The HyperTexts

Michael R. Burch Poems Published by Joseph Salemi

These are poems of mine published by Joseph S. Salemi in his literary journal Trinacria. Salemi has since called his acumen as an editor into question, by claiming that I got "lucky" to have 21 poems published by him. Salemi nominated my poem "Discrimination" for the Pushcart Prize and called other poems of mine "lovely," "absolutely beautiful" and "truly magnificent." Now he's claiming I got "lucky" 21 times.

Sour grapes, perhaps?

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 a poem I wrote as a teenager. Salemi claims I've been getting lucky, so it seems I've been getting lucky for half a century! How many teenage poets has Salemi published, one wonders. To date, 39 poems that I wrote in my teens have been published by literary journals. Did I get lucky 39 times in my teens, then hundreds more times as an adult? Anyone with real knowledge about writing poetry would know there is no "luck" involved. Does Salemi know nothing about the art and craft of writing poetry, or is his criticism just "sour grapes"? Is he a credible literary critic when he spouts such nonsense?

According to Google, "The Harvest of Roses" has been as high as my fourth-most-popular poem on the Internet. When I did a search for "Joseph Salemi most popular poems," amusingly Google was not aware of any and his poetry page at The HyperTexts came up first!

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 . . .

Salemi called "The Last Enchantment" a "lovely poem" when he accepted it. I wrote "The Last Enchantment" as a teenager. It was originally published by Trinacria, then later in a Martins Garden SoundCloud musical interpretation. I have had 49 poems set to music by composers, from swamp blues to opera. I didn't solicit any of the collaborations. All the composers found my poems on the Internet and contacted me. Did I get lucky 49 times?

Epitaph for a Palestinian Child
by Michael R. Burch

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

According to Google, "Epitaph for a Palestinian Child" is my third-most-popular poem on the Internet. At its height the poem had a staggering 92K Google results (these are not views, but the number of web pages that contain the poem in question; a popular web page may be read many thousands of times, or more). Even today, many years after the epitaph's original publication, an exact search for the first line returns 4,890 results. That's a lot of cutting and pasting! The poem was used to lead off an article in Eurasia Review by K. M. Seethi, a director, dean and professor at Mahatma Gandhi University in Kerala. It was used as the lead epigraph in Genocide: A Political Discretion by Nagendram Braveen. It has been translated into Romanian by Petru Dimofte, Turkish by Nurgül Yayman, Czech by Z.J. Pinkava and Indonesian by A.J. Anwar. It has been published by major newspapers, news services and magazines like Daily Kos, Eurasia Review, Colombo Telegraph (Sri Lanka), Sindhu News (India), Katutura English (Namibia), One News Page (UK), Jewish Voice for Peace, Promosaik (Germany), Live Journal, Art in Society and Dissident Voice. It has been published by literary journals around the globe, including Angle (Australia), FreeXpression (Australia), Darfur Awareness Shabbat, Setu (India), Kalemati (Iran), Poezii (Romania), Borderless Journal (Singapore) and Viewing Genocide in Sudan. It also appears on quotation websites like AZquotes, Great Sayings and Inspiring Quotes and quite a few others.

I have several other poems that have gone "massively viral." Why do I keep getting "lucky"? And it's not just the subject making my poems go viral. My poems with the highest Google results at their peaks are on a variety of topics:
"First They Came for the Muslims" (823K results after being published by Amnesty International and major newspapers like The Hindu): intolerance.

"Epitaph for a Palestinian Child" (92K): the Palestinian Nakba ("catastrophe").

"Bible Libel" (78K, a poem I wrote around age 13): the Bible.

"Relativity and the 'Physics' of Love" (72.6K): Einstein quotes turned into a poem. At its height this poem had 72.6K Google results. In fact, it had 273K results for the title, but I have been unable to determine if all those results were for my poem. I did not, however, find any title results that were not for my poem.

"Hazy/Crazy" (34K after being re-tweeted by Pharrell Williams and published on the Reader's Digest website): a humorous rhyming take on an Einstein quotation. This epigram now appears on t-shirts and coffee mugs purchasable online.

"Elegy for a little girl, lost" (21K): self-explanatory. This was my first attempt at a translation, circa age 16 or 17.

Sappho "revealing frock" translation (20K): dress/clothing.

"Survivors" (12.3K): human reactions to disasters affecting other people.

Sappho "Eros" translation (4K): sex/lust.

"The Greatest of These..." (2.7K): a poem I wrote for my mother as she struggled physically with old age.

