Two Poems By Stephen Burt

by Mark Bibbins, Editor

Belmont Overture (Poem of Eight A.M.)

It’s about settling down and settling in
and trying not to settle for,

about three miles from the urban core,
where the not-quite-wild bald turkey, looking so lost

and inquisitive next to the stop for the 74,
peers into the roseless rosebush, up at the pointless oar

hung above one townhouse’s swept steps, and the U.S.
and floral and nautical flags flaunt their calm semaphore.

Walking past them, today, with our stroller, we note as we pass
the wreath of real twigs on our next-door neighbor’s door

and beside it another, not sold in any store,
made of pipecleaners and plastic oak leaves. It looks like a nest,

something Nathan could put together, with the rest
of his preschool class.

When we go out, we have learned to bring sunscreen,
and insect repellent, and pretzel sticks, and Aquafor,

in case all the shrubs scratch the kids. We mean
it when we say we like it; we feel sure

it’s a safe place, and once we feel safe, it’s our nature
to say we’re unsatisfied, and pretend to seek more.

Kendall Square in the Rain

What we can’t say openly
we say in poetry,

speaking about another as myself.

Who has the right
to say who has the right?

Where else but in the negative
space of the empty de facto amphitheater,
the shade of the pre-stressed concrete or the shadow
of the Hatch Shell, shall I go
to register a complaint?

Speak to the flat grass, Midas,
about your ass’s ears,
about your wish to embarrass
your friends with a ribbon and bow.

Speak out against self-pity
during the playground games,
bouncing a loud rubber ball. See how that goes.

You could have been the king, and now you are.

There is a promise in compromise,
and two I’s in disguise,
and a series of curtains the downpour pulls up
over the flat black grates
that keep the water from clambering into the building,
the building where you might work; they protect it from floods,
precipitation hammering childish channels
into the packed-down flotsam, the wadded-up
mud like forgetfulness, driving the new twigs home.

Stephen Burt is Professor of English at Harvard. Belmont, his latest book of poems, is just out from Graywolf; he’s also the author, most recently, of The Art of the Sonnet, with David Mikics (Harvard UP, 2010), and Why I Am Not a Toddler and Other Poems by Cooper Bennett Burt (Rain Taxi Editions, 2011).

Well of course we have more poems, we would be much of a Poetry Section without them. Here they are! You may contact the editor at