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    Room 61 • Poetry Hotel 

Four Poems / Bill Burns



Just me

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…

slowly, slowly,


ease the clear glass jar over busy worker

then down

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.




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! 





would drink

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

and praise…

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.


About the Author

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). 

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