Poems from his most recent book, Death Obscura:
"If you were me, would you
Though I had more information than the caterpillar
when asked if it wants to become a butterfly,
I remained silent. Could feel her question in my chest.
We were at a Chinese restaurant.
I leaned in to kiss her. She leaned back and asked.
The next day at work, concentrating
on my responsibilities, the accuracy
of foot-long wooden rulers, became difficult.
"If you were me, would you love you?"
Whether or not she was the first woman
to ask me that question is unimportant.
Don't be so quick to believe
that caterpillars want to be butterflies.
To be honest, I was afraid.
In the chrysalis,
organs and other structures disassemble,
then re-model. Sometimes
this lasts the winter.
She took the little plastic sword in her fingers,
lifted the olive from the martini,
put it between her teeth, held it there, grinned
as if to say "well." Why do women do this?
You Can Talk To A Ghost All You Want,
It Won't Change A Thing
I left my shoes in the buffalo
grass, ran barefoot
with a butterfly net catching gods.
And what will god think
stuffed in a matchbox, gift wrapped
on the kitchen table beside toast and tea
waiting for her, not yet fully awake,
one eye open, and not yet the other;
and while one leg finds its way from under
the blanket and is groping for a slipper, not yet the other.
Can you smell the ocean? Did you shake the sand
from your hair, comb away the salt?
Last night, the cockroaches rebelled,
you thought it was a dream we shared.
Last night, when you put your ear
in my mouth what were you listening for?
Last night, you demonstrated it was science,
not love. Though I might have that reversed
—that's the trouble with love.
The Curator of Closets
I bought my first empty closet on a warm spring day at an
art fair in Vicenza, Italy. Girls rolled up their pants. Their legs could
support marble tables in museums. Close
the door and you'd swear you heard a bee sting.
I stood in my second empty closet for hours. It was narrow, my nose prevented the door
from closing. Sometimes I believe those
hours were my happiest. They said a
crocodile was killed in my third empty closet. The only evidence was the stench,
similar to the smell of overripe watermelon.
My fourth empty
closet was the color of someone leaving. The back wall was shellacked, glossy enough
to shave, something I did with the assistance of a flashlight. Each time I
looked inside the fifth I was afraid. A voice said "what time is it, what
time is it." Yes, said it twice, then the empty silence that I love. Once something becomes unimportant it's
abandoned in an empty closet. An elephant falls at the same speed as a pebble.
Think about that, an elephant falls at the same speed as a pebble. Imagine
finding that written at the bottom of an empty closet—even the laws of physics
can't maintain their importance in the closets we're discussing.
I've Tried To Explain This Before
If there's blood on my palms it's an accident.
If there are words left on the table
like picked-over chicken bones, it's an accident.
If the sand on the beach found its way,
that can be explained. Now
when it rains, I understand.
When the noise crawls into the corner
don't tell me it's over. Each day,
I swear, each day is a sacrifice.
My heart remains at home
growling in the dark.
The new promises, at the top
of a flagpole, snap in the wind.
The new poisons, and this is
the best part, the new poisons,
not all are fatal. So
drink up, I tell myself.
The Original Purpose of the Box
In The Museum of Antiquities,
a guard in a gray uniform stands against the wall.
Once, he heard a woman say "I don't believe."
Once, he saw a child grow frightened.
Once, the guard told a man with an old camera
on his shoulder that photographs weren't allowed.
Invention is a series of tragedies.
The original purpose of the box
was to contain the emptiness.
Though scholars once thought
it was invented as a place to hide
a length of silk, dagger
or a crucifix from a borrowed god.
In the middle of the room
is where the first box sits.
Tragedy is a series of inventions.
Each wall, the nuance of a different disgrace.
The floor, camel tongues stitched together.
The ceiling changed with the weather.
At night the guard takes the box home.
As he rides the bus it sits on his lap
as if it held his lunch or a gift.
Elegy Written in Four Seasons
The original color was white, it required no adjectives,
and was easy to see a spider walk across.
A boy with new earmuffs is first
to walk across the snow covered field
writing his name in the snow
with the yardstick from behind the basement door.
Someday the sky will tire of being black and blue
and bags of seed will be dragged from the shed.
Winter, the ghost of every season,
when everyone pretends
"coffin" is not another word for cradle.
In the early morning, windows
to the luscious odor of winter's corpse,
she sat on the bed painting her toenails,
sheets careless across her thighs,
comfortable in the season of her nakedness,
the season of anything possible.
It was probably a Sunday
and if it wasn't it should have been.
Sun darkens the flesh,
sweat sweetens it.
Later, she'll blame herself,
should have caught the faint odor
of a woman beginning to bury herself
long before her death.
Only spring makes a history
out of a woman painting
her toenails, a history
out of foreign music playing on a radio,
a man in the kitchen
squeezing oranges for juice.
The premise is simple, a matter of up and down,
give and take, perhaps breaking versus repair.
The little girl flicked her wrist.
The yo-yo plunged, a sharp fall
followed by the undoing
of gravity as it climbed back up the string.
She once asked her father to time the toy,
from plummet to return, one alligator, two alligator.
So there went the summer, warmth fading into coolness,
the speed of alligators barely brushed the buffalo grass
before being jerked back to the beginning.
The neighbor's old collie snapped at fireflies
who in their spectacular instant saw the scratch of
lightning, which to a firefly is God.
The climax of memory is death; everything previous,
happenstance, a lavish understanding
of ourselves that no one else shares.
Her mother calling from the kitchen window,
the night sky tangled in the trees,
that's how she remembers it.
After the hot afternoons of summer,
climbed the roof to sweep away pine needles,
clearing the gutters for the coming rains.
A chill darkened the sky,
only the bones of clouds remained.
It's autumn, not winter,
that turns men into martyrs.
The windows rattle more often.
He pauses from his chores,
pulls a pack of cigarettes from a pocket,
lights one and sucks the smoke down
the way a man gulps air when he doesn't know
how long he'll have to hold his breath.
Autumn, the season that is The Coffee Cup;
the season of men on roofs,
of crickets mourning their wounds;
autumn, the season between.
The windows rattle more often.
It won't last forever, not even the owls
that spend their nights laughing at us.
Rick Bursky's most recent book, Death Obscura, is out
from Sarabande Books. His previous book, The Soup of Something Missing, was published by Bear Star Press.
His poems have appeared in many journals including American Poetry Review, Field, Iowa Review, Southern Review, Conduit, and Prairie Schooner. Bursky teaches poetry at UCLA Extension.