Tag Archives | poetry

1993

A suite of poems from 1993, which have never seen the light of day till now. It was one of those terrifying years when I leapt from a cliff without a net, into another life. I wrote these for my lover while we were separated by work for three months, peering into an uncertain future, sifting through our glories and our failures, looking at maps, wondering if we would ever find a home. We had spent our relationship on taking care of other people, working too many jobs, wearing too many hats — and just passing each other in the hallways.  We wanted to put an end to that. We didn’t  know where we were going, but we knew we were going together. We married the following year in Saxapahaw, North Carolina. We finally found each other. We are still here. [Saxapahaw, January, 2015]

 

Facing the Stubborn Questions

I came in at the end
to face the stubborn questions,
the ones that will not leave.
No one is with me.
No one wants to help.
The room has been unheated
for a while.
The questions are cold eggs.
So unappealing.

Much later,
I look up from weeping,
notice that
the windows of the room
are full of poets
waving answers
in their ancient hands.

 

On Finally Coming of Age

I get a finger-hold,
pull myself up
peek over a horizon into
half a century of yearning,
half a life
of coming to life.

How is it that
we come to be
the opposite of what
we needed young,
find bliss in that which
once we would have set aside?

Your hand is in my hair.
A fire, long winter.
Silent poems are carved into the walls.
A thick description of the ordinary
seeps up through the floor.
Cats nap. Time passes.
Our friends come by
who only want to sit.
That’s all.

 

Plain Sight

Oh I can see it now.
Your bench scarred by your saw.
Your rocks and weeds
and chrome and trash.
Your photos of your pets.
Your inner laugh.

You smoking, thinking.
sipping something.
All the while your eyes are
on a smooth bright surface
brash with paint.

Your short slim fingers
with their horny nails
reach knowingly
to rub the edges, quick.
And pleasure’s in the touch.

You hike your jeans
and get back to it,
making something no one else
has ever made before.

And all the while
there’s baseball on.
Nobody calls.
Oh I can see it now.
I finally can see it now.

 

Strawberry Blond

Precious, that hair.
Gold rush waving past your waist.
Brilliant even in the dark.

It takes my breath away.

It comes from you.
It came from Celts.
It smells like heather.

I love that you will bother
to adorn yourself this way.
A natural production
just like art.
It comes from thought
and feeling,
family
and wonder.
It holds our life,
our story.

Please keep it long until
the new hair’s grey
and we’ll remember how we met
and moved together
through the end
of these two thousand years.

 

The Wounding of the Bright

Fumbling in the dark
we stumble on,
as we must stumble,
back to base.

You fall. Your wound cracks open
and I cover you against the wind.
You cry into my coat
until I bind you up
and up we go,
the hills and gullies
testing us again.

I fall, and feelings slobber forth,
despairing, longing for the end.
You have to haul me to my feet
and lug me on your back.

What can we do but stumble on?
We lost our way some time ago
before the twilight fell.
But what more can we do?
What can we do?

 

These Choices

Of all the possibilities
there are choices
marked especially for you.
There are so many things
to do
but these things
only you can do.
In this, you are the one.

You alone can
mow your father’s yard
and own the dirt
that hugs his bones.

You alone can
walk your mother’s kitchen tiles,
shell peas beneath her tree.
Some choices shine
like quarters in a fountain.

 

What Waits

What waits for us out there
between the rocks and roads
where finally we find
the faith and luck
that lets us split the earth
and cultivate our seeds?

Where will our prayers
and hair and fingernails
wind up with all the leaves
and bark
and dark
beneath our porch?

And when we reach that minute
where the sun slides red
into our final country
and the falling dusk
curls up around our house,
the house ticks softly
while it groans into our sleep –
how will we know that this is it,
that it will last?

When will we lie together knowing
we will live forever so?
And, tell me,
where?

yurt pond

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Want Not Want

I bought this vase because
it was a find.
Not special
but a shadow
of a good design.
It made me think of
Frank Lloyd Wright.
I loved its price.
Its loneliness.
A thing I could afford.
An empty little thing
that froze and cracked in winter,
couldn’t hold
its water any more.
I’m practicing not wanting
Everything I have
And do not have.
This vase is just a memory.
It really doesn’t matter
now.

 

Linda Frye Burnham
April 2012

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Sisters

(To my friend 3,000 miles away*)

I have a thirst for friends who are not men:
A girl who will look up from pablum or the wash
And, with a kind of certainty of trust,
Will talk to me of what is beautiful again;
Who, after kids have sapped her strength away
And her own man has tethered her to heel,
Still answers with some energy and will
The questions that I have left over from the day;
A girl who’d get away and meet me at a place
Where she could sit across the table with some wine
And not talk of training babies or the price of twine
And look without a lie into my face.

