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 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