Mudlark Flash No. 118 (2017)

Poems by Beverly Burch

A Short Tutorial on Desire

It blooms like a burning bush, 
howls like a dirt yard dog. 
Rises like a lark, falls like a kite.

Where does it comes from?
Latin lovers: de-sidere, i.e., wicked little stars. 
A bow & arrow & a naked boy. 
The apple & the appetite, needle & spoon. 

How long does it last? 
As the thorn-apple, sacred to Shiva 
& fatal, opening at night, closed by dawn.

Why does it change?
Thy neighbor’s wife. 
Brokeback Mountain.
The mistress of spices, emperor of lies. 

Where does it end?
A dusty album by Dylan. 
The trolley depot in New Orleans. 

And what is the antidote? 
The frying pan & the funeral pyre. 
A candle, a high altar. 
(Practice, practice.)

The Patriarch’s Gifts

She tossed the golden amulet he sent 
in the alligator’s swamp and watched it sink 
as six reptilian eyes flickered with hope.

She opened the brass box of his letters, 
fed them to the bone fire. Page by page, words 
curled into blackened bits, off to a chilly hereafter. 

On the table: basket of red apples, cup of tears, 
blistered heart. From him she wants 
neither bitter nor sweet. The nature of his poison 

tethers them and they both know its fortitude, 
how it lasts beyond remembering, disappears, 
then surges back until she returns for more.

Latter Days

The back story was supposed to speak of love,
not tell an unbroken tale of siege and plunder.

Not of women trekking back to the old shrines
for brief moments of ecstasy while children 

slept beside junkyard dogs. We presumed music 
from heirloom instruments, soloists hitting 

mystic chords. Instead we got Incarnation. 
Fleshly sacrifice. Praise for the goose and the shrew 

on a collapsed altar. Layer by layer we dug: 
rotten nooses, broken pews, cracked motherboards

and wheels for steering large vehicles. A skeleton 
with clasped hands, the yoked fingers shattered. 

Nothing to tell us how far we are from home. 
No map, no threshold, no sweet chariot. 

The endangered roam alien streets, a few days away 
from starvation, open to snipers. We offer our poor 

hospitality but they say no. Our safety is doubtful 
and we too closely resemble the enemy.

Beverly Burch’s fiction and poetry have appeared in New England Review, North American Review, Antioch Review, Willow Springs, Southern Humanities Review and Poetry Northwest. Her second poetry collection, How A Mirage Works, won the Sixteen Rivers Press competition and was a finalist for the Audre Lorde Award. Her first, Sweet to Burn, won the Gival Poetry Prize and a Lambda Literary Award. She is a psychotherapist in Berkeley.

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