"Mother's Smile (2K after winning a Penguin Books poetry contest): a Valentine to my mother.
If I have done the math correctly, at their peaks my 11 most popular poems on the Internet appeared on 11,616 web pages. That is an extraordinary amount of cutting and pasting. Was it all luck, as Salemi claims? I did Google searches for the two Salemi poems I consider his best. "The Missionary's Position" appeared on 144 web pages. "The Lilacs on Good Friday" appeared on 161 web pages. Why are so many more readers cutting and pasting my poems than Salemi's?

The question is, of course, rhetorical.

by Michael R. Burch

The meter I had sought to find, perplexed,
was ripped from books of "verse" that read like prose.
I found it in sheet music, in long rows
of hologramic CDs, in sad wrecks
of long-forgotten volumes undisturbed
half-centuries by archivists, unscanned.
I read their fading numbers, frowned, perturbed—
why should such tattered artistry be banned?

I heard the sleigh bells’ jingles, vampish ads,
the supermodels’ babble, Seuss’s books
extolled in major movies, blurbs for abs ...
A few poor thinnish journals crammed in nooks
are all I’ve found this late to sell to those
who’d classify free verse "expensive prose."

"Discrimination" was originally published by The Chariton Review then by Trinacria where it was nominated for the Pushcart Prize by Salemi.

Love Has a Southern Flavor
by Michael R. Burch

Love has a Southern flavor: honeydew,
ripe cantaloupe, the honeysuckle’s spout
we tilt to basking faces to breathe out
the ordinary, and inhale perfume ...

Love’s Dixieland-rambunctious: tangled vines,
wild clematis, the gold-brocaded leaves
that will not keep their order in the trees,
unmentionables that peek from dancing lines ...

Love cannot be contained, like Southern nights:
the constellations’ dying mysteries,
the fireflies that hum to light, each tree’s
resplendent autumn cape, a genteel sight ...

Love also is as wild, as sprawling-sweet,
as decadent as the wet leaves at our feet.

Salemi called this "a truly magnificent poem" when he accepted it for Trinacria.

Published by The Lyric, Contemporary Sonnet, The Eclectic Muse (Canada), Better Than Starbucks, The Chained Muse, Setu (India), Victorian Violet Press, A Long Story Short, Glass Facets of Poetry, Docster, PS: It’s Poetry (anthology), Borderless Journal (Singapore), in a Czech translation by Vaclav ZJ Pinkava, and by Trinacria.

Amusingly, this poem got me banned from the poetry forum Eratosphere, which I now call Erratic Sphere. When I posted the poem, I was advised by various alleged poetry experts not to use the word “love” in a love poem, and to avoid abstract language and the very mild and understated personification. When I pointed out that Erato was the abstract personification of love poetry, I was banned for life with no trial and no explanation. I was later banned by the Keystone Scops for criticizing racist and homophobic posts. What are the scops on both sites afraid of, debate? Having the world see that the would-be emperors are sans clothes?

Gallant Knight
by Michael R. Burch

for Alfred Dorn

Till you rest with your beautiful Anita,
rouse yourself, Poet; rouse and write.
The world is not ready for your departure,
Gallant Knight.

Teach us to sing in the ringing cathedrals
of your Verse, as you outduel the Night.
Give us new eyes to see Love's bright Vision
robed in Light.

Teach us to pray, that the true Word may conquer,
that the slaves may be freed, the blind have Sight.
Write the word LOVE with a burning finger.
I shall recite.

O, bless us again with your chivalrous pen,
Gallant Knight!

Salemi said "Gallant Knight" was "absolutely beautiful."

Free Fall
by Michael R. Burch

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

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

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

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

Salemi called "Free Fall" a "very beautiful poem" when he accepted it for Trinacria.

In Praise of Meter
by Michael R. Burch

The earth is full of rhythms so precise
the octave of the crystal can produce
a trillion oscillations, yet not lose
a second's beat. The ear needs no device
to hear the unsprung rhythms of the couch
drown out the mouth's; the lips can be debauched
by kisses, should the heart put back its watch
and find the pulse of love, and sing, devout.

If moons and tides in interlocking dance
obey their numbers, what's been left to chance?
Should poets be more lax—their circumstance
as humble as it is?—or readers wince
to see their ragged numbers thin, to hear
the moans of drones drown out the Chanticleer?

According to Google, "In Praise of Meter" is my seventh-most-popular poem on the Internet. I begrudgingly admit that Salemi, for all his warts, has good taste in poetry. But again, there was no "luck" involved.

