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Derick Burleson

Derick Burleson's first book, Ejo: Poems, Rwanda 1991-94 won the Felix Pollak Prize in Poetry. His second, Never Night, published by Marick Press, is reviewed here. His poems have appeared in The Georgia Review, The Kenyon Review, The Paris Review and Poetry, among other journals. A recipient of a 1999 National Endowment for the Arts Fellowship in Poetry, Burleson teaches in the MFA program in Creative Writing at the University of Alaska-Fairbanks and lives in Two Rivers, Alaska.
Read our interview with Derick Burleson.
Selections below are from Derick's new collection of poetry, still in manuscript, Melt.

Heat. Sun hot on your skin

but the wind cool enough on

the skin not bound to the other’s

skin and the afternoon cumulus

rolling in with the smell of rain

before the rain comes thunder

ozone a flash from the friction

of cloud on cloud the synapses

firing the brain on fire flaming

to orange in the frontal lobe

the tongue in circles loosening

opening wind from within you

and lips forming the word oh

and oh and if the storm kept

on storming you couldn’t stand

it couldn’t stay within your body

but became the body of the other

storm and too much rain rivers

overflowing the willows into

the room and through the room

filling the house and sweeping

what you were before now

aloof inside your own skin

transparent to wind and willow

in wind leaf and sun rain

and the silence that comes after.





Rain. What came pouring out

of me wasn’t the garden wasn’t

the day. Wasn’t refusal. Wasn’t

sunset either showers building

in after heat soil and seed

convection. It wasn’t the garden

springing out of me in late May

wasn’t the peas’ emerging green

spears. Wasn’t the willing shower

falling nor the scent of wet loam.

Wasn’t carrots either twin scalpel

blades forcing up tiny seeds up

to sun through the crust the last

shower formed. Wasn’t seeds

nor breeze though one came up

after the rain. Maybe something

like passivity. Like the total

absorption of love’s terrors

and anticipations when you wake

in the night to hail banging

the metal roof. Wasn’t beauty

though beauty was there too

in broad leaves newly uncrumpled

pale photosynthesizing all the sun

they could and transmuting waves

to matter leaves like mainsails

and the future fruit radiating

messages from another shore.

But there was a moment of

transparency where nothingness

didn’t awe me where time turned

to no time breeze that shower sun

each seed already encoded with spiral

forms holding the end of the seed.

Sometimes I remember how you with

both hands on the back of my head

pulled my tongue into you and into

you until I was drowning stroking

toward a surface still too far away to

reach in time the rippled mirror

surface of a pond into which the day’s

thunderheads were infinitely descending

white curtains billowing inward in downdraft

lightning close and blue and inundation

coming but not yet not yet. Your cries in

the afternoon your cries at night after

waking you devoured me I drowned in

you we pulled each other into each

other spring then summer storms coming

you coming wet kisses I loved your smell.






Meanwhile the weather went from tropical to ice

and back again while species arrived and left thrived

and died mammoths camels red horses whole rainforests

buried rotted compressed by centuries into oil pumped

800 miles down the pipeline from Deadhorse to Valdez

across three mountain ranges loaded onto tankers which

mostly do not crash into Bligh Reef and spill their oil to kill

kill kill otters shearwaters puffins and deform the halibut

floated south fifty million gallons at a time refined into fuel

for all the boats and airplanes pickup trucks and snow

machines burned into gasses which rise to join other

bigger gasses from the all the burning elsewhere

trapping the sun to warm the air to melt the ice again

and so rainforest begets rainforest and new marshes form

to delight the muskrats new pools of melt water to mirror

the aurora all winter in south wind wavelets dancing

with desire glaciers longing for the still frozen days.





It was the rain coming into me

days of rain. I didn’t have any

choice rain on my bald head

days of steady rain and gray

and it flowed through my body

a creature made of mostly water.

I stumbled into the forest dripping

birch and spruce cottonwood rain

on my naked head wet boots wet

to my knees in the grass in alder.

Some early mornings like this you hope

to encounter a bear and for that

encounter to go badly enough your face

ends up dangling down your chest.

Days of rain nights of rain of the steady

dripping kind running down through bald

scalp into sloshing brain through chest

and into my spine through groin

through thighs knees out through

my feet. I sloshed in boots made full

through alder through grass alone

thinking I would always from this time

forward be alone in dripping spruce

birch grass to my knees and all the planet’s

water running through me through me.





In my afternoon nap dream

the mare broke into a gallop

we were bareback. The road

slid muddy and I tried to pull

her up sliding mud flying up

from her hooves but she could

not be held in by bit nor rein

at a full run now her gait sleeking

into pure speed. We’d both

run into the middle of our lives

and the gallop was a dream up

the muddy hill of the road.

I held my seat knees gripping

alongside her withers leaning

forward into wind reins tight

and her on the bit exploding

faster than she ever had

up the hill all out me clinging

to her like a seed in my dream

afternoon her running like

a mare can run only when

she knows the dream and hill.





It wasn’t the river coming into me

wasn’t the load of glacial silt the boils

of current the eddies shifting sandbars

driftwood gulls crying endlessly of want

the nested eagles’ bickering. Wasn’t salmon

either though I was there to catch them

brought my daughter there to catch them

the mountain itself concealed by cloud

then not on the exposed sandbar in a valley

the boundaries of which are disputed

by tribe and state. I held a net in the water

and hoped beyond hope a salmon would swim

in. It wasn’t the glacier grinding a mountain

to powder wasn’t the wind blowing mountain

into my eyes wasn’t clouds by a river

large enough to create its own weather.

My daughter and I held the net together

hoping. Many salmon passed upstream

just out of reach. Wasn’t the day shower

cloud the mountain emerging. Wasn’t

water almost glacier which would kill us

for sure sink us to the bottom clothes

loaded with powdered mountain if we

lost our footing on the slippery rocks.

Wasn’t the rocks themselves rounder

round each year with the river’s silt

polishing boulders stones pebbles sand.

We could see an eagle far across the river

see water swirling upstream in eddies

while the mass of water came down

rising in the afternoon with the sun

melting the glacier faster shattering

into maelstrom whirlpool current to sweep

us away seeking fish. One king salmon swam

upstream to spawn and into our current

stretched net. We pulled her together

to shore and gutted her there saving roe

for eating and to cure for bait. Her flesh

was oily delicious beyond the others orange

beyond orange and we ate her to the bone.





It begins with a glisten and then

it isn’t about language anymore

but about that place beyond which

words become moan and sigh

and sibilant shriek a loosening

a blossoming into July nasturtium

flame and flame and the circles

a tongue can make at the center

of a person belly deep and starved

for waves night ocean the tide

coming in. You know what current

it means to melt out of yourself

and into another. What it means

beyond language hidden until

now within the double helix

within the first word the child

learns book a blossoming back

into story into the thawed pond’s

mirror surface opening a self more

beautiful than yourself tide

coming in receding pools full

of tiny silver fish and mussel

shells sharp enough to cut

to the nerve iridescent in sun

circles within circles opening

the room into which you come.





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