Year: 
2021

These are poems for fathers and grandfathers, written by Michael R. Burch.

Sunset
by Michael R. Burch
       
This poem is dedicated to my grandfather, George Edwin Hurt Sr.

Between the prophecies of morning
and twilight’s revelations of wonder,
the sky is ripped asunder.

The moon lurks in the clouds,
waiting, as if to plunder
the dusk of its lilac iridescence,

and in the bright-tentacled sunset
we imagine a presence
full of the fury of lost innocence.

What we find within strange whorls of drifting flame,
brief patterns mauling winds deform and maim,
we recognize at once, but cannot name.

Published by Contemporary Rhyme and The New Lyre

***

Confession of a Stolen Kiss
by Charles d’Orleans (c. 1394-1465)
loose translation/interpretation by Michael R. Burch

My ghostly father, I confess,
First to God and then to you,
That at a window (you know how)
I stole a kiss of great sweetness,
Which was done out of avidness—
But it is done, not undone, now.

My ghostly father, I confess,
First to God and then to you.

But I shall restore it, doubtless,
Again, if it may be that I know how;
And thus to God I make a vow,
And always I ask forgiveness.

My ghostly father, I confess,
First to God and then to you.

Translator note: By "ghostly father" I take Charles d’Orleans to be confessing to a priest. If so, it's ironic that the kiss was "stolen" at a window and the confession is being made at the window of a confession booth. But it also seems possible that Charles could be confessing to his human father, murdered in his youth and now a ghost. There is wicked humor in the poem, as Charles is apparently vowing to keep asking for forgiveness because he intends to keep stealing kisses at every opportunity!

***

In My Imagined Book
by Charles d’Orleans (c. 1394-1465)
loose translation/interpretation by Michael R. Burch

In my imagined Book
my heart endeavored to explain
its history of grief, and pain,
illuminated by the tears
that welled to blur those well-loved years
of former happiness's gains,
in my imagined Book.

Alas, where should the reader look
beyond these drops of sweat, their stains,
all the effort & pain it took
& which I recorded night and day
in my imagined Book?

Dedens mon Livre de Pensee,
J'ay trouvé escripvant mon cueur
La vraye histoire de douleur
De larmes toute enluminee,
En deffassant la tresamée
Ymage de plaisant doulceur,
Dedens mon Livre de Pensee.

Hélas! ou l'a mon cueur trouvee?
Les grosses gouttes de sueur
Lui saillent, de peinne et labeur
Qu'il y prent, et nuit et journee,
Dedens mon Livre de Pensee.

***

To you, my departed parents, dear mother and father,
I commend my little lost angel, Erotion, love’s daughter.
who died six days short of completing her sixth frigid winter.
Protect her now, I pray, should the chilling dark shades appear;
muzzle hell’s three-headed hound, less her heart be dismayed!
Lead her to romp in some sunny Elysian glade,
her devoted patrons. Watch her play childish games
as she excitedly babbles and lisps my name.
Let no hard turf smother her softening bones; and do
rest lightly upon her, earth, she was surely no burden to you!
—Martial, loose translation/interpretation by Michael R. Burch

***

Be that Rock, for my grandfather George Edwin Hurt Sr.
by Michael R. Burch

When I was a child
    I never considered man’s impermanence,
for you were a mountain of adamant stone:
    a man steadfast, immense,
and your words rang.

And when you were gone,
    I still heard your voice, which never betrayed,
"Be strong and of a good courage,
    neither be afraid ..."
as the angels sang.

And, O!, I believed
    for your words were my truth, and I tried to be brave
though the years slipped away
    with so little to save
of that talk.

Now I'm a man—
    a man ... and yet Grandpa ... I'm still the same child
who sat at your feet
    and learned as you smiled.
Be that rock.

I don't remember when I wrote this poem, but I will guess around age 18 in 1976. The verse quoted is from an old, well-worn King James Bible my grandfather gave me after his only visit to the United States, as he prepared to return to England with my grandmother. I was around eight at the time and didn't know if I would ever see my grandparents again, so I was heartbroken – destitute, really. Fortunately my father was later stationed at an Air Force base in Germany and we were able to spend four entire summer vacations with my grandparents. I was also able to visit them in England several times as an adult. But the years of separation were very difficult for me and I came to detest things that separated me from my family and friends: the departure platforms of train stations, airport runways, even the white dividing lines on lonely highways and interstates as they disappeared behind my car. My idea of heaven became a place where we are never again separated from our loved ones. And that puts hell here on earth.

