Two Poems

by Martin Burke (December 2011)



Verse is what it is and is what you are

The world a proposition you cannot avoid

You are awed or appalled – poetry happens

Rebellion or exile are the supposed weapons

but there are other options

Such as letting the world just happen

Such as embracing fluidity

Such as being as naked as a novice facing sea-waves

Or a dinner-table guest not always polite to the host

If there is Ithaca then this is it

And you are a moon-drinker drinking the moon

Rapture and puzzlement the mirror you look into

Like a man too drunk to see the face he sees there




Borges told us (though we didn’t believe him)

That whatever is singular and unique in the world is endlessly repeated

That the ‘beauty’ championed by one generation may be foul to the next

That the maze at the core of the world is the core


Certain simplicities are complex, others are not

To every generation the angel appears as he did to Caedmon saying

Sing me Creation

The words in one mouth are not the same as those in another

Yet all agree no more beautiful command has ever been given

And that verse is the answer given to angels by men




The world I inherit is the world I bequeath –

Tree as prototype of Tree, that letter containing those sorrows

The balance is precarious, the balancing act even more so

Yet with sober or lucid expression what might I…..?

Beyond right and wrong there is a field?

I am a ploughman –what else can I do?








But man, that mix of meat and music, is my delight though I argue against him

As if fever might lead to fervour

As the breast of that woman surely leads to the succulent breast of God


Thus looking on auroral dark that might be god one said

My verse will reach the tenth sphere of the concentric heavens

And again, that life may be a matter of: “Masks, agonies, resurrections

Whatever I say is conditioned by what I have already said

Even if I contradict it

As out of god’s dark fire I bring a lasting witness to the fire




Landscape as text: harbour and water, tundra and wolf, -

Who speaks with a mountain’s voice?

There are ambitions within the earth

Such as the man who calls his fellow-man ‘brother

But not with a goodly intention

History will have to reckon with this but as for the wolf –

What will tame him for our satisfaction and safety?

Already the page is writing its demands:

A text which says this is the landscape you inherit


Yet much that is our heritage is betrayed.

Abandoning one king for another but they prove to be twins

And laws written with hate are no different than laws

Written with deceptions of love


The just men have been banished, are proclaimed ‘Enemies’ –

A sorry state until the new Caesar shows himself for what he is

And outlaws our heritage with an off-hand gesture of his practiced hand


Against all Caesars and deceptions I batter my instance of this unconquered love




Atlantis is sullied, Jerusalem as brittle as Rome ever was

The republic has become an empire

Bankers dismiss from the temples any text which does not say

Serve thyself and fuck the people in so doing


Atlantis has betrayed itself and thus the world is betrayed:

This should alarm and shame us but doesn’t:

Someone claimed that when Whitman died

The Stock Market jumped three points




Snow-winds batter river and harbour, batter my heart –

Even so, there remains the un-beaten beauty of the world

Stars, lips, blood, blood’s fire  –who would not have it?

What one calls ‘divine’ another calls ‘human’-


At which the Buddha smiles, not inclined to settle the argument

Where there is no need for denial or accusation.

Snow batters the river, blood batters my brain, yet beauty is un-beaten


Perhaps, and surely, we will not be believed but we have not failed to sing




Sweet one my sweet one

This be our time of joy

Your excited cry on which no frost can gather

The warm winds swirling at the Magi’s return

Not a single verb tumbling into silence

I am thus buttressed against the desolations

I am thus wooed to the fields of wonderment

At the requirements of the sap of spring

It is the harvesters who lay claim to my heart

The ooze of revelation

Light separated from counterfeit light

An alphabet casting no darkening shadow

At which, in the sibyl-cave of the mind…..

Not a limitation to constrain it and all ambitions goodly in its light

(Let such be my beatitudes)

By the grace of love a time of love begins

I have shaped the perfect poem for you, composed of a single word of which this is its poor shadow in the world

Your step, my step –lush wave and sand, a shoreline

Necessities enter the day, move like bright sunshine over bright snow, the landscape becomes ‘endearing’

But nothing is foreknown

The pressure I apply to the page equals the pressure the page applies to me

A journey that might reach a destination 

Rumi was right:

 “Beyond wrong and right there is a field –let us go there”

Oh my sweet one let this guidance be your guidance




Even as the world tilts

The weather out-doing our expectations

Birds and words gathered

Three clouds, three more

A note which said do not be afraid of beauty

Another which says write what can be written

Sunlight insisting do not define but surrender to the day

Sunlight radiant on the three towers

The present tense –poetry’s domain

Silence rescued from silence as foretasted in Shelley

The marvellous workings of light in narrow shadow-strewn lanes

Three clouds? Three birds? Three black-shawled women?

That Orpheus be amongst us is our hope

That even scattered leaves be reclaimed

So now old fathers, ye gathered flames, what say you?

Will you tell us ‘the irrefutable’ that we might cast yet more shards against the ruin?

As if the magma of choice words might yet be healing-manna

As if from a tree a living branch might be plucked or driftwood from other harbours reach this quay-wall

Groom to bride-earth; nor caution attend where love asks for frenzy; a rose of black beauty proffered to the world, this world and not some other

In other words it is not right for mourning to enter the house of poetry

In other words the soul should always stand ajar awaiting expectation

Juan de la Cruz –what do you say now?

Have we given the stars improbable names or do we envy their shining in brilliant isolations?

Geographies and histories, old wounds –but they must not become our morality nor the map on the wall offered as biography

I have forgotten nothing.

I remember it all.

This is the field into which the new Icarus has fallen

And rooted


Shadow, earth, fruit, pen, page -let this be a heritage unto you

Holly yields to crocus

Flame befriends dark

Even the hyacinths are impatient

Shadows cast by sundials enter the hand’s weave

A haiku asks the moon what do you know that I don’t?

Icarus says there are words no other words ever rescind

He says speak undisturbed by history or morality

Now he is Orpheus saying carry this satchel to the world, let this be your time of joy

Sweet one my sweet one

Calendars are false, clock run in reverse, we are nowhere but here

Neither cloud nor bird but what we are

Citizens of love’s sweet republic

Residents whose permit is these passions

We are here

Not other, not elsewhere


Sun’s fire on three towers

Sun’s fire in our minds

Let this be our heritage unto ourselves

Martin Burke is an Irish-born poet and playwright living in Belgium from where he has published twelve books of poetry in the USA, UK, Ireland, & Belgium; and is associated with the magazine The Green Door

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