Year: 
2021

These are early poems I wrote as a boy starting around age eleven, then as a teenager in high school and my first two years of college. Some poems may be a bit later because I didn't consistenly date my poems in the early days and even when I did, if I revised a poem the original date of composition was usually lost. Thus the best I can do now is guess at a range of dates for some of my early poems. 

Hymn to Apollo
by Michael R. Burch

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

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

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

till all the bright light
retired,
expired.

This poem appeared in my high school literary journal the Lantern as "Something of Sunshine." I believe I was around 16 when I wrote it.

***

i watch the maidens play
and know that what i want
i cannot take because
then it would be gone
—an excerpt from "i (dedicated to u)" by michael r. burch, circa age 15

***

Regret
by Michael R. Burch

Regret,
a bitter
ache to bear . . .

once starlight
languished
in your hair . . .

a shining there
as brief
as rare.

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

unleash
the torrent
of your hair . . .

and show me
once again—
how rare.

I wrote “Regret” in my late teens. It has been published by The Chained Muse, where it received a very favorable review and considerable praise.

***

Tell me what i am
by michael r. burch

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

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

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

This is one of my early “I am/am I” poems. It was published in my high school journal, the Lantern; I believe I wrote the original version around age 15 or 16.

***

 

Have I been too long at the fair?
by Michael R. Burch

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

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

***

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 is one of my early poems, written around age 16 and published in my high school literary journal, the Lantern.

***

This poem became my first official rejection by a literary journal ...

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.

I believe I wrote the first version of this poem around age 19. 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.

***

Bound
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.

Published as “Why Did I Go?” in my high school literary journal, the Lantern. I seem to remember writing the first version of this poem around age 14 or 15. 

***

This was the first poem of mine that appeared in my high school journal, the Lantern, and thus it was my first poem to appear on a printed page. A fond memory, indeed!

Of You
by Michael R. Burch

There is little to write of in my life,
and little to write off, as so many do . . .
so I will write of you.

You are the sunshine after the rain,
the rainbow in between;
you are the joy that follows fierce pain;
you are the best that I've seen
in my life.

You are the peace that follows long strife;
you are tranquility.
You are an oasis in a dry land
. . . and . . .
you are the one for me!

You are my love; you are my life; you are my all in all.
Your hand is the hand that holds me aloft . . .
without you I would fall.

I have tried to remember when I wrote this poem, but that memory remains elusive. It was definitely written by 1976 because the poem was published in my high school literary journal, the Lantern. But many of those poems were written earlier and this one feels “younger” to me, so I will guess a composition date of around 1974 at age sixteen.

***

"Playmates" is, I believe, my second “intentional” poem. Or at least it’s the second one that I can remember writing. I believe I was around 13 or 14 at the time. The only intentional, longish poem I can remember writing before “Playmates” is “Happiness.” I had written some shorter puns and epigrams, like “Bible Libel,” around the same time or a bit earlier, but I wasn’t really thinking of myself as a poet when I wrote those. I think “Playmates” is not a bad effort for the age at which it was conceived, so I give it perhaps a higher mark than it deserves simply because of the handicaps involved. I put this poem in a small compilation for Mrs. Ann Meyers’ English class (10th grade, I think). The occasion was to be a collection of poetry. I had the audacity to include my own fledgling “poetry” alongside that of Burns, Tennyson, Raleigh, and others too accomplished to contemplate: probably Shakespeare! Mrs. Meyers commented on “Playmates” favorably (she called it “beautiful!”), and I think that had a lot to do with the huge volumes of poetry with which I quickly deluged the world.

Playmates
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.

Originally published by The Lyric

***

Playthings
by Michael R. Burch

a sequel to “Playmates”

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

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

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

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

This is a companion poem to “Playmates,” the second poem I remember writing, around age 13 or 14. However, I believe “Playthings” was written several years later, in my late teens, around 1977. According to my notes, I revised the poem in 1991, then again in 2020.

***

Sea Dreams
by Michael R. Burch

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

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

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

I've climbed the sun-cleft clouds
ten thousand leagues or more
above the windswept shores
of seas no 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 . . .

II.
It's been a long, hard day;
sometimes I think I work too hard.
Tonight I'd like to take a walk
down by the sea —
down by those salty waves
brined with the scent of Infinity,
down by that rocky shore,
down by those cliffs 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.” 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 by 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 ...”

***

This is a companion poem to “Sea Dreams” that was written around the same time and discussed in the same freshman dorm conversation. Ron, the other student, asked me how on earth I came up with a poem about being a father who abandoned his son to live on an island! I think the meter is pretty good for the age at which it was written.

Son
by Michael R. Burch

An island is bathed in blues and greens
as a weary sun settles to rest,
and the memories singing
through the back of my mind
lull me to sleep as the tide flows in.

Here where the hours pass almost unnoticed,
my heart and my home will be till I die,
but where you are is where my thoughts go
when the tide is high.

[etc., see handwritten version, the father laments abandoning his son]

So there where the skylarks sing to the sun
as the rain sprinkles lightly around,
understand if you can
the mind of a man
whose conscience so long ago drowned.

***

Smoke
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 ...

Published by The Lantern, Homespun, The Eclectic Muse (Canada), Poezii (Romanian translation by Petru Dimofte), Better Than Starbucks, Potcake Chapbooks (UK) and Fullosia Press

"Smoke" appeared in my high school literary journal, The Lantern, in 1976, and my college literary journal, Homespun, in 1977. I had The Summer of '42 in mind when I wrote the poem. Ironically, I didn't see the movie until many years later (too young for an R-rated movie according to my parents), but something about its advertisement touched me. Am I the only poet who wrote a love poem for Jennifer O'Neil after seeing her fleeting image in a blurb? At least in that respect, I may be unique! In any case, the movie came out in 1971, so I was probably around 13 or 14 when I wrote it. I find it interesting that I was able to write a "rhyme rich" poem at such a young age. In six lines the poem has 26 rhymes and near rhymes: smoke-spoke-smoky, well-farewell-tell-bells-still-recall-still, summer-remember-summer-summer, within-din-in, say-today-days-haze-today-away, had-good-bad. There is another, somewhat longer, version of this poem along with two other poems I wrote about the movie that touched me so strangely, long before I watched it. The other poems are addressed to Hermie, the movie's teenage protagonist who might have been my nebbish twin, or doppelganger. I wrote the other poems after seeing the movie as an adult, many years later. On an interesting note, one of my "youngest poems" is slated to be published by one of England's oldest publishing houses, Sampson Low, in the Lost Love issue of its Potcake Chapbooks series, edited by Robin Helweg-Larsen and illustrated by Alban Low.

***

I Am Lonely
by Michael R. Burch

Oh God, I am lonely;
I am weak and sore afraid.
Now, just who am I to turn to
when my heart is torn in two?

Oh God, I am lonely
and I cannot find a mate.
Now, just who am I to turn to
when the best friend that I’ve made

remains myself?

This poem appeared in my high school journal the Lantern, so it was written no later than 1976. But I believe it was written around age 15-16 in 1974.

Keywords/Tags: early, early poems, juvenalia, child, childhood, boy, boiyhood, teen, teenage, teenager, young adult, student poetry

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