Katherine Burger


You know the routine,
you do it well:
braising chops for lunch
raising the children to be self-reliant, clean.
Lending a hand, an ear, a shoulder
- whatever body part they need from you.
You’re gracious about it;
no complaints.
You make do with what you have:
the largesse or scant of each year’s crop
sealed into jars,
sprigged scraps of outgrown dresses
pieced into coverlets.

And yet.
You have a secret bag already packed.
Only the essentials:
knife, string, sturdy shoes - like that.
Keep it light enough
for the unknown miles ahead.
Stay alert to whatever downshift
in the wind tells you if it’s time.
Then - pick up the bag,
Leave now.
Take the children if you must
but they’ll be dead weights in the forest
and break your heart.
Better for all
to leave them at the sunny kitchen table,
the oilcloth familiar as your thumb,
drumming their bored heels
against the chairs’ rickety struts
until their exasperated father
cooks oatmeal, setting out the blue-rimmed bowls.
An angry cup of tea for him. Black.
He’ll figure it out soon enough
– you’re gone and won’t come back;
captive to the scent of northern pine
on the fickle breeze.
Captive yet free.

Rainy Season

The rainy season has begun;
Branches hold pear drops of rain
- will reconciliation come?

Are you right now in your grey house
Set back in yellow fields raked bare?
Is all that gentleness undone?
Are you not there - can I remember right?
Or did we dream each other, come
Between rough folds inside some rainy night?

I think that I should come to hate
Past bright and brittle days, the light
Then so insistent through the panes

     Better these impoverished trees, this hiding mist,
     The sodden meadows and the rains - a gentler fist.

Paying For Your Girlhood Sins

All night long you visit once again
the narrow halls of The Museum of Menstrual Cramps.
Your feet tap an anxiety rag
on the slick, ungiving fundamental fact
of the unseeable pain crinkling in your abdomen -
fireworks misfiring like God's judgement
into the crowd of spectators, pudgy as bread,
a hotdog suspended between each hand
and each astonished mouth, opened in a pantomime of "oh"
so wide the saints could all go marching in.

You turn a corner like a fugitive;
a stairwell lurches down another level.
You find a room whose lock and key
have rusted through from damp salt air
that seeped in from the sea confined below.
This room has not been opened since you put away
those childish things -
     a pile of Little Lulu comics tied with Xmas twine;
     your confirmation dress, its petals brown with age,
     - a bruised white rose;
     a peevish girl on a dishevelled bed,
     one thin wrist pressed against her fevered cheek
     while elephants on tightropes thud across her head.
A childhood playmate you had snubbed is there;
her blue eyes still brim up and spill.
Tear splat like stars on the dark concrete
         like rosettes of blood between your legs.
There is the boy who rimmed the inner furls of your left ear
with his deft tongue one Saturday during the matinee
and a secret chamber in your loins torqued open
like an avid flower straining for the rain.

A rainstorm broke one afternoon when you were ten.
The kids ran scattershot like bouncing peas
but little Jonnie Rivas spun round and round
in the amazing rain,
called "Olly olly oxen freeee"
in a voice so pure, so smash with happiness
that you knew this must be what love is like
and stood redlight redlight 1 2 3
while rain ran down your head, your neck, and to your toes
and washed away whatever sins you might have had.

Animal Tree

is our
to deck an
animal tree
at Christmas.
All winter also
and during those lean
of Spring and Autumn
we set out food -
salt lick for the deer
oats and sometimes hay
speckled seed for birds
squirrel bread, old fruit
and meat scraps for those larger
unseen animals who leave claw tracks
in the snow. At Christmas we descend
to the lower edge of the meadow
to a small pine. We fill its arms
with apples and hard biscuits, nuts
and loops of cranberries and popcorn
- odd fruit to blossom on a winter tree.
If there are scraps - a turkey carcass, bones -

About the Author

Although primarily a playwright and performer, Katherine has written poetry since childhood. Her poems have been published in Gargolye Magazine, and other, more ephemeral publications. She’s been a featured reader at The Medicine Show Theatre’s Word Play series, and at the Left Bank Bookstore. Her plays have had productions in Los Angeles, London, Paris, Berlin, and the Westport Country Playhouse in Westport Connecticut, as well as over Radio BBC. Katherine is a member of Ulster County’s Actors and Writers, and the BMI Lehman Engel Musical Theater Workshop. She’s also a visual artist: katherineburger.net.

(click here to close this window)