May 2000

Deborah Burnham


Deborah Burnham Deborah Burnham's first book of poems, Anna and the Steel Mill, (Texas Tech, 1995) was the 1995 First-Book Winner in the TTUP Poetry Award Series. In addition, she has published poems in Virginia Quarterly Review, West Branch, Literary Review, and the Kansas Quarterly. She currently lives in Philadelphia.

Peaches    Audio is currently unavailable for this selection

The trees are barely eight feet tall; naked
in spring, they stretch limbs like a body
learning how to walk again, searching
for its balance in soaking heaps of leaves.

In spring, the limbs are wrapped in blossoms
which even literal eyes must see as snow,
unless, when you look at snow, you see an April
orchard from horizon to horizon.

The dying tree is full of peaches, dried
to the size of plums, but wrinkled
orange like the hard, deep, desert sunset.

Fragile, warmed by August, these ripe fruits
are like a baby's skull; we haven't held
an infant for ten years and grow clumsy
with these furred globes in our palms, wondering
if we've lost the tenderness that seemed so easy.



Refusing Anniversaries    Audio is currently unavailable for this selection

Old poems called anniversaries sent praise up
to dead saints, and yearly prayers for their souls' rest.
For you, who loved Lake Erie more than the land
that holds it, nothing could be more restful
than sailing in heavy air, your skin
rejoicing as waves thrum the wooden hull.
I almost never mourn the day you died,
never feel memory throbbing like a fresh
bruise. Instead, it's weather that brings out grief;
hail, thunder, or the dry south wind that makes
small boats think they can fly to Canada,
stretching their sails like ecstasy, like the gulls
whose chief joy is the wind that takes them
from Ohio north through the mounded clouds
swollen taut as sails.
    Here in Philadelphia
north leads not to an open field of water
but to shrunken forests; I still can mourn
anytime that wind shakes the rivers, breaking
the clear reflection of the sky; when I
must mark this anniversary, then
I will have truly lost you.



The Real Shape of Things    Audio is currently unavailable for this selection

We watch Orion wheeling through the sky, pricks
of light in the cold landscape of forgetting,
and wonder who decided that stars, drawn
by humans, should look like five triangles,
glued to a pentagon. Why not a spear
of flame, a disc with spines of light extruding
like a sea urchin?
Ah, look at the earth:
so many lovely things send five rays
out from a glowing center: the starfish
stretching its sinews on a rock, the brave
and foolish starflowers that rise from snow.




Deborah Burnham: Poetry
Copyright � 2000 The Cortland Review Issue 11The Cortland Review