The Innisfree Poetry Journal

by Rick Bursky

Poems from his most recent book, Death Obscura:

The Chrysalis


"If you were me, would you love 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


                                                  for Alicia


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 wide

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.

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