Just Hold On

Hold on to what you cherished as a child

for that love came from an unfettered heart.

Hold on to the wildness you find out of doors,

even the slight scent of balsam or the quiet of snow.

Hold on to the physical sense of your life

even the itch of a bug bite on your sweaty arm.

Hold on to the noise of the world around you

though the honk of a car hurts your ears.

Hold on to the brothers and sisters you argue with today

for tomorrow they will say something you don’t know.

Just hold on to that noise of music and stories,

for silence is the worst kind of loneliness.

Praise Song (after Lucille Clifton)

to shy Miss Parker

who stood up to the school board

and demanded in her wavering voice

her students be allowed to read

that book.

Praise her bravery.

She believed in me even if I didn’t—

oh I thought I was smart but I wasn’t


She was, though. She ignored the slights

of foolish teenagers and ignorant parents.

She plowed right past the sly laughter and grumbling.

Praise the books that gave her strength.

One afternoon in summer we brought an unwashed ungrateful

through-hiker to her mountainside home.

She took him in for the night.

Praise her open heart.

Can you see her, her ancient mother, and the hiker

sitting round the kitchen table,

eating homemade bread and soup?

Praise the lamp that encircled them in light.


I learn by going where I have to go.

The wind directs my pace, the sun’s my coat.

Tomorrow I may stay but now not so.


Beyond the hills my eyes discern a glow.

Upon the sea there lies an anchored boat.

I learn by going where I have to go.


Loud voices jam the wind, yet still it blows.

I read to calm myself these words I wrote:

“Tomorrow I may stay but now not so.”


It seems so safe to follow what we know.

But here’s a bridge, yes, walk across the moat!

There is a world beyond and I must go.


My life is like a wave, all flux and flow.

Set free the tethered boat, just let it float.

I learn by going where I have to go.

Tomorrow I may stay but now not so.

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 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