The Poet's Condition

Rating: 5.0

The Poet's Condition
by Michael R. Burch

(for my mother, Christine Ena Burch)

The poet's condition
(bother tradition)
is whining contrition.
Supposedly sage,

his editor knows
his brain's in his toes
though he would suppose
to soon be the rage.

His readers are sure
his work's premature
or merely manure,
insipidly trite.

His mother alone
will answer the phone
(perhaps with a moan)
to hear him recite.

Alternate Title: 'Poetry Slam: The Hangup'



Remembering Not to Call
by Michael R. Burch

a villanelle permitting mourning, for my mother, Christine Ena Burch

The hardest thing of all,
after telling her everything,
is remembering not to call.

Now the phone hanging on the wall
will never announce her ring:
the hardest thing of all
for children, however tall.

And the hardest thing this spring
will be remembering not to call
the one who was everything.

That the songbirds will nevermore sing
is the hardest thing of all
for those who once listened, in thrall,
and welcomed the message they bring,
since they won't remember to call.

And the hardest thing this fall
will be a number with no one to ring.

No, the hardest thing of all
is remembering NOT to call.



PLATO TRANSLATIONS

These epitaphs and other epigrams have been ascribed to Plato...

Mariner, do not ask whose tomb this may be,
But go with good fortune: I wish you a kinder sea.
—Michael R. Burch, after Plato

We left the thunderous Aegean
to sleep peacefully here on the plains of Ecbatan.
Farewell, renowned Eretria, our homeland!
Farewell, Athens, Euboea's neighbor!
Farewell, dear Sea!
—Michael R. Burch, after Plato

We who navigated the Aegean's thunderous storm-surge
now sleep peacefully here on the mid-plains of Ecbatan:
Farewell, renowned Eretria, our homeland!
Farewell, Athens, nigh to Euboea!
Farewell, dear Sea!
—Michael R. Burch, after Plato

This poet was pleasing to foreigners
and even more delightful to his countrymen:
Pindar, beloved of the melodious Muses.
—Michael R. Burch, after Plato

Some say the Muses are nine.
Foolish critics, count again!
Sappho of Lesbos makes ten.
—Michael R. Burch, after Plato

Even as you once shone, the Star of Morning, above our heads,
even so you now shine, the Star of Evening, among the dead.
—Michael R. Burch, after Plato

Why do you gaze up at the stars?
Oh, my Star, that I were Heaven,
to gaze at you with many eyes!
—Michael R. Burch, after Plato

Every heart sings an incomplete song,
until another heart sings along.
Those who would love long to join in the chorus.
At a lover's touch, everyone becomes a poet.
—Michael R. Burch, after Plato

NOTE: I take this Plato epigram to be an epithalamium, with the two voices joining in a complete song being the bride and groom, and the rest of the chorus being the remainder of the wedding ceremony.

The Apple
ascribed to Plato
loose translation/interpretation by Michael R. Burch

Here's an apple; if you're able to love me,
catch it and chuck me your cherry in exchange.
But if you hesitate, as I hope you won't,
take the apple, examine it carefully,
and consider how briefly its beauty will last.



Annual
by Michael R. Burch

Silence
steals upon a house
where one sits alone
in the shadow of the itinerant letterbox,
watching the disconnected telephone
collecting dust...

hearing the desiccate whispers of voices'
dry flutters, —
moths' wings
brittle as cellophane...

Curled here,
reading the yellowing volumes of loss
by the front porch light
in the groaning swing...

through thin adhesive gloss
I caress your face.



Come!
by Michael R. Burch

Will you come to visit my grave, I wonder,
in the season of lightning, the season of thunder,
when I have lain so long in the indifferent earth
that I have no girth?

When my womb has conformed to the chastity
your anemic Messiah envisioned for me,
will you finally be pleased that my sex was thus rendered
unpalatable, disengendered?

And when those strange loathsome organs that troubled you so
have been eaten by worms, will the heavens still glow
with the approval of God that I ended a maid—
thanks to a spade?

And will you come to visit my grave, I wonder,
in the season of lightning, the season of thunder?



Final Lullaby
by Michael R. Burch

for my mother, Christine Ena Burch

Sleep peacefully—for now your suffering's over.

Sleep peacefully—immune to all distress,
like pebbles unaware of raging waves.

Sleep peacefully—like fields of fragrant clover
unmoved by any motion of the wind.

Sleep peacefully—like clouds untouched by earthquakes.