For All That I Remembered
by Michael R. Burch

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

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

According to Google, "For All That I Remembered" is my 11th-most-popular poem on the Internet.

by Michael R. Burch

Walk here among the walking specters. Learn
inhuman patience. Flesh can only cleave
to bone this tightly if their hearts believe
that God is good, and never mind the Urn.

A lentil and a bean might plump their skin
with mothers’ bounteous, soft-dimpled fat
(and call it “health”), might quickly build again
the muscles of dead menfolk. Dream, like that,

and call it courage. Cry, and be deceived,
and so endure. Or burn, made wholly pure.
If one prayer is answered,
                                         “G-d” must be believed.

No holy pyre thisdeath’s hissing chamber.
Two thousand years agoa starlit manger,
weird Herod’s cries for vengeance on the meek,
the children slaughtered. Fear, when angels speak,

the prophesies of man.
                                    Do what you "can,"
not what you must, or should.
                                               They call you “good,”

dead eyes devoid of tears; how shall they speak
except in blankness? Fear, then, how they weep.
Escape the gentle clutching stickfolk. Creep
away in shame to retch and flush away

your vomit from their ashes. Learn to pray.

Published by Other Voices International, Promosaik (Germany), Inspirational Stories, Ulita (Russia), The Neovictorian/Cochlea and Trinacria.

Isolde's Song
by Michael R. Burch

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

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

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

Originally published by The Raintown Review, where it was nominated for the Pushcart Prize, then later by Ancient Heart Magazine (UK), The Eclectic Muse (Canada), Boston Poetry Magazine, The Orchards, Strange Road, On the Road with Judy, Complete Classics, FreeXpression (Australia), Better Than Starbucks, Fullosia Press, Glass Facets of Poetry, Sonnetto Poesia (Canada), The New Formalist and Trinacria

Auschwitz Rose
by Michael R. Burch

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

On Auschwitz now the reddening sunset settles;
they sleep alike—diminutive and tall,
the innocent, the "surgeons."
                                             Sleeping, all.
Red oxides of her blood, bright crimson petals,
if accidents of coloration, gall
my heart no less.
                           Amid thick weeds and muck
there lies a rose man's crackling lightning struck:
the only Rose I ever longed to pluck.
Soon I'll bed there and bid the world "Good Luck."

Published by Voices Israel, Other Voices International, Verse Weekly, Black Medina, ArtVilla, Poetry Renewal Magazine, Mindful of Poetry, The Eclectic Muse (Canada), Promosaik (Germany), Famous Poets & Poems, The Wandering Hermit, FreeXpression (Australia), Poetry Super Highway, Inspirational Stories, Poetry Life & Times, Poems About, Litera (UK), Yahoo Buzz, Got Poetry, de Volkskrant (Dutch newspaper), Sonnetto Poesia (Canada), The Neovictorian/Cochlea, Pennsylvania Review and Trinacria.

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 recall—yours made me bleed?

When winter makes me think of you—
whorls petrified in frozen dew,
bright promises blithe spring forsook,
will I recall your words—barbed, cruel?

Published by The Lyric, La Luce Che Non Moure (Italy), The Chained Muse, Setu (India), Borderless Journal (Singapore), Glass Facets of Poetry, Better Than Starbucks and Trinacria

by Michael R. Burch

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

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

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

Originally published by The Eclectic Muse and The Best of the Eclectic Muse 1989-2003

The Forge
by Michael R. Burch

To at last be indestructible, a poem
must first glow, almost flammable, upon
a thing inert, as gray, as dull as stone,

then bend this way and that, and slowly cool
at arms-length, something irreducible
drawn out with caution, toughened in a pool

of water so contrary just a hiss
escapes it—water instantly a mist.
It writhes, a thing of senseless shapelessness ...

And then the driven hammer falls and falls.
The horses prick their ears in nearby stalls.
A soldier on his cot leans back and smiles.

A sound of ancient import, with the ring
of honest labor, sings of fashioning.

Originally published by The Chariton Review

At Wilfred Owen's Grave
by Michael R. Burch

A week before the Armistice, you died.
They did not keep your heart like Livingstone's,
then plant your bones near Shakespeare's. So you lie
between two privates, sacrificed like Christ
to politics, your poetry unknown
except for one brief flurry: thirteen months
with Gaukroger beside you in the trench,
dismembered, as you babbled, as the stench
of gangrene filled your nostrils, till you clenched
your broken heart together and the fist
began to pulse with life, so close to death

Or was it at Craiglockhart, in the care
of "ergotherapists" that you sensed life
is only in the work, and made despair
a thing that Yeats despised, but also breath,
a mouthful's merest air, inspired less
than wrested from you, and which we confess
we only vaguely breathe: the troubled air
that even Sassoon failed to share, because
a man in pieces is not healed by gauze,
and breath's transparent, unless we believe
the words are true despite their lack of weight
and float to us like chlorine—scalding eyes,
and lungs, and hearts. Your words revealed the fate
of boys who retched up life here, gagged on lies.

