Year: 
2021

These are early poems of mine, written starting as a boy around age eleven, then as a teenager in high school and my first two years of college, plus a few that were written a bit later in my early twenties. 

Am I
by Michael R. Burch

Am I inconsequential;
do I matter not at all?
Am I just a snowflake,
to sparkle, then to fall?

Am I only chaff?
Of what use am I?
Am I just a feeble flame,
to flicker, then to die?

Am I inadvertent?
For what reason am I here?
Am I just a ripple
in a pool that once was clear?

Am I insignificant?
Will time pass me by?
Am I just a flower,
to live one day, then die?

Am I unimportant?
Do I matter either way?
Or am I just an echo—
soon to fade away?

This is one of my very earliest poems; if I remember correctly, it was written the same day as “Time,” which appeared in my high school sophomore poetry assignment booklet. If not, it was a companion piece written around the same time. The refrain “Am I” is an inversion of the biblical “I Am” supposedly given to Moses as the name of God. I was around 14 or 15 when I wrote the two poems.

***

Ambition
by Michael R. Burch

Men speak of their “ambition”
and I smile to hear them say
that within them burns such fire,
such a longing to be great ...

But I laugh at their “Ambition”
as their wistfulness amasses;
I seek Her tongue’s indulgence
and Her parted legs’ crevasses.

I was very ambitious about my poetry, even as a teenager!

***

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 circa age 14. This poem was at one time the closing stanza of “All My Children,” a longish poem written around age 14.

***

Dust (II)
by Michael R. Burch

We are dust
and to dust we must
return ...
but why, then,
life’s pointless sojourn?

I’m not sure when I wrote my second “Dust” poem but I will keep the poems together due to the shared title and theme.

***

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.

This is one of my early poems in the “Dust” series, but unfortunately I have no recollection of writing it, nor any notes about its composition. I will guess that I wrote this one in my late teens or early twenties.

***

Ashes
by Michael R. Burch

A fire is dying;
ashes remain . . .
ashes and anguish,
ashes and pain.

A fire is fading
though once it burned bright . . .
ashes once embers
are ashes tonight.

I wrote this poem either in my late teens or early twenties: I will guess somewhere around age 18-19, but no later than age 21 according to the dated copy I have. This is a companion poem to “As the Flame Flowers,” perhaps written the same day.

***

As the Flame Flowers
by Michael R. Burch

As the flame flowers, a flower, aflame,
arches leaves skyward, aching for rain,
but it only encounters wild anguish and pain
as the flame sputters sparks that ignite at its stem.

Yet how this frail flower aflame at the stem
reaches through night, through the staggering pain,
for a sliver of silver that sparkles like rain,
as it flutters in fear of the flowering flame.

Mesmerized by a distant crescent-shaped gem
which glistens like water though drier than sand,
the flower extends itself, trembles, and then
dies as scorched leaves burst aflame in the wind.

I believe I wrote the first version of this poem in my early twenties, wasn’t happy with it, put it aside, then revised nearly 20 years later, in 1998, then again another 20 years later in 2020. The flower aflame yet entranced by the moon is, of course, a metaphor for destructive love and its passions.

***

Cameo
by Michael R. Burch

Breathe upon me the breath of life;
gaze upon me with sardonyx eyes.
Here, trapped where times flies
in the absence of light,
all ecstasies are intimations of night.

Hold me tonight in the spell I have cast;
promise what cannot be given.
Show me the stairway to heaven.
Jacob's-ladder grows all around us;
Jacob's ladder was fashioned of onyx.

So breathe upon me the breath of life;
gaze upon me with sardonic eyes . . .
and, if in the morning I am not wise,
at least then I’ll know if this dream we call life
was worth the surmise.

My notes say that I copied and filed this poem in 1979, around age 21. Since I don’t have an earlier recollection of this poem, I will stick with that date. This one does feel a bit more mature than some of my teenage poems, so the date seems about right.

***

Analogy
by Michael R. Burch

Our embrace is like a forest
lying blanketed in snow;
you, the lily, are enchanted
by each shiver trembling through;
I, the snowfall, cling in earnest
as I press so close to you.
You dream that you now are sheltered;
I dream that I may break through.

I believe I wrote this poem around age 19.

***

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.

***

Canticle
by Michael R. Burch

Misty morning sunlight hails the dawning of new day;
dreams drift into drowsiness before they fade away.
Dew drops on the green grass echo splendors of the sun;
the silence lauds a songstress and the skillful song she's sung.
Among the weeping willows the mist clings to the leaves;
and, laughing in the early light among the lemon trees,

there goes a brace of bees!

Dancing in the depthless blue like small, bright bits of steel,
the butterflies flock to the west and wander through dawn's fields.
Above the thoughtless traffic of the world wending their way,
a flock of mallard geese in v's dash onward as they race.
And dozing in the daylight lies a new-born collie pup,
drinking in bright sunlight through small eyes still tightly shut.
And high above the meadows, blazing through the warming air,
a shaft of brilliant sunshine has started something there . . .

it looks like summer.

