Present Imperfect
by Beverly Burch

Solstice Night | Fragile Note | Loose Sonnet
for the Present Imperfect
| Ode to The Room
She Brings Us Purple Lillies

Solstice Night

Douse the lamps as snow flurries 
like drowsy birds. Dream of white tulips, 
white sand beaches. The world gone, 
nothing mortal outside.
From night’s deep bowl darkness runs over. 
Mid-sleep there’s a groan, lower 
than human, audible through draped 
windows, the dusky bellows of earth, a sound 
to cover unfathomed distance: so much night, 
a neolithic cache of exposure.

Summer, when foggy bay mornings create 
a grey pall, you’ll want December.
How did desire, so mindless, get imprinted
on a chilled spread of clouds? Heat of sun 
won’t satisfy, not like a fire and a furnace. 
Everyone goes travelling and long days 
seem frivolous. Better a cold road at midnight, 
the dream’s cave. But that’s not the reason. 
You don’t know the reason 
harsh and elated have become one.

Fragile Note

I laid his letter down like a sheet of glass, too thin, too brittle to handle safely, and thought of the times he tried to kiss my teenage friends who never returned to our house. Not glass, the only letter he sent, just lonely words I don’t remember, the sharp-edged breakability I felt. Only that once he wrote, just as only once he spoke to me of anything that mattered. Your mother, he said, while she was out of town, told me she’d leave if it weren’t for you children. Really a whole life, and only two times, lonely again, and I felt sorry for him, I did, but needed the why’s, the how are you’s, the so sorry’s, anything other than palpable pleas for me to take care of him, some way or another. Though I never heard it in his words, remorse may have lurked somewhere. I grasp ordinary need, even certain betrayals, fatherly failure, but not his real felony, the extraordinary permissions he gave himself. O father, dead and gone, so much work to do in your after years, eons to learn some other way to be.

Loose Sonnet for the Present Imperfect

December was sultry, then came a frigid summer.
Mid-August the goldfinch started her nest. Too late,
I said. No use, we speak different tongues. She bent
twigs into a sturdy bowl I couldn't have made.

My smooth hands, no pincers or claws, meant
for grabbing. Waving and pointing, helpful in foreign
places where I speak only present tense. Present,
too tense. Notions of future perfect blink in my head:

something will have saved us before children’s fate 
is locked in. A fat squirrel rocks back in the tree’s shade, 
cleans bits of peach from hairy paws. 
March, it stared at bared limbs, unable to think plenty

might come. The little finch proceeds as if she’ll be fine.
I do what I can, pour seeds in a feeder I’ve hung.

Ode to The Room

Dear room, beloved room, overwhelming room,
you’re mine now. 
She’s painting her own condo, mango and cream.
Ambience of that girl.
I remember little houses of pastel blocks
tucked under chairs and step stool.
Wall to wall menagerie.

Dear mirror that studied her, 
dress-up, drama class make-up, break up.
Dear sad place of exile. Sacred refuge.
Cryptic messages still slump in drawers 
time forgot. Another girl, another century.

Dear bed, built-in under the sloped roof
where friends scrawled in colored ink, words not meant 
for others. The corazons siempre, fuck-so-and-so’s,
twined eternities circling through.
Until she painted all of it purple.
Dear heart-framed photos, her mothers.
We lived here too.

I’m painting the walls Wide Ocean Blue,
three coats over purple. I claim the desk,
the shelves. I’ve sent fairy tales, picture books
we knew by heart, away for poetry.
Dear adolescent tears, weeping that shredded her.
Shredded me. Dear fury slamming around,
dear jubilant arias. Dear nights I held her, 
our whispers, our long colloquies,
our revelations. You’re all here, inside walls,
under carpet. Dear holy excess, the residue lingers.

She Brings Us Purple Lillies

And a bottle of wine, then cooks for us.
We watch a prehistoric musical, “Singing in the Rain,”
brilliantly bad but still adored by our sleek-haired girl.
She’s happy to be spending Mother’s Day—
in our case, Mothers’ Day—with us.
Before going out, that is. 
Any day I can summon the thumping joy
of holding her small body. No memory so flawless.

She liked having two of us. We feared
it would trouble her, but no, somehow we were cool.
Maybe not us, our difference. The day
a high court in Sacramento said we could marry,
she texted from math class. Do it!
And we did. We drink her rioja	
as teenaged Debbie Reynolds carries on.
All I do is think of you / the whole day through.
Sugared rhythm. Almost true.

Beverly Burch’s third poetry collection, Latter Days of Eve won the John Ciardi Poetry Prize. Her other books have won a Lambda Literary Award, a Gival Poetry Prize, and been a finalist for the Audre Lorde Award. Her poems have appeared in Denver Quarterly, On the Seawall, New England Review, Los Angeles Review, Willow Springs, Salamander, Tinderbox, Barrow Street, and Poetry Northwest. Other Beverly Burch Mudlarks include: Flash No. 138 (2020), Flash No. 118 (2017), and Poster No. 138 (2016). She lives in Oakland, CA. You can find out more about her life and work at

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