***

Salat Days
by Michael R. Burch

Dedicated to the memory of my grandfather, Paul Ray Burch, Sr.

I remember how my grandfather used to pick poke salat ...
though first, usually, he’d stretch back in the front porch swing,
dangling his long thin legs, watching the sweat bees drone,
talking about poke salat—
how easy it is to find if you knew where to seek it:
standing in dew-damp clumps by the side of a road, shockingly green,
straddling fence posts, overflowing small ditches,
crowding out the less-hardy nettles.

“Nobody knows that it’s there, lad, or that it’s fit tuh eat
with some bacon drippin’s or lard.”

“Don’t eat the berries. You see—the berry’s no good.
And you’d hav’ta wash the leaves a good long time.”

“I’d boil it twice, less’n I wus in a hurry.
Lawd, it’s tough to eat, chile, if you boil it jest wonst.”

He seldom was hurried; I can see him still ...
silently mowing his yard at eighty-eight,
stooped, but with a tall man’s angular gray grace.

Sometimes he’d pause to watch me running across the yard,
trampling his beans,
dislodging the shoots of his tomato plants.

He never grew flowers; I never laughed at his jokes about The Depression.

Years later I found the proper name—“pokeweed”—while perusing a dictionary.
Surprised, I asked why anyone would eat a weed.
I still can hear his laconic reply ...

“Well, chile, s’m’times them times wus hard.”

Published by Lonzie’s Fried Chicken, Grassroots Poetry, Poet’s Forum Magazine, Harp-Strings Poetry Journal, A Flasher’s Dozen (flash prose version), Poetry Life & Times, Centrifugal Eye, Better Than Starbucks

***

Of Civilization and Disenchantment
by Michael R. Burch

for Anaïs Vionet

Suddenly uncomfortable
to stay at my grandfather’s house—
actually his third new wife’s,
in her daughter’s bedroom
—one interminable summer
with nothing to do,
all the meals served cold,
even beans and peas—

Lacking the words to describe
ah!, those pearl-lustrous estuaries—
strange omens, incoherent nights.

Seeing the flares of the river barges
illuminating Memphis,
city of bluffs and dying splendors.

Drifting toward Alexandria,
Pharos, Rhakotis, Djoser’s fertile delta,
lands at the beginning of a new time and “civilization.”

Leaving behind sixty miles of unbroken cemetery,
Alexander’s corpse floating seaward,
bobbing, milkwhite, in a jar of honey.

Memphis shall be waste and desolate,
without an inhabitant.
Or so the people dreamed, in chains.

Published by The Centrifugal Eye and The Centrifugal Eye Fifth Anniversary Anthology

***

I, Too, Sang America (in my Diapers!)
by Michael R. Burch

I, too, served my country,
first as a tyke, then as a toddler, later as a rambunctious boy,
growing up on military bases around the world,
making friends only to leave them,
saluting the flag through veils of tears,
time and time again ...

In defense of my country,
I too did my awesome duty –
cursing the Communists,
confronting Them in backyard battles where They slunk around disguised as my sniggling Sisters,
while always demonstrating the immense courage
to start my small life over and over again
whenever Uncle Sam called ...

Building and rebuilding my shattered psyche,
such as it was,
dealing with PTSD (preschool traumatic stress disorder)
without the adornments of medals, ribbons or epaulets,
serving without pay,
following my father’s gruffly barked orders,
however ill-advised ...

A true warrior!

Will you salute me?

I hope my “small” attempt at humor will help readers remember the sacrifices made by the spouses, children and extended families of our valiant servicemen and women. It was not easy making friends only to lose them, time and time again, as I grew up a “military brat” on American air bases around the globe. I really did make sacrifices for my country, while winning every battle against the “communists” in our back yard.

***

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 Just a Dream manuscript, so it was written either in high school or during my first two years of college: 1976 is an educated guess.

***

The Desk
by Michael R. Burch

for Jeremy Michael Burch

There is a child I used to know
who sat, perhaps, at this same desk
where you sit now, and made a mess
of things sometimes. I wonder how
he learned at all . . .