I distinctly remember writing this poem in Ms. Davenport’s class at Maplewood High School. I had read a canticle somewhere, liked the name and concept, and decided I needed to write one myself. I believe this was in 1974 at age 16, but I could be off by a year. This is another early poem that makes me think I had a good natural ear for meter and rhyme. It’s not a great poem, but the music seems pretty good for a beginner.

***

absinthe sea
by michael r. burch

i hold in my hand a goblet of absinthe

the bitter green liqueur
reflects the dying sunset over the sea

and the darkling liquid froths
up over the rim of my cup
to splash into the free,
churning waters of the sea

i do not drink

i do not drink the liqueur,
for I sail on an absinthe sea
that stretches out unendingly
into the gathering night

its waters are no less green
and no less bitter,
nor does the sun strike them with a kinder light

they both harbor night,
and neither shall shelter me

neither shall shelter me
from the anger of the wind
or the cruelty of the sun

for I sail in the goblet of some Great God
who gazes out over a greater sea,
and when my life is done,
perhaps it will be because
He lifted His goblet and sipped my sea.

I seem to remember writing this poem in college just because I liked the sound of the word “absinthe.” I had no idea, really, what it was or what it looked or tasted like, beyond something I had read in passing somewhere.

***

Styx
by Michael R. Burch

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

Published by The Raintown Review, Poezii (Romanian translation by Petru Dimofte) and Blue Unicorn. This is one of my early poems, written as a teenager, circa age 18. I believe this was my second epigram after “Bible Libel.”

***

Death
by Michael R. Burch

Black waters—deep and dark and still.
All men have passed this way, or will.
The seed returns to earth; the shell
lies rooted in dark clay; the spell
of senselessness—the mind swept clear—
is all of Death we have to fear ...
And yet a lofty, troubled bell
still sadly bids the freed, “Farewell!”

I wrote “Death” around age 18 but wasn’t happy with the poem and published the first two lines separately as “Styx.” A mere 45 years later I returned to the longer poem and finally completed it, at age 63!

***

Will There Be Starlight
by Michael R. Burch

for Beth

Will there be starlight
tonight
while she gathers
damask
and lilac
and sweet-scented heathers?

And will she find flowers,
or will she find thorns
guarding the petals
of roses unborn?

Will there be moonlight
tonight
while she gathers
seashells
and mussels
and albatross feathers?

And will she find treasure
or will she find pain
at the end of this rainbow
of moonlight on rain?

Published by TALESetc, Starlight Archives, The Word (UK), Poezii (Romanian translation by Petru Dimofte), The Chained Muse, Famous Poets and Poems, Grassroots Poetry, Inspirational Stories, Jenion, Poetry Webring and Writ in Water; also set to music by the award-winning Australian composer David Hamilton

If I remember correctly, I wrote the first version of this poem toward the end of my senior year in high school, then forgot about it for fifteen years until I met my future wife Beth and she reminded me of my poem’s mysterious enchantress. I dedicated the poem to her on September 21, 1991, the same day I wrote “Seasons, for Beth.”

***

Frail Envelope of Flesh
by Michael R. Burch

for the mothers and children of Gaza

Frail envelope of flesh,
lying cold on the surgeon’s table
with anguished eyes
like your mother’s eyes
and a heartbeat weak, unstable ...

Frail crucible of dust,
brief flower come to this—
your tiny hand
in your mother’s hand
for a last bewildered kiss ...

Brief mayfly of a child,
to live two artless years!
Now your mother’s lips
seal up your lips
from the Deluge of her tears ...

Published by The Lyric, Promosaik (Germany), Setu (India), SindhuNews (India), Tho Tru Tinh (in a Vietnamese translation by Ngu Yen), Orphans of Gaza, Irish Blog, Alarshef, ArtVilla, Daily Motion and Poetry Life & Times; translated into Arabic by Nizar Sartawi and Italian by Mario Rigli; set to music by composer Eduard de Boer and performed in Europe by the Palestinian soprano Dima Bawab

The phrase "frail envelope of flesh" was one of my first encounters with the power of poetry, although I read it in a superhero comic book as a young boy (I forget which one). That was around age ten or eleven. Years later, the line kept popping into my head, so I wrote the longer version of the poem (below), probably in my early to mid twenties, then shortened it in 1998 before submitting it for publication. I believe I made some minor changes in 2002, when the poem was accepted by The Lyric. I have dedicated the poem to the mothers and children of Gaza, who know all too well how fragile life and human happiness can be.

***

Gainsboro(ugh)
by Michael R. Burch

Times forgotten, times reviled
were all you gave a child, beguiled,
besides one ghostly memory
to haunt him down Life’s winding wild.
And though his character was formed
somewhere within your lightless shade,
not a fragment of the man
that he became today remains
anywhere within the gloom
cast by your dark insidious trees ...
for fleeting dreams and memories
are only dreams and memories.

