THREE POEMS by Trina Burke

Riverbed Canzone

A canister of can-can
curses the alluvium of winter melt.
Can the 12th of the month be
worse? Can’t be ides, can’t be ideas.
Deposit in the bank—
Can pebbles be prodigal sediment a-
symmetry? Simple canal
drops for the mouths of bottom-feeding muscles.
Feeder creeks accrete to flow,
aspire to river volume, can’t but dry up.
No small amount of matter.
Juggernauts of failure, creeks little matter.

Matted tresses of river-
grass can mean a troll or merrow below bridge,
might mean wet fecundity
depending on the matter’s disposition.
Beware, be-cursed without per-
mission to walk, to matter in one’s own right,
or to anti-matter, as
one wishes. The banks are “V” for victory.
The banks hand out lollipops
to matterly customers.
Non-nutritive feed for youthful baby teeth.
Feed rock candy addiction.

Feed Swedish fish, said sweetish fish, such sweet, kind
fish. Only a matter of shift-
ing allegiances to feeding and flavor
or feeding and favorite
fish disposition. Canned sweet rice wine for our
river nigiri. Feed ruins the
dish altogether, feed ruins the raw fish.
Curses, the toil is ruined
again. Accursed too many chefs in
the river. Feed of bottom-
speak, under breath, in bank
vaults, spending the bankers’ malleable time.

Time banks to the left and rights
itself. Time feeds the baby and puts it down.
The bank serves a different god.
The bank serves rolls with meat or without, as
you wish. A matter of taste
only. The bank is an institutional
state apparatus. One banks to
fit in. Can you dig it—clams from shore muck?
Canned clams in juice from the store.
A bank is no place to dine at this time but
perhaps the curse will lift on
Tuesday, the cursorily overlooked day.

A curse for a hook to fish
for a lifetime got from the bank on credit.
A curse in the purse to pay
for lunch, a curse on a horse to save the day.
Feed on the negative
energy of curses in lieu of Pisces,
let the fish swim their cursive
routes. It doesn’t matter, the rainy season
has come and river matter
courses downstream as we speak.
Spend your currency while you can, if you can.
Can you, will you? Yes you should.

Yes you can, you live in a
canyon of yes. Of course you can do what you wish.
As soon as you’ve cleaned the bank
of junk, you may feed the fish.
You may dine fine on all that stink and matter.


Of Birds There and Not

What do we mean when we speak of creation?
If we speak of a tree, it is a familial one.
The family tome sings dust mites
and old unlabeled photographs.
Give the figures biblical names:
Eve, Ruth, Judith—the time was right
and matched and as such is no lie.
(What do we mean when we lie?)
Carry on, then, in tintype,
sepia people. Every number
of our tribe has only one aspect.
I didn’t see it ever.
I didn’t take it to task,
and it didn’t work. What do I mean

when I work? A sitting-down-to, a typing,
an occupation of idle hands,
the price of one barrel of oil,
the cost of driving-to, time spent—
a success, no doubt. No
someone-else’s song
of God’s gonna trouble the water.
I may not sing that song.
That is not my song to sing. And
what do I mean when I sing? I
don’t. Sing or mean. The
scenario goes something like
I drive and I end up.
By lake by sound by water
on edges and never in the middle.
I save a broken crow only
to find that it is merely young
and not broken. So I return it.
I hope I have left it undamaged.
I save a broken crow the same way

I save money. I save and am
saved but not savvy. I open
accounts of crows:

A murder of crows caw, cling atop the cherry.
One flies off, the others unfailing stay.
One drafts down to a duller branch’s sway.
Another alights to count the number right.

They eye idle blue, another Icelandic day.
The cherry’s branches arc up, supplicant hands
For catching, for thrashing, for throwing away.
The remainder fly off, leave one remain.

That’s not a blackbird at all, silhouette testing
Its wings more rounded, its nipped beak
Preening breast, prey feathers pulled out,
Silently snapping, less willing to say.