He saw T-Rexes down the hall
and dreamed of trains and cars and wrecks.
He dribbled phantom basketballs,
shot spitwads at his schoolmates’ necks.

He played with pasty Elmer’s glue
(and sometimes got the glue on you!).
He earned the nickname—“teacher’s PEST.”

His mother had to come to school
because he broke the golden rule.
He dreaded each and every test.

But something happened in the fall—
he grew up big and straight and tall,
and now his desk is far too small;
so you can have it. One thing, though—
one swirling autumn, one bright snow,
one gooey tube of Elmer’s glue . . .
and you’ll outgrow this old desk, too.

Published by: TALESetc, A Bouquet of Poems for children of all ages, Poems for Big Kids, Better Than Starbucks, Inspirational Stories, Teen Ink

***

Passages on Fatherhood
by Michael R. Burch

for Jeremy Michael Burch

He is my treasure,
and by his happiness I measure
my own worth.

Four years old,
with diamonds and gold
bejeweled in his soul.

His cherubic beauty
is felicity
to simplicity and passion—

for a baseball thrown
or an ice-cream cone
or eggshell-blue skies.

...

It’s hard to be “wise”
when the years
career through our lives

and bees in their hives
test faith
and belief

while Time, the great thief,
with each falling leaf
foreshadows grief.

The wisdom of the ages
and prophets and mages
and doddering sages

is useless
unless
it encompasses this:

his kiss.

***

The Gardener’s Roses
by Michael R. Burch

Mary Magdalene, supposing him to be the gardener, saith unto him, “Sir, if thou have borne him hence, tell me where thou hast laid him, and I will take him away.”

I too have come to the cave;
within: strange, half-glimpsed forms
and ghostly paradigms of things.
Here, nothing warms
 
this lightening moment of the dawn,
pale tendrils spreading east.
And I, of all who followed Him,
by far the least . . .

The women take no note of me;
I do not recognize
the men in white, the gardener,
these unfamiliar skies . . .

Faint scent of roses, then—a touch!
I turn, and I see: You.
My Lord, why do You tarry here:
Another waits, Whose love is true?

Although My Father waits, and bliss;
though angels call—ecstatic crew!—
I gathered roses for a Friend.
I waited here, for You. 

Published by The CommonPlace, The Journals, Somewhere Along The Beaten Path, Museum of Learning, The Eclectic Muse (Canada), Borderless Journal, FreeXpression (Australia)

I do not believe in Jesus as a grotesque “sacrifice” to a primitive “god” who demands the blood of innocents in order to “forgive” sins of his own making. But I will not completely discount the hope that love can transcend death, although, like Thomas, I will have to see it to believe it.

***

Life Sentence
Michael R. Burch

. . . I swim, my Daddy’s princess, newly crowned,
toward a gurgly Maelstrom . . . if I drown 
will Mommy stick the Toilet Plunger down

to suck me up? . . . She sits upon Her Throne,
Imperious (denying we were one),
and gazes down and whispers “precious son” . . .

. . . the Plunger worked; i’m two, and, if not blessed,
still Mommy got the Worst Stuff off Her Chest;
a Vacuum Pump, They say, will do the rest . . .

. . . i’m three; yay! whee! oh good! it’s time to play!
(oh no, I think there’s Others on the way;
i’d better pray) . . .

. . . i’m four; at night I hear the Banging Door;
She screams; sometimes there’s Puddles on the Floor;
She wants to kill us, or, She wants some More . . .

. . . it’s great to be alive if you are five (unless you’re me);
my Mommy says: “you’re WRONG! don’t disagree!
don’t make this HURT ME!” . . .

. . . i’m six; They say i’m tall, yet Time grows Short;
we have a thriving Family; Abort!;
a tadpole’s ripping Mommy’s Room apart . . .

. . . i’m seven; i’m in heaven; it feels strange;
I saw my life go gurgling down the Drain;
another Noah built a Mighty Ark;
God smiled, appeased, a Rainbow split the Dark;

. . . I saw Bright Colors also, when She slammed
my head against the Tub, and then I swam
toward the magic tunnel . . . last, I heard . . .

is that She feels Weird.

Keywords/Tags: father, fathers, grandfather, grandfathers, grandson, grandchild, family, sunset, aging, death, grave, funeral, loss, twilight, night, transcendence, heaven, fatherhood, child, childhood, children, son, time, years, wisdom, kiss

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