“My kin,” poetry by Noah Burton

Noah Burton was born in Kansas, grew up in Virginia, and now lives in New Hampshire. His poems have appeared in the PEN America Poetry Series, Yes Poetry, Paperbag, among others. He is a recipient of the 2015 Dick Shea Memorial Prize in Poetry judged by Tanya Larkin. His forthcoming book, Look Out Animal (Vegetarian Alcoholic Press), is due out in June. More at www.noahburton.com. (Photo by Tristan Labrie)


A goblet of water is tossed
and the gas station lawn washes its blades.

Happiness lays down a cobble stone.
Contentment lays down a cobble stone.
The turtle lays down in its shell.

Nothing ends to look back.
Standing in line with a moon in my pocket,

I exchange it for a jack set of stars
At the Kiosk with the woman holding a pair of pliers.

The beginning drops over me.
Between Church’s chicken and my home:

The smoke is a cob web. The crawling is behind.
For whom are you weeping? My pockets ask my hands.

The bright light on the bay from the rig?
The sprays of rain over the heads

of lotus plants along the sheep pasture?
This earth which has to be so bright

that it hurts us, makes us shrivel,
and swallow, and breath slower in its heat.

“My kin”

Shuffled coupons in her pocket book
and the pewter ice pick charm
soft digging into her wrist veins.
Doves link together on the steel
wire outside the stain glass church
window of Washington crossing
the Delaware–“A bizarre thing,”
she would say, “to have
in a Catholic Church”. A bizarre
thing I think and think on a wooden
4×4 in the middle of the state park:
Why shouldn’t I want to find the vine
impulse at the center of the split oak?
Why shouldn’t I feed the index card dish?
And I am the wolf between a pair of pliers.
I turn to experience and experience,
it turns away. O fabled mist over
my singular sheet of flesh, thou art
dreams of many lives behind
electrical boxes and staring out
from incubators–green light to me
and white light to the rest, the watchers,
the keepers of joy and sorrow like gas
station attendants waving good-bye,
good-bye, to the band on tour
having just filled up and bought
nine Snicker bars and six Gatorades
and a rack of Miller Camo cans.
After the mart closes up at eight
and Phyllis counts the unsold newspapers
wraps the day old donuts for tomorrows
discount bin–after the wood has been
stacked for next winter, the tarp thrown over,
it is so boring really to be alone.


white tulips under the rifle
and the cherry fine
viginia cigarettes
logo on the wall.
Square from the wall
you sand a block.
In the sky over the mill
the sun sands a cloud.
What new things we
learn when we knock
our heads on the glass,
sock each other on the lips.

A foot and a half

The cable television soaks into the couch,
infomercials for blenders and political panels
like pink trout bait floating in a stagnant pond.
How fast will the snow go down and hide in the ground
like A&D moisturizer on fresh ink? If all my past
is a mistake the season lays on me
as a stirrup shoveled in sleet outside a burning saloon,
I’ll call it perfection. Just beyond the trees there
are more trees, blue haze, flurries of helicopters
and dripped wax of comet light. This is nothing to tell you.
There is no one to tell to. Save for the tiny
patch of vegetables, the bird feeder, bare now–
an off season hotel under an avalanching slope–
and my hair that I, one assured morning, chopped
off and buried and did not dig it up.

“Two minds.”/ “But you must be one.”


A pastor appears behind the mill
and the green pond half freezes.
The little hydrants in streetlight,
whirling quietly under their lids.
With white vapors a plane is a brief
ornament tinseled on the peak of a pine.


I suddenly feel this happiness returning home
to friends painting by the fire in rare tact.
So, I can always be destroyed. If not by the lamps
going out then by the burn of such wicks.
I can always be destroyed. Opening my heart
I place inside it two small thimbles–a mouse in one
and in the other a monopoly column of salt.