Sappho's Lullaby

Sappho's Lullaby

A Poem by Michael R. Burch

Sappho’s Lullaby

by Michael R. Burch

for Jeremy

Hushed yet melodic, the hills and the valleys
sleep unaware of the nightingale's call
while the pale calla lilies lie
listening,
glistening...
this is their night, the first night of fall.

Son, tonight, a woman awaits you;
she is more vibrant, more lovely than spring.
She'll meet you in moonlight,
soft and warm,
all alone...
then you'll know why the nightingale sings.

Just yesterday the stars were afire;
then how desire flashed through my veins!
But now I am older;
night has come,
I'm alone...
for you I will sing as the nightingale sings.

NOTE: The calla lily symbolizes beauty, purity, innocence, faithfulness and true devotion. According to Greek mythology, when the Milky Way was formed by the goddess Hera’s breast milk, the drops that fell to earth became calla lilies.


Lullaby
by 
Michael R. Burch

for Jeremy

Cherubic laugh; sly, impish grin;
Angelic face; wild chimp within.

It does not matter; sleep awhile
As soft mirth tickles forth a smile.

Gray moths will hum a lullaby
Of feathery wings, then you and I

Will wake together, by and by.

Life’s not long; those days are best
Spent snuggled to a loving breast.

The earth will wait; a sun-filled sky
Will bronze lean muscle, by and by.

Soon you will sing, and I will sigh,
But sleep here, now, for you and I

Know nothing but this lullaby.


Oh, let me sing you a lullaby
by 
Michael R. Burch

for Jeremy (written from his mother’s perspective)

Oh, let me sing you a lullaby
of a love that shall come to you by and by.

Oh, let me sing you a lullaby
of a love that shall come to you by and by.

Oh, my dear son, how you’re growing up!
You’re taller than me, now I’m looking up!
You’re a long tall drink and I’m half a cup!
And so let me sing you this lullaby.

Oh, my sweet son, as I watch you grow,
there are so many things that I want you to know.
Most importantly this: that I love you so.
And so let me sing you this lullaby.

Soon a tender bud will thrust forth and grow
after the winter’s long virgin snow;
and because there are things that you have to know ...
Oh, let me sing you this lullaby.

Soon, in a green garden a new rose will bloom
and fill all the world with its wild perfume.
And though it’s hard for me, I must give it room.
And so let me sing you this lullaby.

The hardest thing in this life is letting go of the ones we love the most. These are poems I wrote for my angel, my mother, Christine Ena Burch.



Final Lullaby
by Michael R. Burch

for my mother, Christine Ena Burch

Sleep peacefully, for now your suffering’s over.

Sleep peacefully, immune to all distress,
like pebbles unaware of raging waves.

Sleep peacefully, like fields of fragrant clover
unmoved by any motion of the wind.

Sleep peacefully, like clouds untouched by earthquakes.

Sleep peacefully, like stars that never blink
and have no thoughts at all, nor need to think.

Sleep peacefully, in your eternal vault,
immaculate, past perfect, without fault.

Amen


Elegy for a little girl, lost
by Michael R. Burch

for my mother, Christine Ena Burch

. . . qui laetificat juventutem meam . . .
She was the joy of my youth,
and now she is gone.
. . . 
requiescat in pace . . .
May she rest in peace.
. . . 
amen . . .
Amen.

I was touched by this Latin prayer, which I discovered in a novel I read as a teenager, around age 16 or 17, and chose to incorporate into a poem. From what I now understand, “ad deum qui laetificat juventutem meam” means “to the God who gives joy to my youth,” but I am sticking with my original interpretation: a lament for a little girl at her funeral. The phrase can be traced back to Saint Jerome's translation of Psalm 42 in the Vulgate Latin Bible (circa 385 AD).


I Pray Tonight
by Michael R. Burch

for everyone

I pray tonight
the starry Light
might
surround you.

I pray
by day
that, come what may,
no dark thing confound you.

