Room 61 • Poetry Hotel
Four Poems / Bill Burns
and maybe one or two of my sisters
running through dew damp lawns
of neighbors gone.
Each of us
or just me
carefully holding the clean washed
Best Foods mayonnaise jar
label washed off…not even a speck of paper left…
with nail holes punched in the top for air
to keep our catch alive.
Jar in one hand
lid in the other
running carefully on tiptoes
no need to scare them…
don’t break the glass…
do not disturb too much
the other creatures there.
We just want to catch one
and see up close
those things that sometimes stung
and where their stingers were
and what other weapons they possessed
that violated our summer skin.
You see one…
sneak up close…
ease the clear glass jar over busy worker
capturing the creature
who seems to help by flying up to glass.
Quickly we cap the jar and take our treasure home
to do our real work,
but first we sneak in bits
of ripped up grass
to ease the subject’s brief hiatus in our glass.
BUS HOME FROM CAMPBELL HIGH 1958
On an early summer afternoon
as if propelled by screams of teens inside
the school bus bolts down Bascom Avenue
pouring out raucous kids at several stops
on two land orchard roads:
Williams, Moorpark, Freestone and Fruitdale.
Kids squirm, baking in the heat of summer sun.
They look out of the windows and see ripened fruit,
smell its sweet scent and scream: "Cherries are ripe!"
At the next stop they flutter out -
ravenous birds of prey descend on unsuspecting trees.
They attack - climbing, grabbing picking, gorging, stuffing
cherry after cherry into mouths that cannot get enough.
Sometimes clutching three and four at a time
they yank, then stuff, lips red, tongues cherry black,
stopping only to spit out pits,
and then resuming their feeding frenzy.
Suddenly, sprinklers attack.
Someone shouts "Go".
Kids drop from trees to grab mud-spattered books
from the soft soil where they were abandoned.
It's a long walk home, but no one notices
as they laugh and jab, scrambling down the dusty roads -
dreaming of summer afternoons
of no more school.
Not one who tasted agony at Troy
Questioned the pride that brought me to my knees.
We suffered, all as one, without a cry;
And even when the gods ignored our pleas,
We carried on the fight alone. We warred
As men--as Greeks, ate Trojan dirt, and paid
With blood the ransom for our honor. Gored
But glorious, we staggered then to ships, made
As we could the journey back to Greece, and shared
The one brief hour we'd fought ten years to win.
No one who knew Troy wondered why I dared
To taunt the gods. Give me that day again!
Give me a hundred purple paths to try
For but one Troy and I will stride them all.
My bloody sandals thrashing to the cry
Of women, I will sneer at heaven, call
Upon the gods, and damn them in my yell.
I asked a moment's glory, nothing more,
As payment for those ten long years of hell.
Instead, I found my wife a faithless whore,
Who with her lover had prepared for me
A bloodbath--my reward for victory!
whatever booze was in the house.
Then…he’d quote his own version of famous poems
and tell long drawn out jokes
more often than not forgetting or mixing punch lines.
But he still won us
with his Irish twinkling smile
that wink and grin that forced us
somehow to forgive him.
He was always seeking forgiveness
or at least some warm acceptance.
He seemed a boarder in his body
and as a boarder
he felt lucky just to be there.
We were the ones who had to pay the rent.
Bill Burns used his Teacher Corps experience, 1967-1968 teaching inner-city youth in Indianapolis, Indiana to earn a job with San Mateo County
Office of Education (CA) in 1969 helping non-graduates attain GED equivalency certificates. After five years of teaching he became the coordinator of
the Career Preparation Center helping at- risk youth get their GED and find jobs. In 1982 he worked with education and probation departments to create
the county’s first Community Schools Program for wards of the court. In 1997 he was hired by Project READ of the Redwood City Library and
became a part-time jail instructor teaching parenting skills and a poetry writing course to the men and women in the county’s jails where he continues
his teaching while still finding time for writing poetry, baseball, and family gatherings with his wife, Peggy, their five children and mates, and seven
grandchildren. Bill is a resident of the San Francisco peninsula.
Acknowledgements: “Agamemnon” previously appeared in Reed Magazine (1966).