Sleep peacefully—like stars that never blink
and have no thoughts at all, nor need to think.

Sleep peacefully—in your eternal vault,
immaculate, past perfect, without fault.



Sea Dreams
by Michael R. Burch

I.
In timeless days
I've crossed the waves
of seaways seldom seen.
By the last low light of evening
the breakers that careen
then dive back to the deep
have rocked my ship to sleep,
and so I've known the peace
of a soul at last at ease
there where Time's waters run
in concert with the sun.

With restless waves
I've watched the days'
slow movements, as they hum
their antediluvian songs.
Sometimes I've sung along,
my voice as soft and low
as the sea's, while evening slowed
to waver at the dim
mysterious moonlit rim
of dreams no man has known.

In thoughtless flight,
I've scaled the heights
and soared a scudding breeze
over endless arcing seas
of waves ten miles high.
I've sheared the sable skies
on wings as soft as sighs
and stormed the sun-pricked pitch
of sunset's scarlet-stitched,
ebullient dark demise.

I've climbed the sun-cleft clouds
ten thousand leagues or more
above the windswept shores
of seas no man has sailed
— great seas as grand as hell's,
shores littered with the shells
of men's 'immortal' souls —
and I've warred with dark sea-holes
whose open mouths implored
their depths to be explored.

And I've grown and grown and grown
till I thought myself the king
of every silver thing...

But sometimes late at night
when the sorrowing wavelets sing
sad songs of other times,
I taste the windborne rime
of a well-remembered day
on the whipping ocean spray,
and I bow my head to pray...

II.
It's been a long, hard day;
sometimes I think I work too hard.
Tonight I'd like to take a walk
down by the sea —
down by those salty waves
brined with the scent of Infinity,
down by that rocky shore,
down by those cliffs that I used to climb
when the wind was tart with a taste of lime
and every dream was a sailor's dream.

Then small waves broke light,
all frothy and white,
over the reefs in the ramblings of night,
and the pounding sea
—a mariner's dream—
was bound to stir a boy's delight
to such a pitch
that he couldn't desist,
but was bound to splash through the surf in the light
of ten thousand stars, all shining so bright.

Christ, those nights were fine,
like a well-aged wine,
yet more scalding than fire
with the marrow's desire.

Then desire was a fire
burning wildly within my bones,
fiercer by far than the frantic foam...
and every wish was a moan.
Oh, for those days to come again!
Oh, for a sea and sailing men!
Oh, for a little time!

It's almost nine
and I must be back home by ten,
and then... what then?

I have less than an hour to stroll this beach,
less than an hour old dreams to reach...
And then, what then?

Tonight I'd like to play old games—
games that I used to play
with the somber, sinking waves.
When their wraithlike fists would reach for me,
I'd dance between them gleefully,
mocking their witless craze
—their eager, unchecked craze—
to batter me to death
with spray as light as breath.

Oh, tonight I'd like to sing old songs—
songs of the haunting moon
drawing the tides away,
songs of those sultry days
when the sun beat down
till it cracked the ground
and the sea gulls screamed
in their agony
to touch the cooling clouds.
The distant cooling clouds.

Then the sun shone bright
with a different light
over different lands,
and I was always a pirate in flight.

Oh, tonight I'd like to dream old dreams,
if only for a while,
and walk perhaps a mile
along this windswept shore,
a mile, perhaps, or more,
remembering those days,
safe in the soothing spray
of the thousand sparkling streams
that rush into this sea.
I like to slumber in the caves
of a sailor's dark sea-dreams...
oh yes, I'd love to dream,
to dream
and dream
and dream.

'Sea Dreams' is one of my longer and more ambitious early poems, along with the full version of 'Jessamyn's Song.' To the best of my recollection, I wrote 'Sea Dreams' around age 18, circa 1976-1977. For years I thought I had written 'Sea Dreams' around age 19 or 20, circa 1978. But then I remembered a conversation I had with a friend about the poem in my freshman dorm, so the poem must have been started around age 18 or earlier. Dating my early poems has been a bit tricky, because I keep having little flashbacks that help me date them more accurately, but often I can only say, 'I know this poem was written by about such-and-such a date, because...'

The next poem, 'Son, ' is a companion piece to 'Sea Dreams' that was written around the same time and discussed in the same freshman dorm conversation. I remember showing this poem to a fellow student and he asked how on earth I came up with a poem about being a father who abandoned his son to live on an island! I think the meter is pretty good for the age at which it was written.

