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Jeff Burt

The Palm Trees Sway

The Root Endures, a Poem from Home

Hear the Sirens


The Palm Trees Sway

End of,
epoch over,
overcooked era,
alphabet generations,
decade done,
boom went the babies
and kept on booming,
kept on buzzing
like bullets in Beirut,
like all history
coded and colored
by war, by death
in magnitude, fights
over who was worse,
Stalin, Pol Pot,
forty years of sustained
violence facet of faith
on facet of faith in the name
of Allah while God-Christians
split like radiated atoms,
oil pumped out,
hatred pumped in,
and this morning a wind
ferocious bending branches
beyond agility,
except for the palms
that bend but never break,
never, and the same fear
of the wind breaks
my concentration, fear
enters with a rush
like the wind
when I open the door,
fear floods my face
like war, perpetuated,
we will always be
at war, end
on the uncatchable horizon
that dawn produces
and night conceals.
A war ends
when another starts.

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The Root Endures, a Poem from Home

We were collegiate court jesters
juggling the putrid fruits
            of a kingdom gone to greed,
not the priests of a purifying politic
free of polemic.  I have no remorse.

Amid our middle-class neighbors
housed in coffins of quiet
            and lull stilled by specters
of money and phantoms of power,
we were wolves in the rough,

we spoke from the throat
and thought the mind and viscera
            were housed lower than the tongue
and higher than the heart.
We howled.

We thought nothing could keep us silent. 
Our lips were warlords
            of promise, we were wanderlusts,
gusty and new, we were the myth,
our lives were belief,

speaking and speaking loudly
the only truths.
            But in years the trumpet
of my voice died, the throat
became parched ground

when the lake of my heart went dry. 
It was so easy to think that we owned
            not one square inch of the earth
and yet the hard daily drag of my feet
told me I had been allotted

a small plot and my lungs
owned a portion of air
            in which to find a peaceful place
to work out my life,
to live out my work.

I was not brave enough
to be a major martyr,
            or not brave for a long enough time,
and the severity of my character
served only in a negative way,

in insolent but quiet abnegation,
in what I could refuse to do.
            My integrity stood rich, my fortitude poor.
Though the radical in me still longs
for the killing prison,

the guerrilla in me has long since waned. 
In another country perhaps.
            Unable to change the fabric of the nation
I have been able to save wetlands and marsh,
planted three thousand pine and cedar,

and taught a willing few how to read.
I have not moved any mountains
            or been more than a daisy in a chain
of flowers against the nuclear powers,
easily unlinked,

nor been diligent at lowering wealth
to higher worth.
            It is true the frontiers the heart
and mind had established
the mouths and hands and feet

will never reach, the rivers
they will never ford,
            and it is true no grand symphonies
proceed from my lips,
for my songs are only poems

short and occasional.
But late at night on the rug
            with my wife and children,
the spare words and humble rhymes
have a majesty and meaning

we never could have known,
and in these words I conserve the land,
            the inheritance of democracy
free from probate and tax,
lives led by the pristine chorus

of concern and not the polluted cant
of chemical, cosmetic, and coin.
            The grand themes and high theory
have a smaller and later development,
for what I longed for at twenty-four

has begun to happen,
not the fusion nor revolution
            we sought ardently for, but an enhancement,
perhaps, of those themes, which,
once taken root, like ivy, persist.

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Hear the Sirens

I break the ice in the birdbath
                        as I leave for work, a quick smash
            in the center that detonates
the water like an underwater bomb,
                        first depressing, then rising at the rim

before a quick surge reclaims the hole
                        my fist had made. News of one more slain
            by a drunk driver who will wear
an ankle bracelet while the necklace of the dead
                        will be collected before the casket’s closed.

Five rows of sunlight stand like pillars
                        between the pines. Crows accumulate
            where raccoons have tracked.
Words accumulate and gather
                        under the surface of my tongue--

all morning, but I have not spoken.
                        When I return home
            two male robins
wing-wash among the ice floes.
                        Breath vaporizes, but fury does not sublimate.

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            What’s the use of rehab
when I don’t have a habitat
            when an itchy stranger
jumping from the same junk
            that put me in
will hand some out
            and when I come in
if I take the deal
            I can’t deal with it
and he kicks me out
            I don’t want a home
just a house
just a room
just a floor

            What’s the use of refabrication
when I don’t have the fabric
            unless refab
means tell a lie again
            I don’t want the truth
just a story
just a sentence
just a ruse

            What’s the use of treatment
the making of a new edition
            when I don’t remember the original
the suppressed mind to summons
            the drowned body to dredge up
the soul to be healed
            unless treatment
means to remediate
            to medicate
to cure
            like a smoked ham
in a small shack
            like tobacco leaves
hung high in a barn
            like weed
dried under stolen power
            I don’t want the treatment
just the treat
just the smoke
just the high

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Jeff Burt lives in Santa Cruz County, California, with his wife and a July abundance of plums. He has work in Spry, The Monarch Review, and won the 2017 Cold Mountain Review Poetry Prize.

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