Year: 
2021

These are early poems of mine, written beginning as a boy around age eleven, during my teens as a high school and college freshman and sophomore, and a few written in my early twenties.

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 grey,
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.

I wrote "The Toast" around age 19.

***

Unfoldings
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 "Unfoldings" circa age 18-19.

***

Shock
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 wrote "Shock" around age 19.

***

It's Halloween!
by Michael R. Burch

If evening falls
on graveyard walls
far softer than a sigh;

if shadows fly
moon-sickled skies,
while children toss their heads
uneasy in their beds,
beware the witch's eye!

If goblins loom
within the gloom
till playful pups grow terse;

if birds give up their verse
to comfort chicks they nurse,
while children dream weird dreams
of ugly, wiggly things,
beware the serpent's curse!

If spirits scream
in haunted dreams
while ancient sibyls rise
to plague nightmarish skies
one night without disguise,
while children toss about
uneasy, full of doubt,
beware the Devil's lies . . .
it's Halloween!

I wrote “It’s Halloween!” circa age 20.

***

Premonition
by Michael R. Burch

Now the evening has come to a close and the party is over ...
we stand in the doorway and watch as they go—
each stranger, each acquaintance, each casual lover.

They walk to their cars and they laugh as they go,
though we know their forced laughter’s the wine ...
then they pause at the road where the dark asphalt flows
endlessly on toward Zion ...

and they kiss one another as though they were friends,
and they promise to meet again “soon” ...
but the rivers of Jordan roll on without end,
and the mockingbird calls to the moon ...

and the katydids climb up the cropped hanging vines,
and the crickets chirp on out of tune ...
and their shadows, defined by the cryptic starlight,
seem spirits torn loose from their tombs.

And I know their brief lives are just eddies in time,
that their hearts are unreadable runes
to be wiped clean, like slate, by inscrutable Fate
when their corpses lie ravaged and ruined ...

You take my clenched fist and you give it a kiss
as though it were something you loved,
and the tears fill your eyes, brimming with the soft light
of the stars winking sagely above ...

Then you whisper, "It's time that we went back inside;
if you'd like, we can sit and just talk for a while."
And the hope in your eyes burns too deep, so I lie
and I say, "Yes, I would," to your small, troubled smile.

I vividly remember writing this poem after my first office party, circa age 20.

***

Say You Love Me
by Michael R. Burch

Joy and anguish surge within my soul;
contesting there, they cannot be controlled,
for grinding yearnings grip me like a vise.
Stars are burning;
it's almost morning.

Dreams of dreams of dreams that I have dreamed
dance before me, forming formless scenes;
and now, at last, the feeling grows
as stars, declining,
bow to morning.

And you are music echoing through dreams,
rising from some far-off lyric spring;
oh, somewhere in the night I hear you sing.
Stars on fire
form a choir.

Now dawn's fierce brightness burns within your eyes;
you laugh at me as dancing embers die.
You touch me so and still I don't know why . . .
But say you love me.
Say you love me.

I wrote this poem around age 25.

***

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.

“Sex 101” and “Burn, Ovid” were written about my experiences during ninth grade at Faith Christian Academy, circa age 14-15. However, these poems were not completed until much later and are in a more mature voice and style than most of my other early poems.

***

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.

***

War
by Michael R. Burch

lysander lies in lauded greece
and sleeps and dreams, a stone for a pillow,
unseeing as sunset devours limp willows,
but War glares on.

and joab's sightless gaze is turned
beyond the jordan's ravaged shore;
his war-ax lies to be taxed no more,
but War hacks on.

and roland sleeps in poppied fields
with flowers flowing at his feet;
their fragrance lulls his soul to sleep,
but War raves on.

and patton sighs an unheard sigh
for sorties past and those to come;
he does not heed the battle drum,
but War rolls on.

for now new heroes grab up guns
and rush to fight their fathers' wars,
as warriors' children must, of course,
while War laughs on.

I believe I wrote the first version of this poem around age 17. I was never fully happy with the poem, although I liked some of the lines, and revised it 46 years later, on 4-27-2021.

***

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?

Uncanny 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?

Published by Romantics Quarterly and set to music by David Hamilton and performed by the Australian choir Choralation.

***

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.

***

Nevermore!
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 claim 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 smothered
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!

Published by Romantics Quarterly and Penny Dreadful; I wrote this poem around age 19 under the influence of Edgar Allan Poe.

***

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*

I wrote “Poet to poet” around age 17, under the influence of Dr. Martin Luther King Jr.’s famous “I have a dream” speech/sermon/poem.

***

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.

***

Sanctuary at Dawn
by Michael R. Burch

I have walked these thirteen miles
just to stand outside your door.
The rain has dogged my footsteps
for thirteen miles, for thirty years,
through the monsoon seasons ...
and now my tears
have all been washed away.

Through thirteen miles of rain I slogged,
I stumbled and I climbed
rainslickened slopes
that led me home
to the hope that I might find
a life I lived before.

The door is wet; my cheeks are wet,
but not with rain or tears ...
as I knock I sweat
and the raining seems
the rhythm of the years.

Now you stand outlined in the doorway
—a man as large as I left—
and with bated breath
I take a step
into the accusing light.

Your eyes are grayer
than I remembered;
your hair is grayer, too.
As the red rust runs
down the dripping drains,
our voices exclaim—

"My father!"
"My son!"

“Sanctuary at Dawn” appeared in my first poetry chapbook manuscript, so it was written either in high school or during my first two years of college: age 18 is an educated guess.

Keywords/Tags: early, early poems, juvenilia, child, childhood, boy, boyhood, student, high school, college, teen, teenage, teenager, youth, young, young adult

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