Year: 
2021

These are early poems I wrote from age eleven through my teens as a high school and college freshman and sophomore. A few poems may be a bit later, date-wise, since my record-keeping was inconsistent in my youth.

El Dorado
by Michael R. Burch

It's a fine town, a fine town,
though its alleys recede into shadow;
it's a very fine town for those who are searching
for an El Dorado.

Because the lighting is poor and the streets are bare
and the welfare line is long,
there must be something of value somewhere
to keep us hanging on
to our El Dorado.

Though the children are skinny, their parents are fat
from years of gorging on bleached white bread,
yet neither will leave
because all believe
in the vague things that are said
of El Dorado.

The young men with the outlandish hairstyles
who saunter in and out of the turnstiles
with a song on their lips and an aimless shuffle,
scuffing their shoes, avoiding the bustle,
certainly feel no need to join the crowd
of those who work to earn their bread;
they must know that the rainbow's end
conceals a pot of gold
near El Dorado.

And the painted “actress” who roams the streets,
smiling at every man she meets,
must smile because, after years of running,
no man can match her in cruelty or cunning.
She must see the satire of “defeats”
and “triumphs” on the ambivalent streets
of El Dorado.

Yes, it's a fine town, a very fine town
for those who can leave when they tire
of chasing after rainbows and dreams
and living on nothing but fire.

But for those of us who cling to our dreams
and cannot let them go,
like the sad-eyed ladies who wander the streets
and the junkies high on snow,
the dream has become a reality
—the reality of hope
that grew too strong
not to linger on—
and so this is our home.

We chew the apple, spit it out,
then eat it "just once more."
For this is the big, big apple,
though it is rotten to the core,
and we are its worm
in the night when we squirm
in our El Dorado.

This is an early poem of mine. I believe I wrote the first version during my “Romantic phase” around age 16 or perhaps a bit later. It was definitely written in my teens because it appears in a poetry contest folder that I put together and submitted during my sophomore year in college.

Keywords/Tags: El Dorado, big apple, worms, New York City, junkies, streetwalkers, hookers, prostitutes, actors, actresses, hustlers, conmen

***

Floating
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 a poem I wrote as a teenager, around age 18-19. It has been published by Penny Dreadful, Romantics Quarterly, Boston Poetry Magazine, The Chained Muse, Poetry Life & Times and in Imagine the Erne (a book of photography and poetry by Richard Pierce)

***

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 that we were very happy
for 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 18 at the time.

***

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 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
Forevermore.

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 literary journal and was probably written around age 15-16, or thereabouts. This was during my 'cummings period, ' which started after I/i discovered e.e. cummings in an English textbook. "as Time walked by" and the next poem "hymn to Apollo" are companion poems, written around the same time and perhaps even on the same day.

***

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.

***

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.

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. I have tried to remember when I wrote the poem, but that memory remains elusive. This poem feels “younger” to me, so I will guess a composition date around age 16.

***

Liar
by Michael R. Burch

Chiller than a winter day,
quieter than the murmur of the sea in her dreams,
eyes softer than the diaphanous spray
of mist-shrouded streams,
you fill my dying thoughts.

In moments drugged with sleep
I have heard your earnest voice
leaving me no choice
save heed your hushed demands
and meet you in the sands
of an ageless arctic world.

There I kiss your lifeless lips
as we quiver in the shoals
of a sea that, endless, rolls
to meet the shattered shore.
Wild waves weep, "Nevermore,"
as you bend to stroke my hair.

That land is harsh and drear,
and that sea is bleak and wild;
only your lips are mild
as you kiss my weary eyes,
whispering lovely lies
of what awaits us there

in a land so stark and bare,
beyond all hope . . . and care.

This is one of my early poems, written as a high school sophomore or junior.

 

LATE EARLY POEMS

Every Man Has a Dream
by Michael R. Burch

lines composed at Elliston Square

Every man has a dream that he cannot quite touch ...
a dream of contentment, of soft, starlit rain,
of a breeze in the evening that, rising again,
reminds him of something that cannot have been,
and he calls this dream love.

And each man has a dream that he fears to let live,
for he knows: to succumb is to throw away all.
So he curses, denies it and locks it within
the cells of his heart and he calls it a sin,
this madness, this love.

But each man in his living falls prey to his dreams,
and he struggles, but so he ensures that he falls,
and he finds in the end that he cannot deny
the joy that he feels or the tears that he cries
in the darkness of night for this light he calls love.

I wrote this poem in a Nashville bar, at around age 23 or 24, for a young woman I would end up dating seriously, then live with on-and-off for around five years. I believe the poem was written in late 1981 or early 1982.

INCOMPLETE POEMS

These are early poems of mine that are incomplete. Some are incomplete because in my youth, around age 15, I became frustrated with my poems, thinking I should already be writing like Keats and Shelley, and destroyed everything I had written. I was able to recreate some of the poems from memory, but other poems remain lost or fragments. Some poems are incomplete because I lost track of the handwritten manuscripts. Some were “completed” by shortening or “pruning” them.

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., in the handwritten version, the father laments abandoning his son]

Son, 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.

I wrote this poem in my teens and it is fictitious, since I wasn’t a father and had never lived on an island smaller than England.

She bathes in silver
~~~~ afloat ~~~~
on her reflections
—Michael R. Burch

I liked the line “She bathes in silver” but didn’t have anything to follow it up with, so I eventually opted for a short haiku-like poem, which I rather fancy now.

Gone
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 around age 14.

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 I wrote in my early teens 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, forty seemed to be beyond superannuated, so I believe I killed off the hero at that ripe old age.

Styx
by Michael R. Burch

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

I don't remember exactly when I wrote "Styx," perhaps around age 18, but I do remember it being part of a longer poem originally titled "Death." The first four lines seemed better than the rest of the poem, so I opted for the better part of valor: discretion.

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 1973-1974 at age 15-16, around the same time as “Jessamyn’s Song.” In fact, I believe it was part of the longer poem, toward the end. No, I take that back. This was at one time *the* closing stanza of “All My Children,” written around the same time, but probably closer to 1973.

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.

Sarjann
by Michael R. Burch

What did I ever do
to make you hate me so?
I was only nine years old,
lonely and afraid,
a small stranger in a large land.
Why did you abuse me
and taunt me?
Even now, so many years later,
the question still haunts me:
what did I ever do?

Why did you despise me and reject me,
pushing and shoving me around
when there was no one to protect me?
Why did you draw a line
in the bone-dry autumn dust,
daring me to cross it?
Did you want to see me cry?
Well, if you did, you did.

... oh, leave me alone,
for the sky opens wide
in a land of no rain,
and who are you
to bring me such pain? ...

This is a "true poem" in the sense of being about the "real me." I had a bad experience with an older girl named Sarjann (or something like that), who used to taunt me and push me around at a bus stop in Roseville, California (the "large land" of "no rain" where I was a "small stranger" because I only lived there for a few months). I believe this poem was written around age 16, but could have been written earlier. There was more to the poem, but I decided to shorten it.

Keywords/Tags: early, early poems, juvenile, juvenilia, child, childhood, boy, boyhood, student, high school, college, incomplete

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