Sunday, August 06, 2017

Uncollected Poems by Derick Burleson

I am making available some of the poems that Derick Burleson shared with me prior to his move to Alaska. These poems do not appear in his books and, to my knowledge, have not been published elsewhere. I will gladly take down any of the poems that have been published elsewhere or at least properly credit the journal that first published the poem. Contact me at 

Many of the other poems that Derick shared with me were revised and published in either Ejo or Never Night. I am willing to share what I have of Derick's poems with any researcher seeking to put together a volume of collected poems.

Murder in Medford

When we, newlywed, stop for gas
the Quik-Trip folks bite off smiles
white as the fresh-painted grain elevator
where they store belief.  The lone
cop in his one-stoplight town
always parks his leather-lined cruiser

behind the silver trailerhouse just off
Highway 11 where his lover lives. You ask
for the knife to cut open the plastic sack
of sweetness we bought miles back
and I’m glad to see the sixshooter’s
still loaded in the glovebox. Only one cloud
scars all the hot Oklahoma sky. Tonight

summer frogs will bruise their tough
old song and mate in soft mud. You say
there’s bound to be a body buried far
back in the tamaracks, a way of life
ruined, a throat slit, all because some damn fool
cowboy kissed that red-haired woman in Lakeside Bar.

                                                Derick Burleson

Birdwatching at Nearman Creek Power Plant

In the dead of winter
We drove just over the bridge into Kansas where
Six bald eagles
Thirty Canada geese
One thousand mallard ducks
And a dance troupe of crows
Crowd around this water warmed by waste heat.
Everywhere but here the Missouri’s
Frozen over and who can tell
If the river runs underneath
Or not. We cruise slow, aiming
Our binoculars out the car windows
Separate breaths fogging in below-zero air
Watching the birds watch us back.
The power plant keeps right on warming
Our houses: smokestack, coal chute,
And when our Honda rounds the fly-ash pit, the mallards
Launch themselves as one body
Into the air as if some vacationing
American still in his tropical shirt had videotaped
The cliff-diver’s ten-second flight and
Then home drunk and laughing with friends
Played it backwards at high speed.

                                                   Derick Burleson

Crossing Over

I am driving eastwards into sunrise.
It seems that everyone in Kansas City
is on the way to work, Missouri
rising up across the river, silhouettes
of buildings downtown appearing
as a giant jack-o-lantern’s
wilting teeth, and executives already
inscrutable behind one-way windows.

I was half a world away in Rwanda
last October, where tomorrow
is the same word for yesterday,
and everything stays green year around.
Everyone’s family name has a meaning.
The sun rises at six, sets at six,
and spirits still stalk the night,
but each house wears its own mask
to ward them off.

All this time the traffic
still encircles Kansas City, the half
in Kansas, the half in Missouri.
My African friend studying English
before writing his dissertation
just can’t get over how beautiful
it is on campus—so many trees, the way
all the colors change this time of year.
I try to explain that winter remains
just two months away, but he only smiles
and nods. You have to say amasimbi
innocent water—to mean snow in his language.

At the stoplight on Broadway,
the woman in the next Nissan over
carefully lengthens her lashes
in the rearview mirror. This late
in the semester, the sun smashes equally
into everyone’s eyes. So sun visors down,
each commuter’s car curves down the street,
past a fountain whose watery horses may
or may not be telling some ancient story
of conquest, and as this old millennium cruises
inexorably toward closure, I turn thirty,
believing my life begins now.

                                                    Derick Burleson

Finally, Flood

Tonight like last night and the night before,
thunderstorms four nights in a row
and after three years’ drought
the morning coffeeshop talk
finally turns to flood:
September already and the fallow fields
still too wet to sow winter wheat.
The farmer senses thunder
from far across the border hills
even before clouds fill
the sky, low and clear, the overhead
voice of a prophet, light from somewhere
catching the corner of his eye, glimpses
through the windblown barndoor
open, closed, then open again
until he goes out in it for good
not sure of the same god
he prayed to for rain all spring
the same way my fiend Daniel
one early morning last summer
finally conquered his fear
of what comes next,
took one of his guns and
spread his blood over
all of us who sat and talked for hours
then remembered forever all he said
just the night before.

You and I stay inside
that café where you used to work
even though the regulars stare
and mark us down as different,
happy, they think, that their kids
took jobs and got married instead
until the thunder, louder now, drowns
their whispers with a primal growl
and we are somewhere else,
the lightning demanding
we see this world
in its light, frequent and random,
so stark blue and full of shadow
we might as well be underwater,
children just learning to swim,
light and sound becoming one voice,
the god shouting over the torn surface
of our perfect sleep, the south wind sheer
and curtains of rain through all
the windows we left open
to let the night breeze
ease this heat between us.

Tomorrow and the day after
we will slip apart and wander
again, the sun breaking through
the divided clouds by noon
and with clothes like a second skin
I’ll wade through air
so thick you could chew it
ankle-deep in the same mud
as my father on his farm,
that friend who came home
just in time to stay up all night,
stacking hope against hope.
mopping at the water
that wouldn’t quit running under his door.
Our huge passion swallows me daily.
I love the sky that slowly clears
then clouds again with all kinds of weather,
I breathe air heavy enough that with each step
we swim or drown, our bodies’ water
flowing everywhere over sodden fields,
rivers swelling already full lakes.
I love the small space my body takes
on the steamy earth, the way
everything spins drip dry, pulling
the fevered sky closer,
riding the rampant rise and
fall of this flood.

                                          Derick Burleson