
and then . . . what then?
I have less than an hour to stroll this beach,
less than an hour old dreams to reach . . .
And then, what then?

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

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

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

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

“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 ...” In any case, an influence was T. S. Eliot and Prufrock.

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.

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). Charles Baudelaire was the influence here.

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
while the dew-laden lilies lie
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. Sappho is the obvious influence here.

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,, Daily Kos, The Washington Post, Light Quarterly, The Lyric, Measure, Writer's Digest—The Year's Best Writing, The Best of the Eclectic Muse and hundreds of other 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 fifteen languages and set to music by nineteen composers. His poem "First They Came for the Muslims" has been adopted by Amnesty International for its Words That Burn anthology, a free online resource for students and educators, and according to Google appears on 691,000 web pages.

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

The HyperTexts