Originally published by The Chariton Review

The Wonder Boys
by Michael R. Burch

for Leslie Mellichamp

The stars were always there, too-bright clichés:
scintillant truths the jaded world outgrew
as baffled poets winged keyed kites—amazed,
in dream of shocks that suddenly came true . . .

but came almost as static—background noise,
a song out of the cosmos no one hears,
or cares to hear. The poets, starstruck boys,
lay tuned in to their kite strings, saucer-eared.

They thought to feel the lightning’s brilliant sparks
electrify their nerves, their brains; the smoke
of words poured from their overheated hearts.
The kite string, knotted, made a nifty rope . . .

You will not find them here; they blew away—
in tumbling flight beyond nights’ stars. They clung
by fingertips to satellites. They strayed
too far to remain mortal. Elfin, young,

their words are with us still. Devout and fey,
they wink at us whenever skies are gray.

Originally published by The Lyric

More or Less
by Michael R. Burch

for Richard Moore

Less is more —
in a dress, I suppose,
and in intimate clothes
like crotchless hose.

But now Moore is less
due to death’s subtraction
and I must confess:
I hate such redaction!

Originally published by Trinacria

The Princess and the Pauper
by Michael R. Burch

for Norman Kraeft in memory of his beloved wife June

Here was a woman bright, intent on life,
who did not flinch from Death, but caught his eye
and drew him, powerless, into her spell
of wanting her himself, so much the lie
that she was meant for him—obscene illusion! —
made him seem a monarch throned like God on high,
when he was less than nothing; when to die
meant many stultifying, pained embraces.

She shed her gown, undid the tangled laces
that tied her to the earth: then she was his.
Now all her erstwhile beauty he defaces
and yet she grows in hallowed loveliness—
her ghost beyond perfection—for to die
was to ascend. Now he begs, penniless.

Published by The Lyric, the Katrina Anthology and Trinacria

by Michael R. Burch

We forget that, before we were born,
our parents had “lives” of their own,
ran drunk in the streets, or half-stoned.

Yes, our parents had lives of their own
until we were born; then, undone,
they were buying their parents gravestones

and finding gray hairs of their own
(because we were born lacking some
of their curious habits, but soon

would certainly get them). Half-stoned,
we watched them dig graves of their own.
Their lives would be over too soon

for their curious habits to bloom
in us (though our children were born
nine months from that night on the town

when, punch-drunk in the streets or half-stoned,
we first proved we had lives of our own).

Published by Barbitos, Songs and Poems that Changed the World, Atomic Publishing, The Eclectic Muse (Canada) and Trinacria

Imperfect Sonnet
by Michael R. Burch

A word before the light is doused: the night
is something wriggling through an unclean mind,
as rats creep through a tenement. And loss
is written cheaply with the moon’s cracked gloss
like lipstick through the infinite, to show
love’s pale yet sordid imprint on us. Go.

We have not learned love yet, except to cleave.
I saw the moon rise once ... but to believe ...
was of another century ... and now ...
I have the urge to love, but not the strength.

Despair, once stretched out to its utmost length,
lies couched in squalor, watching as the screen
reveals "love's" damaged images: its dreams ...
and masturbating limply, screams and screams.

Originally published by Sonnet Scroll then as "Postmodern Post-Mortem" by Trinacria

Our Sweet Ecologist
by Michael R. Burch

Our sweet ecologist —
what will she do with the ants
and the cockroaches, bedbugs and lice
when they want to live in her pants?

Originally published by Trinacria

The best tonic for other people's bad ideas is to think for oneself.—Michael R. Burch

Salemi called this epigram "Concise, pithy, and worthy of Mark Twain or Benjamin Franklin."

On an amusing note, my translation of "Wulf and Eadwacer" has been included in an essay and taught by Professor Elizabeth Mazzola at C.U.N.Y. in an upper-division English class. The last I heard, Salemi was employed by the same university. In her email requesting permission to use my translation, which I was happy to grant, Dr. Mazzola said, "Your work has been incredibly valuable to my own, and over the years my students have learned much from you as well." Has Salemi been shipwrecked by the laughter of the gods?

The HyperTexts