Year: 
2021

These are early poems of mine, written as a boy starting around age eleven into my teens as a high school student and my first two years of collete. A few may have been written a bit later; I'm not always sure of composition dates due to inconsistent record keeping in my youth. 

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

for my mother, Christine Ena Burch, who was always a little giggly girl at heart

. . . qui laetificat juventutem meam . . .
She was the joy of my youth,
and now she is gone.
. . . requiescat in pace . . .
May she rest in peace.
. . . amen . . .
Amen.

I was touched by this Latin prayer, which I discovered in a novel I read as a teenager, and decided to incorporate it into a poem. 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, in 1975, age 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.

***

Shadows
by Michael R. Burch

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

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

We drown in shadows starker still,
shadows of the somber hills,
shadows of sad selves 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.

Published by Homespun and Mind in Motion

This poem was written either in high school or my first two years of college because it appeared in the 1979-1980 issue of my college literary journal, Homespun.

***

When last my love left me
by Michael R. Burch

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

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

***

as Time walked by
by Michael R. Burch

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

then the fleet 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 led leisurely our way;
as It did,
It did.

but 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
forevermore.

this morning i awakened to the thought
that you were near
with honey hair and happy smile
lying sweetly by my side,
but then i remembered—you were gone,
that you toppled long ago
like an orchid felled by snow
as the thing 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.

***

Morning
by Michael R. Burch

It was morning
and the bright dew drenched the grass
like tears the trembling lashes of my lover;
another day had come.

And everywhere the flowers
were turning to the sun,
just as the night before
I had turned to the one
for whom my heart yearned.

It was morning
and the sun shone in the sky
like smoldering embers in the eyes of my lover—
another night gone by.

And everywhere the terraces
were bright with fresh assurances
of the early-fallen rain
which had doused the earth
and morning’s birth
with their replete refrain.

It was morning
and the bright dew drenched the grass
like tears the trembling lashes of my lover;
another day had come.

I believe I wrote this poem around age 14, then according to my notes revised it around age 17. In any case, it was published in my high school literary journal.

***

Stryx: An Astronomer’s Report
by Michael R. Burch

Yesterday
(or was is an eon ago?)
a sun spit out its last remnants of light
over a planet long barren of life,
and died.

It was not a solitary occasion,
by any stretch of the imagination,
this decoronation
of a planet conceived out of desolation.

For her to die as she was born
—amidst the glory of galactic upheaval—
is not strange,
but fitting.

Fitting in that,
shorn of all her preposterous spawn
that had littered her surface like horrendous hair,
she died her death bare
and alone.

Once she was home to all living,
but she died home to the dead
who bereaved her of life.

Unfit for life she died that night
as her seas shone fatal, dark and blue.
Unfit for life she met her end
as mountains fell and lava spewed.
Unfit she died, agleam with death
whose radiance she wore.
Unfit she died as raging waves
obliterated every shore.

Unfit! Unfit! Unfit! Unfit!
Contaminated with the rays
that smoldered in her radiant swamps
and seared her lifeless bays.

Unfit! Unfit! Unfit! Unfit!
a virgin world no more,
but a planet raped and left to face
her death as she was born—
alone, so all alone.

Yesterday,
a planet green and lovely was no more.

Yesterday,
the whitecaps crashed against her shores
and then they were no more.

Yesterday,
a soft green light
no longer brushed the moon's dark heights . . .

There was no moon,
there was no earth;
there were only the bastards she had given birth
watching from their next raped world.

I wrote this poem around age 18 and it was published in the 1976-1977 issue of my college literary journal, Homespun.

***

Gentry
by Michael R. Burch

The men shined their shoes
and the ladies chose their clothes;
the rifle stocks were varnished
till they were untarnished
by a speck of dust.

The men trimmed their beards;
the ladies rouged their lips;
the horses were groomed
until the time loomed
for them to ride.

The men mounted their horses,
the ladies did the same;
then in search of game they went,
a pleasant time they spent,
and killed the fox.

This poem was published in my college literary journal, Homespun, in 1977, along with "Smoke" and four other poems of mine. I have never been a fan of hunting or fishing, or inflicting pain on other creatures.

***

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

***

Jack
by Michael R. Burch

I remember playing in the mud
Septembers long ago
when you and I were young
with dreams of things to come
and hopes for feet of snow.

At eight years old the days were long
—long enough to last—
and when it snowed
the smiles would show
behind each pane of glass.

At ten years old, the fights were few,
the future—far away,
and when the snow showed on the streets
there was always time to play . . .
almost always time to play.

And when you smiled your eyes were green,
but when you cried they seemed ice blue;
do you remember how we cried
as little boys will do—
trying hard not to, because we wanted to be "cool"?

At twelve years old, the world was warm
and hate had never crossed our minds,
and in twelve short years we had not learned
to hear the fearsome breath of Time
behind.

So, while the others all looked back,
you and I would look ahead.
It's such a shame that the world turned out
to be what everyone said
it would.

And junior high was like a dream—
the girls were mesmerized by you,
sighing, smiling bright and sweet,
as we passed them on the street
on our way to school.

And we did well; we never tried
to make straight "A's,"
but always did.
And just for kicks, when we saw cops,
we ran away and hid.

We seldom quarreled, never fought,
for in our way,
we loved each other;
and had the choice been ours to make,
you would have been my elder brother.

But as it was, it always is—
one's life is lost
before it's lived.
And when our mothers called our names,
we ran away and hid.

At fifteen we were back-court stars,
freshman starters on the team;
and every time we drove and scored
the cheerleaders would scream
our names.

You played tennis; I played golf;
you debated; I ran track;
and whenever grades came out,
you and I would lead the pack.
I guess that we just had the knack.

Whatever happened to us, Jack?

***

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.

Keywords/Tags: early, early poems, juvenalia, boy, boyhood, child, childhood, teen, teenage, young adult, Latin, translation, Saint Jerome, Vulgate, Bible, prayer, elegy, eulogy, hymn, joy, youth, death, peace, rest, consolation

Author of original: 
Saint Jerome
Forums: