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Beverly Burch

Night Rider

Incantation Against Arguing with God


Old Cat

Night Rider

Rough sleep, last night was. Like being taken
to the river, washed down. Remember:

beat of rain, a god with big hands ready.
It turned into a glass cockroach

then antique doll on a burning altar.
Why would be its own dream.

Why discovers nothing.
Once, as a child, I tore sheets off

searching for that terrible thing I dreamed.
Pile of ashes, flea market fool’s gold.

Every night, a dim likeness tries to alter you.
Every night, old story in a new dress.

Step back in the river. Let fresh wounds
open, finger fresh scars under smooth

flesh. Resist a new infusion of forgetting.
Fresh sheets, fresh sleep, sweet dreams.

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Incantation Against Arguing with God

I hungered for God to speak to me.
In terror I listened for His thundering voice,
his holy spotlight to blind me.
Feared he’d ask a severe price, like he asked
of Jonah, Isaiah, Paul.

Then I realized God doesn’t speak to women.
Even Mary got only the angel.
So I taunted God. You told the lie about
Adam’s rib! You made Egyptian babies die!

On and on to the present. Where are You when
fleeing children are swept into the sea, small mouths
opening and closing like frightened fish?
Sky rumbles. He lies back among cherubs, finally intones,
My waters wave blue arms to welcome them.
Hooded bombers lift flags of religion,
detonate people in Your name! Stupid talk.
I’ve told only a few My real name,
none an incendiary idiot.
He flaps a few clouds away.

I cry out, What’s the matter with Your heart?
Heart? You think I have any part
of a body? Have you ever looked at Me?
One day you too will be free
 of that big red wound. Free? You created it.
You want us to bleed!

Alas, not a celestial voice, only my words
crawling the screen. He speaks
to no one now and though he might appear
to turn toward us in the purple ether,
really He’s falling asleep. God, so old
and demented—O kinder to let Him sleep.

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Wind-lashed cypress point toward a narrow strip of headland
            jutting thirty feet above water, slick with wet grass,
somewhere we don't belong. But I brought my daughter

to get her close to the wild. Dusky cormorants,
           broad-winged Druids, reel and shriek
with ancient hunger. We spot big-bellied babies nested

on cliff walls, kneel to watch through a scope until our skin,
           red, itchy, complains. How could I be allergic,
my daughter asks, to ordinary grass? Adults swoop and hover,

heave fish-loaded beaks down youngsters’ throats.
            Now she’s revolted, runs back to the trees, recklessly climbs.
Delicate we are. Innate knowledge lost,

bodies unable to sync with earth. Well, air and water are beyond us.
            Down to fire, the sizzle in the brain. Unruly
as something wild. Shrewd primordial birds,

Phalocrocs—they survived the Pleistocene, learned their limits.
           My girl’s near a top branch and she turns, hoping someone—not me—
will call her, say she’s gone too far.

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Old Cat

Memory’s an old cat
            laying torn birds at my feet,
too feeble to slay them.

August flickers at the window
            and here she comes, the beast:
Sunday afternoon, mother, blurred pages

of the funny papers across her face.
            Is she asleep?
Is she alive?

No sound in the house, father nowhere.

I want to slam doors in every room.
            Now even the sudden emptiness
bears down like heat.

Walls shudder, somebody’s despair
            starts to reek. Oh, someone give
this thing a decent burial.

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Beverly Burch’s third poetry collection, Latter Days of Eve, won the John Ciardi Poetry Prize and will appear in 2019. Her first, Sweet to Burn, won a Lambda Literary Award and the Gival Poetry Prize. Her second, How a Mirage Works, was a finalist for the Audre Lorde Award. Poetry and fiction appear in Denver Quarterly, New England Review, Willow Springs, Salamander, Tinderbox, Mudlark, and Poetry Northwest.

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