Ordered rows of crows,
counted and obliterated,
sent scattering in anonymity.
Who can tell one crow from another
or from a raven? I dare you,
dare say
I can’t

go on.
What do I mean when I go? When
going and coming form a palimpsest
and the difference is only a matter
of intention, when the interest
is only a matter of liminal space
between going and coming where
there is no intention yet. Come,
go with me. Stay, go, stay—
an intention of mixed signals to hold
a lover in thrall. And it works,
the ladymags tell us so, instruct us
how to do it right. A slavish devotion
to what is fit to print, what is true
in font. A spell: To spell it is to make it so.
The trick is to manifest. What

do I mean when I manifest?
Do. Bear. Hand. As much
or as many as you can.

I want to end you like nobody’s business.

I heel, you stand beside.
I numb, you feel
the wind

the stream around the rock.
You rush around the face.
You cop. You plea.

A Balance of Not:
I do not feel your shade at my shoulder
and you could never anticipate
the children’s rhymes
I have in mind:

I delight in keys
I despair of locks
I prefer uncounted entries
to the tick of clocks.

You cannot know
how I delight in the salmon glow,
flashlight pressed to palm
guessed-at veins, muscle and flesh below

The duck is tucked in
in turducken
the duck is tucked in the turkey

Of a night
face-tickling fabric
gives way to a sick, white
shaft of light

I’ll tell you what the light said when there was no rhyme left—
It said: You have no frame of reference for this. It has no shape.
It said: You won’t wish to know this.
You are more
Magician than Prophet
and you’ve got a lot to explain
about the ways
you capture with collars,
you capture with traps.

You’ve got a lot to explain—
you build a tower to the night
you night and night into the night.

It said: I’ve got a lot of light to bear
you’ve got a bear, dancing in the light.

What do we mean, what do we mean?
And if I mean it, is it mean to say
I want to end you in the worst way?
I make this want the work of my life.
A conundrum then, and mine, all mine.
Conundrum of mine, can I hold you?
May I keep you? Is it coincidence that I notice
how smokers sigh in speech at odd intervals?
They hold the breath to its breaking point,
then sigh.
Will you hold this
inside you, angry little canary conundrum,
pouty little bird? Or have I misnamed you?
Are you a chickadee,
a kind of bird that sings haltingly?
Are you insensitive?
Will you hold this, when this is deictic?
It doesn’t matter.
Either way I will fountain and give.


Repeated Calls for Transparency

A bird finds its life simpler as symbol.

Laughably double-edged, this pyramid

known as dove. “Our beaches are clean

and open.” A sand dollar parable

for the ages: Follow the money trail

to bird-shaped ossicles. The creature

must be broken to arrive at the object

lesson inside. And every moment

choking viscous. “We are learning a lot.”

Sparing weightless passes at sorry.

You won’t know you’re breathless

until it’s on you. The hairs of motion

dried, the greeny organism bleached white.

The fossil of an era dating back to last week.

This isn’t happening.

Give freely your hair; the more matted

and dread, the better. Abase

yourself in a fit of lax

hygiene. Use the body as

sieve. Open your mouth and swim out

to filter extreme unction

through your teeth. Convince

your children with the pretense

of treacle. Bloat bodies a billion buoys

sleeping without dreams. Finally!

A use for our collective obesity.

All the oil u can eat!

Where does this plague

settle on the scale

between locusts and boils?

What happens when the eye lights

on black gold, where the oil lights upon

the eye and fills it up to lightlessness

and spills out the ear in search of

a new host, a live one

this time. And on and on

until there are no live ones left?

If we can staunch the flow,

We might focus on repair.

It’s the rate of loss we’re up against.

First rule: Stop the bleeding.

Second rule: Don’t talk about the bleeding?

Or vice versa. Regardless, I will give you

days. What other choice?

Unless you have a better idea.

This is beyond the realm of my expertise.

It will take as long as it takes.


Trina Burke is a native Floridian currently living in Seattle, WA. Her work has appeared recently in Drunken Boat, Iron Horse Literary Review, Quarterly West, Prick of the Spindle, and No Tell Motel. Her chapbook, “Great America,” is forthcoming from Dancing Girl Press.

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