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Sample Poems by Betsy Holleman Burke


When both were gone
mice took over, scurried
in the walls, under
cabinets, became trapped
in the high, slippery tub.

Vandals helped
themselves to a pedestal sink,
cedar closets, wooden
bar cabinets with glass panes,
rusted air conditioners
shoved from bedroom windows
stripped of copper parts
to fatten the drain pipe haul.

Plywood covers entry doors,
living room windows. Broken
glass litters the ground, basement
screens torn apart by someone
running from the copperhead
nesting in the laundry room.

Making a Wish

Mother presides
incandescent this birthday
night, wearing
the Lily dress
I bought to match
her blue eyes.

White candles flicker
in silver candelabra
burnishing the birds
in the Chinese wallpaper
mother of pearl flowers
in the lacquered screen

the polished table, white
linen mats, napkins
engraved goblets, Minton
china plates. We share
salmon, salad, sublime
lemon cake, sing

the familiar song
again and again
as her breath flutters
the candle flames.
She smiles and shakes
her silver hair.

We laugh, blow
all together, whisper
a wish. Don't worry
we say, by this time
next year you'll be
dancing again.

Tiny Things
Oriental rugs, sterling trays
Minton china, Victorian
furniture move into storage.

All that remains are little things
items she loved most of all
purchased on travels everywhere

every state, every continent,
twice around the entire world.
Souvenirs fit into shadows

of a wall shelf, jade and ivory
elephants, Cloisonne vases,
hummingbirds, laughing fat Buddhas,

wooden wildebeests, African
medicine man, only one arm.

Bird Life

The male cardinal flies into my window over and over. He launches himself from the dead hydrangea flowers, beats his wings on the glass. He practices for mating season, besting male rivals for a choice brown female. Dozens of birds live in my garden, feed on berries and thistles. This week a strange cat showed up, sneaking around the rosemary. Now no sign of cardinal. We know cats hunt at night, kill birds by the billions. The number is shocking. Silence greets us in the woods near the Potomac. The trees are empty of birds. Growing up, feral cat Thomas lived under our porch, surprising us with a litter. My father put the kittens into a bag, dropped it off a bridge. He said, It was the right thing to do. Birds were disappearing. My grandmother loved to watch them feeding on the purple figs. She sat for hours in the sunroom. Our first floor bathroom was through her bedroom. No privacy for her. Once we saw her getting dressed wearing something called teddies. It is hard to live in a house one bedroom short. She loved us. There is no such thing as indignity.

Grandfather Clock

It is important to ignore Birdseye directions: do not offer frozen, boil until soft. Smelly, hard Brussels sprout balls roll onto plates. Slip across floor. Fly over Formica table. Pummel Michael in high chair. Chaos. Oldest of four, take drastic action: distract sitter, spit sprouts into napkin, hide in grandfather clock. Perfect for months. Compliments on clean-plate club, good manners. My brothers should copy me. Alas, clock stops striking. Mother opens its door. Faints at smell. Family gathers in hall, watches. Ruined linen napkins. Soggy paper towels. Lump after rotten lump emerges. My grandmother screams.