I pray ere the morrow
an end to your sorrow.
May angels' white chorales
sing, and astound you.


Arisen
by Michael R. Burch

for my mother, Christine Ena Burch

Mother, I love you!
Mother, delightful,
articulate, insightful!

Angels in training,
watching, would hover,
learning to love
from the Master: a Mother.

You learned all there was
for this planet to teach,
then extended your wings
to Love’s ultimate reach ...

And now you have soared
beyond eagles and condors
into distant elevations
only Phoenixes can conquer.

Amen



The Poet's Condition
by 
Michael R. Burch

for my mother Christine Ena Burch

The poet's condition
(bother tradition)
is whining contrition.
Supposedly sage,

his editor knows
his brain's in his toes
though he would suppose
to soon be the rage.

His readers are sure
his work's premature
or merely manure,
insipidly trite.

His mother alone
will answer the phone
(perhaps with a moan)
to hear him recite.



Love has a gentle grace

by 
Michael R. Burch

for Beth on Mother’s Day

Love has a gentle grace; you have not seen her
unless you’ve looked into your mother’s eyes
and seen her faith
serene, composed and wise
that you’re the center of her very being
(as once, indeed, she carried you inside.)

Love has no wilder beauty than the thought
that you’re the best of all she ever sought.

(And if, perhaps, you don’t believe my song,
can your mother be wrong?)


Your Gift
by 
Michael R. Burch

for Beth

Counsel, console.
This is your gift.

Calm, kiss and encourage.
Tenderly lift

each world-wounded heart
from its fatal dart.

Mend every rift.
Bid pain, “Depart!”

Save every sorrow
for your own untaught heart.


After the Deluge
by 
Michael R. Burch

She was kinder than light
to an up-reaching flower
and sweeter than rain
to the bees in their bower
where anemones blush
at the affections they shower,
and love’s shocking power.

She shocked me to life,
but soon left me to wither.
I was listless without her,
nor could I be with her.
I fell under the spell
of her absence’s power.
in that calamitous hour.

Like blithe showers that fled
repealing spring’s sweetness;
like suns’ warming rays sped
away, with such fleetness ...
she has taken my heart
alas, our completeness!
I now wilt in pale beams
of her occult remembrance.



Mother’s Smile
by Michael R. Burch

for my mother, Christine Ena Burch, and my wife, Elizabeth Harris Burch

There never was a fonder smile
than mother’s smile, no softer touch
than mother’s touch. So sleep awhile
and know she loves you more than “much.”

So more than “much,” much more than “all.”
Though tender words, these do not speak
of love at all, nor how we fall
and mother’s there, nor how we reach
from nightmares in the ticking night
and she is there to hold us tight.

There never was a stronger back
than father’s back, that held our weight
and lifted us, when we were small,
and bore us till we reached the gate,
then held our hands that first bright mile
till we could run, and did, and flew.
But, oh, a mother’s tender smile
will leap and follow after you!

Originally published by TALESetc



Erin
by 
Michael R. Burch

All that’s left of Ireland is her hair
bright carrot
and her milkmaid-pallid skin,
her brilliant air of cavalier despair,
her train of childrensome conceived in sin,
the others to avoid it. For nowhere
is evidence of thought. Devout, pale, thin,
gay, nonchalant, all radiance. So fair!

How can men look upon her and not spin
like wobbly buoys churned by her skirt’s brisk air?
They buy. They grope to pat her nyloned shin,
to share her elevated, pale Despair ...
to find at last two spirits ease no one’s.
All that’s left of Ireland is the Care,
her impish grin, green eyes like leprechauns’.


Deliver Us ...
by Michael R. Burch

The night is dark and scary
under your bed, or upon it.

That blazing light might be a star ...
or maybe the Final Comet.

But two things are sure: your mother’s love
and your puppy’s kisses, doggonit!


Love’s Extreme Unction
by Michael R. Burch

Lines composed during Jeremy’s first Nashville Christian football game (he played tuba), while I watched Beth watch him.

