Two appear out of the early morning fog
coming up from the beach under the pier,
a night spent curled against the cold.
Gone down into the forest of wharf-pylons,
they laid on the sand with their blanket,
guessed the reach of the tides.
In the land of hide so many places are taken.
Up early, walking to shed the dreams,
I go down to the ocean,
my head flooded with
what I should’ve have done.
They climb up onto the boardwalk
past the fruit-stand, the arcades
as the rising sun cleaves
the world into light and shade.
I lean in the calliope’s shadow,
watch them stop along the pier railing,
choose a place and begin to sing
the way I wish I could fly,
their fifth above harmony
lacing the air like wood-smoke,
slowing the spin of the world.
A swath of sunlight creeps up the wall,
peels off the shroud the night leaves
and I breathe their voices,
a moody vagrant lifted above
the gray hallways of my journey,
the losses and separations.
How did they know?


When the days wore thin,
I came to accept I would live alone,
made peace with winter’s dark Sundays.
It was a station where
I’d gotten off the train of moonlight prowls
and would stay,
work the trails in the mornings,
accept this as my abbey.

But a new moon called
and staring across a dance-hall of strangers,
you were sitting along the wall of chairs.
I joked if I was in time,
would you dance with me
and we began the ballet of eyes,
words that led through the night
and all the way to these mornings.

My old people would’ve liked you,
how your girl’s soul sweetens the days;
your voice that charges the air like a song.
The camellias are blooming,
each red orb casts
a halo of petals on the ground
and I see the chances that remain,
my beggar’s heart tied to yours
for whatever the fates may bring.


We all begin tied to another heart,
beats braiding for months
as the new one flutters and blooms
in the hollows of the slower pulse.
Three seasons and a tremor comes,
the cord swirls with the small body
until the rumor spreads.
Each readies for the passage
through the gate of ischial spines,
the parting that begins the search
for a semblance of the first union.
You scan the days for a match,
comb the dance-halls,
eyes that flicker along the subway seats,
count as one of the lucky
if the old syncopation laces the air
between you and another.
Some search like Magellan,
go out for milk
and are gone for eleven years.
Some cannot be apart for more than a day,
aching for the four in the two-four beat.
For some the lacing comes undone,
the harmony morphs
in the alchemy of time.
But always the first scar
aches to be soothed.
In the end, when the torn music plays,
one pastes a cobbled vision
onto the inevitable oblivion
and all the water goes back to the sea.


We could only cross with permission,
what the priests called the barricade of leaves,
the row of wind-shook poplars
that separated ours from the girls’ school.
Rules said we could only touch hands
once a month at school dances.
If I could go just once more,
know then what the journey would teach
how pointless the pain is.
Like penguins on hidden wheels,
the nuns patrolled the gym dance-floor,
wiggled yard-sticks between our bodies,
whispered ‘make room for the Holy Ghost’.
But that spirit long ago
drifted away from me.
I remember how the girls
stunned me like the sun,
the way their thighs bloomed,
school uniforms hiked-up on the bus home
how their eyes caught me staring,
teased as if they knew
what I said at confession.
It took years to burn the stick of shame
the priests swung to beat
the demon out of us.
I shouldn’t have been scared,
should’ve begun the lessons then,
played with our breath-clouds
at the frozen bus-stop
when she asked
in the warm song of her voice,
learned then to open the cage of stars.


Along the way you find someone
who hears the voice inside your head,
who sees your eyes in the dark
and all the forest there.
She’d wait until night,
when the sky would open
and we’d slide down hushed streets
to a howling ocean of voices,
a kissing sky.
I can still hear the creaking nights
on that single frame bed,
the rain splashing the window
to the steady rhythm of breaths.
A cloud of skin smoke
draped that island of touch,
that short time bundled
in whispered ribbons.
I hold that handful of autumn days,
and hope they are in your history book,
the times we walked the beach at Kits,
your charging soldier’s stride,
your shocking lips.
In these thinning times,
I look to rub my cheeks
in all your soft places
and dull the ache of the old tyrannies.

Mark Burke’s work has appeared or is forthcoming in the North American Review, Beloit Poetry Journal, Sugar House Review, Nimrod International Journal and others. His work has recently been nominated for a Pushcart prize.  Please see: