In Reflection

Florescent lights glaring back

reflected like so many molars,

her green dress doubled,

she lovingly wipes the cold glass wall

gleamingly clean.



Her supplies are heavy in her paper bag;

she walks at a tilt from the weight.

But cleaning the mirror she is agile and caressing,

sliding her rag over perfect smoothness,

gently touching herself in the reflection —



the mother she has been missing all these years.



© Barbara Burt


The Art of Marriage

for Dick and Katrina


You have chosen the canvas,

stretched and bleached, with

shadowy outlines sketched

in charcoal;

now you must paint.


In watercolors, perhaps,

with the delicate hint of the brush.

Or in the rough texture and

clear scent of oils.

But go slowly, choose carefully,

there’s no rush to get it down.


You will paint over

and over

and despair for not learning.

Learning, finally,

that the art of working at it


the work of art.




© Barbara Burt


I Cannot Wake

I cannot wake at four a.m.

I’d rather lose myself in longer dreams

that know to use their morning share.

The birds asleep, their silence fills the air.

It must have been the omelet,

a garish oozing yellow folded like a sheet,

that drove me to absurd dispair.

Or perhaps it was the waitress’s lack of care.

I bend myself to your direction

with no regrets, or few that I can think of.

Bending causes change; I must beware —

You would not like to wake and find a different lover there.

© Barbara Burt


Cold Feet

When the maple wore its mantilla of white ice-lace

and the snow annulled all the bumps and holes in the yard,

she decided to leave him.

She snuck out from under the comforter —

he was snoring,

and she wore no slippers.

Suddenly, while standing barefoot in the middle of the kitchen,

the moonlight caught her.

The glare of its light accused her.

And she could not ignore

the hard cold fact of linoleum.


So that is why she was there when he woke up

and asked why her feet were so cold.



© Barbara Burt



Every month has its sun —

March’s lies.

It glows early like a robin’s morning,

yet the wind slices cruelly.

It gleams on the river as if seen from sailboats

and warms bare pavement awaiting marbles,

yet the missing green

is freezing still.

I have no quarrel with the cold steel

of January’s sun

or the steam oven of July’s.

But I’ll never again believe

in March’s lies.



© Barbara Burt


A Change in the Winds

We’ve torn the shrouds of plastic

from the window beside the bed.

I lie still and follow the shadows of birds

across the white glare of the wall outside;

I lie on this bed and hear the kiss of softball to leather

and the gentle coaching of the man next door.

We will leave this place soon, I know that.

Tonight we’ll crate our belongings,

betray our sofa for its weight,

the bed mattress for its lumps.

Will I ever be forgiven my desertion of these

and living things?

Will I ever forgive myself, leaving,

so full of whispered promises

and abandoned starts?



© Barbara Burt


Social Security: Don’t fix what isn’t broke


It doesn’t make sense to target Social Security for deficit reduction because it’s not part of the deficit.

NEWCASTLE — Remember how President Bush began his second term with a plan to “privatize” Social Security? Imagine where millions of us would be today if Social Security were a pension plan based primarily on stock market investments.

Well, we dodged that bullet, but the program that transformed American society with retirement pensions, unemployment insurance, survivors’ benefits, and a host of other essential services is about to undergo yet another attack.

In the name of deficit reduction, not itself a bad goal, there’s a proposal to create a fast-track commission to study so-called entitlement programs. What does “fast-track” mean? It means discussion is limited and amendments are prohibited, creating an undemocratic process that’s hidden from you and me.

And, if a fast-track commission is created, the deck will be stacked against Social Security. Already, foes of social insurance, such as the Heritage Foundation and the Peter G. Peterson Foundation, are predicting its imminent demise. Parade Magazine recently ran an article with the scary title, “Can We Save Social Security?”

The use of a hasty and undemocratic fast-track procedure would be unprecedented. Since 1935, Social Security legislation has always had the benefit of full hearings before the House Ways and Means Committee and the Senate Finance Committee, and unlimited debate and opportunity for amendments in the Senate and the House of Representatives.

It just doesn’t make sense to attack Social Security in the name of deficit reduction; it’s not part of the deficit. The 2009 Annual Report of the Board of Trustees, published May 12, 2009, stated that Social Security ran a surplus of $180 billion last year with a reserve of $2.4 trillion. The Congressional Budget Office, in its August 2009 forecast, said that full benefits can continue to be paid until 2043.

There is ample time for Congress to review options for adjusting the Social Security system through the usual legislative process. There is time to create a well-rounded, balanced commission that recruits members from business, labor, and the general public. And makes recommendations, not edicts.

But Social Security’s opponents have managed to convince too many Americans that the program is wasteful and in a terminal state. Unwarranted panic allows Social Security’s opponents to stage this stealth attack.

As the program’s 75th anniversary approaches, it’s helpful to recall the reason for Social Security’s original enactment.

Maine Sen. Olympia Snowe wrote last June in a letter to the Frances Perkins Center: “As the chief champion and architect of the Social Security Act, which established not only Social Security but also the Unemployment Insurance program, Frances Perkins demonstrated unparalleled vision, courage, and determination that provided us with some of the strongest federal programs ever”

Secretary of Labor Frances Perkins herself said in a radio speech in 1935, “We cannot be satisfied merely with makeshift arrangements, which will tide us over the present emergencies. We must devise plans that will not merely alleviate the ills of today, but will prevent, as far as it is humanly possible to do so, their recurrence in the future.”

That goal has been met. Today, as we struggle to rise from the depths of the greatest economic downturn since the Great Depression, we can thank Social Security for helping to save our economy from collapse.

While trillions of dollars were lost in 401(k) and other pension accounts, Social Security remained dependable. Its guaranteed payments helped to fill in for lost earnings. The purchasing power those benefits are keeping stores busy and people employed.

More than 52 million people will get monthly benefits this year. Wounded soldiers and their spouses and children receive Social Security benefits, as well as the families of soldiers who have died for their country.

The mystery is, in the face of proof that the Social Security system benefits all of us, why would Congress consider reducing it? Instead, let’s get out the drums and bugles and celebrate this great American tradition. It deserves our support, not death by a thousand cuts.

BARBARA BURT December 11, 2009


Barbara Burt is executive director of the Frances Perkins Center, which advocates for social justice and economic security.

Copyright © 2009 MaineToday Media, Inc.

[An OpEd published in the Portland, Maine, Sunday Telegram]