Within the intimate chapels of her eyes
devotions, meditations, reverence.
I find in them Love’s very residence
and hearing the ardent rapture of her sighs
I prophesy beatitudes to come,
when Love like hers commands us, “All be One!”


don’t forget ...
by 
Michael R. Burch

for my mother, Christine Ena Burch

don’t forget to remember
that Space is curved
(like your Heart)
and that even Light is bent
by your Gravity.


Our English Rose
by
 Michael R. Burch

for my mother, Christine Ena Burch

The rose is
the ornament of the earth,
the glory of nature,
the archetype of the flowers,
the blush of the meadows,
a lightning flash of beauty.

The poem above is my translation of a Sappho epigram.


Delicacy
by Michael R. Burch

for all good mothers
Your love is as delicate
as a butterfly cleaning its wings,
as soft as the predicate the hummingbird sings
to itself, gently murmuring
“Fly! Fly! Fly!”
Your love is the string
soaring kites untie.



Dawn
by Michael R. Burch

for Beth, Laura and all good mothers

Bring your peculiar strength
to the strange nightmarish fray:
wrap up your cherished ones
in the golden light of day.

Amen


Heroin or Heroine?
by Michael R. Burch

for mothers battling addiction

serve the Addiction;
worship the Beast;
feed the foul Pythons,
your flesh, their fair feast ...

or rise up, resist
the huge many-headed hydra;
for the sake of your Loved Ones
decapitate medusa.


Such Tenderness
by Michael R. Burch

 
for loving, compassionate, courageous mothers everywhere

There was, in your touch, such tenderness, as
only the dove on her mildest day has,
when she shelters downed fledglings beneath a warm wing
and coos to them softly, unable to sing.

What songs long forgotten occur to you now
a babe at each breast? What terrible vow
ripped from your throat like the thunder that day
can never hold severing lightnings at bay?

Time taught you tendernesstime, oh, and love.
But love in the end is seldom enough ...
and time?insufficient to life’s brief task.
I can only admire, unable to ask
what is the source, whence comes the desire
of a woman to love as no God may require?



Childless
by Michael R. Burch

How can she bear her grief?
Mightier than Atlas, she shoulders the weight
Of one fallen star.



I Cannot Remember My Mother
by Rabindranath Tagore
loose translation/interpretation 
by Michael R. Burch

I cannot remember my mother,
yet sometimes in the middle of my playing
a melody seemed to hover over my playthings:
some forgotten tune she loved to sing
while rocking my cradle.

I cannot remember my mother,
yet sometimes on an early autumn morning
the smell of the shiuli flowers fills my room
as the scent of the temple’s morning service
wafts over me like my mother’s perfume.

I cannot remember my mother,
yet sometimes still, from my bedroom window,
when I lift my eyes to the heavens’ vast blue canopy
and sense on my face her serene gaze,
I feel her grace has encompassed the sky.


Frail Envelope of Flesh
by Michael R. Burch

for the mothers and children of the Holocaust and Gaza

Frail envelope of flesh,
lying cold on the surgeon’s table
with anguished eyes
like your mother’s eyes
and a heartbeat weak, unstable ...

Frail crucible of dust,
brief flower come to this

your tiny hand
in your mother’s hand
for a last bewildered kiss ...

Brief mayfly of a child,
to live two artless years!
Now your mother’s lips
seal up your lips
from the Deluge of her tears ...


The Greatest of These ...
by 
Michael R. Burch

for my mother Christine Ena Burch

The hands that held me tremble.
The arms that lifted
fall.

Angelic flesh, now parchment,
is held together with gauze.

But her undimmed eyes still embrace me;
there infinity can be found.

I can almost believe such love
will reach me, underground.

© 2021 Michael R. Burch


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Added on September 4, 2019
Last Updated on July 11, 2021
Tags: Sappho, Lullaby, Goddess, Hera, Breast, Milk, Love, Desire, Nightingale, Moonlight, Woman