Featured Poet: Bill Burtis, Lee
Bill Burtis is a Boston native who spent high school years in Connecticut, where he published his first poem in the (long defunct) Hartford Times in 1964. He became seriously interested in poetry while studying with James Crenner at Hobart College in Geneva, NY, in the late '60s, and attended the Iowa Writers Workshop from 1971 to 1973, where he studied with Marvin Bell, Albert Goldbarth, Anselm Hollo, Norman Dubie, and his adviser, Donald Justice. He moved to New Hampshire in 1975 and taught writing in a number of venues, including the University of New Hampshire, where he worked as a writer and editor until 1987. He has published poems in several literary magazines and journals, most notably The Paris Review, Chelsea, Sou'wester, and The Seneca Review and in a chapbook, Villains, from L'Epervier Press (1976, out of print). He is currently working on (and girding to send out poems from) three manuscripts of poems at his home on the Lamprey River, where he continues his most fruitful endeavor, attempting to parent three children, only one of whom is still "at home."
I was about to reprimand my daughter - my first, now 22 - for doing nothing more than being a child - making noise, some joyful mess, demanding attention I wanted to place elsewhere - when I realized that my inclination, like so many gestures, mannerisms, figures of speech, was a part of the emotional repertoire I'd inherited from my father, a good man raised in a troubled family. I froze, completely uncertain about what the next moment should hold, and saw a vapor of skin, like a snake skin found in spring in the woodshed, rise off me and vanish. I don't remember what I did next, exactly; sometime later, I wrote this poem.
The man, standing before a bench
in the small town park,
clasps the handle
of a stroller where his son
is about to begin crying.
Ribbons of sunlight cross the damp grass,
snake up the trunks of maples
along the blue, stone-dust paths.
One touches the man’s leg
but he cannot move, afraid
of what his hands will do, his heart.
At night now he hears things flying
in the woods, tries to answer the questions
their wings seem to ask, then dreams
of falling, landing in a pile
of shirts his father wore
away on business.
If he is lucky, his skin
will rise off him like a shroud,
revealing the punctured flesh,
leaving the boy facing the boy
and bargaining in prayer
that he not take too much,
not ask too little, nor leave too soon.