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

So 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.



The Princess and the Pauper
by Michael R. Burch

for Norman Kraeft in memory of his beloved wife June Kysilko Kraeft

Here was a woman bright, intent on life,
who did not flinch from Death, but caught his eye
and drew him, powerless, into her spell
of wanting her himself, so much the lie
that she was meant for him—obscene illusion! —
made him seem a monarch throned like God on high,
when he was less than nothing; when to die
meant many stultifying, pained embraces.

She shed her gown, undid the tangled laces
that tied her to the earth: then she was his.
Now all her erstwhile beauty he defaces
and yet she grows in hallowed loveliness—
her ghost beyond perfection—for to die
was to ascend. Now he begs, penniless.



An Obscenity Trial
by Michael R. Burch

The defendant was a poet held in many iron restraints
against whom several critics cited numerous complaints.
They accused him of trying to reach the 'common crowd, '
and they said his poems incited recitals far too loud.

The prosecutor alleged himself most stylish and best-dressed;
it seems he'd never lost a case, nor really once been pressed.
He was known far and wide for intensely hating clarity;
twelve dilettantes at once declared the defendant another fatality.

The judge was an intellectual well-known for his great mind,
though not for being merciful, honest, sane or kind.
Clerks loved the 'Hanging Judge' and the critics were his kin.
Bystanders said, 'They'll crucify him! ' The public was not let in.

The prosecutor began his case
by spitting in the poet's face,
knowing the trial would be a farce.
'It is obscene, '
he screamed,
'to expose the naked heart! '
The recorder (bewildered Society)
greeted this statement with applause.

'This man is no poet.
Just look—his Hallmark shows it.
Why, see, he utilizes rhyme, symmetry and grammar!
He speaks without a stammer!
His sense of rhythm is too fine!
He does not use recondite words
or conjure ancient Latin verbs.
This man is an imposter!
I ask that his sentence be
the almost perceptible indignity
of removal from the Post-Modernistic roster.'
The jury left in tears of joy, literally sequestered.

The defendant sighed in mild despair,
'Please, let me answer to my peers.'
But how His Honor giggled then,
seeing no poets were let in.

Later, the clashing symbols of their pronouncements drove him mad
and he admitted both rhyme and reason were bad.



The Insurrection of Sighs
by Michael R. Burch

She was my Shiloh, my Gethsemane;
she nestled my head to her breast
and breathed upon my insensate lips
the fierce benedictions of her ubiquitous sighs,
the veiled allegations of her disconsolate tears...

Many years I abided the agile assaults of her flesh...
She loved me the most when I was most sorely pressed;
she undressed with delight for her ministrations
when all I needed was a good night's rest...

She anointed my lips with her soft lips' dews;
the insurrection of sighs left me fallen, distressed, at her elegant heel.
I felt the hard iron, the cold steel, in her words and I knew:
the terrible arrow showed through my conscripted flesh.

The sun in retreat left her victor and all was Night.
The last peal of surrender went sinking and dying—unheard.



Goddess
by Michael R. Burch

for Kevin N. Roberts

'What will you conceive in me? '—
I asked her. But she
only smiled.

'Naked, I bore your child
when the wolf wind howled,
when the cold moon scowled...
naked, and gladly.'

'What will become of me? '—
I asked her, as she
absently stroked my hand.

Centuries later, I understand;
she whispered—'I Am.'

This was the very first poem to appear in the first issue of Romantics Quarterly



Keywords/Tags: poet, poets, poems, poetry, poetic expression, rhyme, editor, publisher, mother, readers, recite, recitation, reciting, performance, reading, slam, phone, telephone

Monday, May 18, 2020
Topic(s) of this poem: reading,slam,poetic expression,mother,poem,rhyme,poems,poet,poets,readers
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COMMENTS OF THE POEM
Soran M. H 18 May 2020

Very fine rhymed poem by a professional poet. Really it needs to be read.. Thanks for sharing 10/10

2 0 Reply
Michael Burch 18 May 2020

Soran, I'm glad you liked " The Poet's Condition" and thanks for taking the time to read and comment.

0 0 Reply
Sandra Feldman 18 May 2020

I think you're very good! Quite exceptional. And I'm not your mother...

1 0 Reply
Michael Burch 18 May 2020

Thanks, Sandra. I think my mother actually likes my poems, or at least the ones about her!

0 0 Reply