For life’s gone bare of sisters, and the cold
Companionship of females presses in.
Togetherness with women is bad gossiping,
A clubbiness that’s killing to the soul,
A rigid discipline of what to say and what to leave behind,
Of being everlastingly alike,
Of half-day bridge and all the casserole delight
Of going nowhere, going quickly blind.
I’m too discouraged now in gathering of birds
To pass around my little plate of crumbs
And hear no one take up my glossolalia, my song-cum-
Litany of charms, my certain telling hints of names and words.
And so I stay alone, reread a Russian novel, taste again
A raw philosophy, a love that moved away,
A yesterday that seems like only yesterday
When my life found its meaning in the world of men.

The few of us who seem to have survived
This frightful feast of children at our breasts
Preserve, with fierce and hated selfishness,
The self – and wait within the vacuum of our lives;
And wait at candles’ ends across a sea
For husband’s job or war or death or destiny
To draw us within range, and bravely we exchange
A line of poetry, a recipe of peasant Greek cuisine;

And wait, grown tired of telling to a man
What always sounds insultingly dissatisfied
(And later, when we’ve cried, we say we lied)
What he, though willing, patient, cannot understand
Of age come late and twenties gone too soon
Of waste and lost momentum in the nursery dark.
So sitting separate, guarding children in the park,
We stir regret into the cold thin soup of winter afternoons.

 

 

Linda Frye Burnham, 1968

* I wrote this poem when I was 27 and living in Japan, an army wife with three kids, ages 2, 3 and 4. I got married when I was 21, in 1962. It was what women did then. By 1968 I began to feel that I had lost myself – the person who had accomplished so much in her college years. My husband was a doctor stationed at a MASH hospital on an Air Force base about 35 miles east of Tokyo. The women I knew were mostly Southerners married to Air Force lifers and Japanese women who were almost completely subservient to men. I missed the strong, fruitful closeness I had with my friend Mary, who lived in California. I wrote to her constantly (and many of those letters are published in a book, “Dear M,” that you can buy on Amazon). This poem erupted during a year that was changing America drastically and I could only read about it in magazines. I was isolated across an ocean with no one to talk to about what I was going through as a woman. I was very much on the verge of a nervous breakdown, with mysterious illnesses and massive depression. It was my period of Saturn Return, when a person crosses over a major threshold and enters the next stage of life. I didn’t know what an enormous change I would go through in the early ’70s, but I could certainly feel it coming.

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Napoleon Enters Moscow, 1812

Moscow-Great-Fire-1812-762271

Shadows of the city’s crosses rippled
on the crowd that fled the square.
My mother, on my back,
told beads.
They dropped into my collar,
jiggled on my neck.

The autumn was so warm that year!
My neighbors, moving through the streets,
stopped sometimes and squinted at the sky.
We breathed warm fragrance
even in the rising dust.

At Dorogomilov,
toward the bridge,
on the bridge, blocking the bridge,
thousands quitting Moscow’s skirts
before the French could
force themselves between her legs.
We saw an old man fall.
His body became stones in the street.
My mother sighed “Alexei!”
and wept into my hair.

 That night, far from town,
we walked in a soft rare dark
and marveled at the spectacle of stars
that fluttered close
and golden,
while the city curled behind us,
burning.

Linda Frye Burnham 1972

0

Warhol

Most people in America think Art
is a man’s name.
Art is what you can get away with.
An artist is somebody who produces things
that people do not need to have.
You know it’s ART when the check clears.
My idea of a good picture is
one that’s in focus and of a famous person.
In the future everybody will be famous for 15 minutes?
I’m bored with that line. I never use it anymore.
My new line is:
In 15 minutes everybody will be famous.

I don’t know where the artificial stops
and the real starts.
The nicer I am,
the more people think I’m lying.
It’s not what you are that counts,
it’s what they think you are.
Remember, they’ve never seen you before in their life.

They always say time changes things,
but actually you have to change them
yourself.
You can’t make them change if they don’t want to,
just like when they do want to,
you can’t stop them.
Or is life a series of images that change
as they repeat themselves?
The channels switch, but it’s all television.

Sex is more exciting on the screen
and between the pages
than between the sheets.
People should fall in love with their eyes closed.
I believe in low lights and trick mirrors.
You have to be willing to get happy about nothing.
Sex is the biggest nothing of all time. So what.

That’s one of my favorite things to say.
So what. So what.
It takes a long time to learn that trick,
but once you do,
you never forget.
I never fall apart because I never fall together.

Life is so quick
and it goes away too quickly.
The machinery is always going.
Even when you sleep.
It doesn’t matter how slow you go
so long as you do not stop.
The mystery is gone
but the amazement is just starting.

From the words of Andy Warhol

Linda Frye Burnham 2012

warhol scars

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