According to my memory and notes, I wrote the first version of this poem around 1973, circa age 15, revised it in 1978, then finally completed it a mere 48 years later at age 63! I actually have quite a few memories of Gainsborough and none are as dark as the poem might make it seem. The poem is really a complaint about life on earth resulting in divisions and losses. Gainsborough is mostly lost to me, and I am entirely lost to Gainsborough. We are divided by time and distance, and while I hazily remember Gainsborough, I’m sure Gainsborough remembers me not at all, since I was so small when we knew each other. However, if a poet is read, he may be remembered ...

***

49th Street Serenade
by Michael R. Burch

It's four o'clock in the mornin'
and we're alone, all alone in the city . . .
     your sneakers 're torn
     and your jeans 're so short
that your ankles show, but you're pretty.

I wish I had five dollars;
I'd pay your bus fare home,
     but how far canya go
     through the sleet 'n' the snow
for a fistful of change?
'Bout the end of Childe’s Lane.

Right now my old man is sleepin'
and he don't know the hell where I am.
     Why he still goes to bed
     when he's already dead,
I don't understand,
but I don't give a damn.

Bein' sixteen sure is borin'
though I guess for a girl it's all right . . .
     if you'd let your hair grow
     and get some nice clothes,
I think you'd look outta sight.

And I wish I had ten dollars;
I'd ask you if you would . . .
     but wishin's no good
     and you'd think I'm a hood,
so I guess I'll be sayin' good night.

This is one of my earliest poems, written as a song around age 16; I actually started out writing songs when some long-haired friends of mine started a band around 1974. But I was too introverted and shy to show them to anyone. This one was too racy for my high school journal.

***

Less Heroic Couplets: Liquidity Crisis
by Michael R. Burch

And so I have loved you, and so I have lost,
accrued disappointment, ledgered its cost,
debited wisdom, credited pain . . .
My assets remaining are liquid again.

I believe I wrote this poem in college after my sister Debby announced that she planned to major in accounting. 

***

Adagio
by Michael R. Burch

Speed, splendid light,
through webbed membranes of the mind
enmeshed in sleep.

Beat
and beat
  and beat,
sweet soothing spray.
Dance within a dream of yester days.

Rush
and rush
  and rush,
red rivers—on!
Flood yourselves and rage beyond the sun.

Dance
and dance
  and dance,
electric thoughts.
Calculate life's worth, and all its costs.

Rage
and rage
  and rage
strange passions where
the darkness rises, stifling the air.

Throb
and throb
  and throb
O, ecstasies!
Burst in glorious grandeur through night’s dreams.

Rise
and rise
  and rise
now Poetry.
Laugh and weep and curse life's fallacies.

And speed, splendid light
through webbed membranes of the mind
enmeshed in sleep.

I believe I wrote this poem at the height (or depths) of my Romantic Period. 

***

Autumn Lament
by Michael R. Burch

Alas, the earth is green no more;
her colors fade and die,
and all her trampled marigolds
lament the graying sky.

And now the summer sheds her coat
of buttercups, and so is bared
to winter’s palest furies
who laugh aloud and do not care
as they await their hour.

Where are the showers of April?
Where are the flowers of May?
And where are the sprites of summer
who frolicked through fields ablaze?

Where are the lovely maidens
who browned ’neath the flaming sun?
And where are the leaves and the flowers
that died worn and haggard although they were young?

Alas, the moss grows brown and stiff
and tumbles from the trees
that shiver in an icy mist,
limbs shivering in the breeze.

And now the frost has come and cast
itself upon the grass
as the surly snow grows bold
and prepares at last
to pounce upon the land.

Where are the sheep and the cattle
that grazed beneath tall, stately trees?
And where are the fragile butterflies
that frolicked on the breeze?
And where are the rollicking robins
that once roamed so wild and free?
Oh, where can they all be?

Alas, the land has lost its warmth;
its rocky teeth chatter
and a thousand dying butterflies
soon’ll dodge the snowflakes as they splatter
flush against the flowers.

Where are those warm, happy hours?
Where are the snappy jays?
And where are the brilliant blossoms
that set the meadows ablaze?

Where are the fruitful orchards?
Where are the squirrels and the hares?
How has our summer wonderland
become so completely bare
in such a short time?

Alas, the earth is green no more;
the sun no longer shines;
and all the grapes ungathered
lie rotting on their vines.

And now the winter wind grows cold
and comes out of the North
to freeze the flowers as they stand
and bend toward the South.

And now the autumn becomes bald,
is shorn of all its life,
as the stiletto wind comes slicing in
to cut the skin like a paring knife,
carving away all warmth.

Alas, the children laugh no more,
but shiver in their beds
or’ll walk to school through blinding snow
with caps to keep their heads
safe from the cruel cold.

Oh, where are the showers of April
and where are the flowers of May?
And where are the sprites of summer
who frolicked through fields ablaze?

Where are the lovely maidens
who browned ’neath the flaming sun?
And where are the leaves and the flowers
that died worn and haggard although they were young?

This is one of the earliest poems that I can remember writing. The use of “’neath” is an indication of its antiquity. Unfortunately, I don’t remember when I wrote the first version, but I will guess around 1972 at age 14.

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

 

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