Because There Is a Snowstorm

I see that I live like a flake of snow 

Symmetrical arrows point away from the center,

Scatter and disperse my focus.

I tumble through air in fragile confusion.


This I must remember:

This frozen drop of water

Was once submerged in prehistory’s floes.

A snowflake drifts alone for a time

But always returns to the torrent.


There is a river before and behind me.

It holds me up if I lay back and float.

The Strange Boys on My Street

Cruel, bizarre, dangerous, creepy, perverted—these are the words I’d use to describe the boys I knew when I was six. We walked to elementary school together. Every afternoon we came home for a snack and then left the house and ran wild. Sometimes those boys ran wild at my expense.

Start with bizarre. Also dangerous: D. He collected butterflies—pinned hundreds to a black velvet background. Maybe his father helped. (I never once saw his father.) D. had unremarkable brown hair in that 50s cut: short on the sides with slanting bangs parted on the left side. Clark Kent glasses. He knew a lot about science so I tolerated him. D.’s mother was afraid of him—whatever he wanted for lunch he got. I was afraid of him at times, too. Once he ran after me with a pitchfork. I ran ahead of him through the dusty barn while he chased me. He was naked—skinny, skim-milk-colored—and shrieking, “Get out! Get out!” I had walked in on him while he was doing… what? I don’t know.

Then there was the red-haired boy. I’ve deliberately forgotten his name. His parents owned our house, and he came over when his dad collected the rent. He was older than me, so maybe he was eight the day he lounged on our front steps, curled his lip, and told me that Santa Claus was a hoax. The truth struck me like hard rap to the head. I ran into the house, his laughter following me. I hate him to this day.

I was the oldest of four then, soon to be five. Desperate to escape the house, my mother resorted to hiring a neighborhood boy to babysit. She thought my brothers would prefer to have a boy take care of them. I knew it was creepy that W. wanted to give me a bath. I could bathe myself. He followed me up the stairs, asking me to just take off my shirt or something. I told my mother he acted weird and she said, “Stop imagining things.” But then he let my two little brothers make fluffernutter sandwiches. Peanut butter and marshmallow fluff still covered the kitchen when she got home and W. never babysat again.

The worst were the C. boys next door. Muddy paths crisscrossed the thicket behind our houses and my friend, G., and I played back there. One day, two of those C. brothers ambushed me and ordered me to pull down my underpants for a nickel. They were bigger than me—maybe nine and ten—and, while I was scornful of their stupid ways, I was scared of them, too. They threw the nickel at me and it landed in the ooze. I didn’t bother to look for it. Their older brother was even more perverted but that’s a story for another time.

I sometimes wonder how those boys on Stevens Avenue shaped my adult feelings about men. I mean, am I right to be suspicious of them and their predatory instincts?


Marrying her was the biggest mistake of my life. As if revelation, the thought rushed into his mind as the cereal bowl whizzed by.

“You knew all weekend? And didn’t care to tell me?” She stamped her foot.

“I can’t talk to you about this,” he said. “You’re too crazy.”

“But you quit? Last Friday? You just up and quit?”

When they’d first met, her hair was blond, flowing around her shoulders. Now she’d had it slashed into short dark spikes.

“I couldn’t take it anymore. And… well…”

She waited impatiently. “Well what?”

“Well, Don said some things that really pissed me off.”

“Jesus. You couldn’t overlook it? For the sake of our health insurance, rent money… And my classes, how will we pay for them?” She wilted into a chair. “I can’t believe you did this to me. To us. Again.”

“Well, hey, I can drive you to school.”

The two older kids left the kitchen with their mother. They had places to go, even if their father wasn’t going to work. After all, it was Monday.

He bit into his toast while the baby banged a spoon on the highchair tray. I’ll tell her tonight. That it’s over.

The Day After

It’s too soon to write a poem

about the way the waves sounded different

and I leapt from bed, pierced to the heart by the knowledge

that this was the first day of the rest of the days forever different.

It’s too soon to confess I stole your red plaid shirt

simply because I couldn’t bear to let the frayed fabric

hang limply on an abandoned hanger.

It’s too soon to listen for you

in the music you breathed like oxygen;

to hear your thick gentle fingers

stumble with reverence through Mozart or Beethoven

as I play the piano, two hands alone.

It’s too soon to tell the tale

of how I watched a loon dive and swim in the rising sun’s gaze.

And how, just as I turned to leave, it called out and halted me.

How I wanted it to be you, sending a sign from wherever you are.

It’s too soon to be comforted

by cognizance that any loon’s call

is a message from what will always be your world,

no matter how altered its landscape.

It’s too soon.

(for my father, October 23, 1995)

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