Learning to Dance

Hooked on the two-four sorcery,

bass and drum, dances at St. Jerome’s,

I held up a wall for half an hour

before I could ask the one

whose eyes turned ice to water,

spun home through the dark

between the streetlamp pools of light.

Lost in a trance for a year,

I woke when the plane

bumped down into Luxembourg.

Lost the first day at the hostel,

I took the train to Zurich,

found an old Tolkien

jammed behind the seat,

carried him all the way to here,

hitch-hiked south and crossed

four days later near Chiasso,

rode a box truck into the Dolomites,

traded my boots for a sweater.

The new owner took me

to his family’s stone house,

steep meadows, barn filled with sheep.

For a week I was a shepherd,

combed pastures with the ewes,

saw why I had to go away.

Like a brother, he brought me

back to the road-fork;

I didn’t want to get out,

flatbeds and Fiats all the way to Venice.

Three days later I started again,

no rides past Solesino, evening falling,

I laid in the grass, read

until the dark took it away,

ate the crushed bread and cheese,

slept in the field.

In the morning I sang Creedence,

waited for kindness

danced on the empty road.


Came as Ravens

Cloaks as black as widows

they strut the deck railing,

peer in the windows, leap away,

their shadows stream

across the ferns and rocks.

They come, peck at the doors,

smear saliva on the windows

that dries to a chalky cuneiform.

When I was small, she’d kneel beside me,

coach the story I couldn’t believe.

But last night, kneeling on the kitchen floor

sweeping up pieces of glass,

dust rolled from under the stove

and her voice came into the air.

They glide from tree to tree,

compile their inventories,

drift over the swath of light

I cut in the crowds of hemlock,

a shrine for the lost opened to the sun,

cast the ashes there like seeds.

The winged mourners scavenge

offerings I lay on the boulders,

a lamb abandoned by her ewe,

stiffened hens tired of winter.

I sit on the porch and sift the past,

see her folded hands,

the raised tracks of skin,

burn scars from the bindery’s vinyl-sealer,

listen to their guttural calls,

the clicked code they chant

high in the dead fir by the lake.


Mark Anthony Burke

Mark Burke’s work has appeared or is forthcoming in the North American Review, Beloit Poetry Journal, Sugar House Review, Nimrod International Journal, and others. His work has recently been nominated for a Pushcart prize. Please see markanthonyburkesongsandpoems.com

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