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Poems by Bill Burtis.


Praise for Liminal


Liminal, how aptly titled, this first book of poetry by Bill Burtis. Many, if not all of these eloquent poems occur at borders, open doorways, thresholds, boundaries, the confounding and holy places where we begin to leave something behind, without fully comprehending what we’re losing, and where we move ahead with no real certainty of what we’re going to find. In this gift of a book, the first poem is adamant that “It is in the nature of angels/not to show their wings.” And yet, over and over, the poet walks straight into mystery and returns, always changed, to tell us exactly who is wearing wings and why we are often blind to them, especially our own. Burtis looks straight at whatever life happens to be dishing out and the resulting poems are honest, articulate, and heartbreaking in their gentle acceptance of love and loss alike. “And falling, I remember—/flying, rising like the birds’ songs, / mounting without effort, those melodies/ up and out of the trees like light. . .”– ­­Mekeel McBride, author of Dogstar Delicatessen 



Virtually all the poems in this aptly titled collection act first to vividly evoke some specific place or occasion in the material world—the one Dr. Johnson famously kicked—and proceed to keenly measure the anguish and/or the pleasures of being there.  This is the world of real relationships, real children, real history, real joys and failures.  Here there are also real owls and bats and cayotes, along with real stands of sugar maple and pine groves, snowy mountains and woodland ponds.  Burtis’ sharp sensory evocations of this natural world can make you think of what it might be like to hike the wilderness with Gary Snyder. But always, at some point, these poems effectively ease you over that threshold beyond which looms the oneiric world of the imaginative, the speculative, the conjectural, and even the hallucinatory.  The world of what-if and if-only, the realm of existential pondering and deep interrogation of the self, the territory of nightmares of regret and visions of resolution, of both poignant dread and soothing hope.  Burtis’ poems always transport you to such a threshold, occasionally strand you there forlornly, but most often manage to make you feel you are about to learn to fly, and fill you with that rare joy that only real art can conjure.–Jim Crenner, author of Drinks at the Stand-Up Tragedy Club


“ good comes from telling bad stories” writes Bill Burtis in this luminous collection. Rest assured, you’ll find no bad stories here, for this is a masterwork of a master storyteller. Few poets are as comfortable in liminal space as Burtis. Fewer still are those who write from within that space with such precise and loving detail, where the scars of childhood, traces of ancestors, and mysteries of landscape all become sacramental. Follow Burtis into liminal space and you just may learn to read your life backward and understand, and read it forward with hope.– Bill Schulz, editor, The Hole-in-the-Head Review




The Nature of Angels


If there were an angel on the stairs

you would not move aside.


An angel on a bicycle

flickers like sunlight on wavelets.


An angel does not remember

where it came from, but longs to return.


The thought running along the edge

of your consciousness is a signal shard


of angel radio. You suppose 

you know no angels.


When you have wandered out of the storm, 

an angel is leaving.


It is in the nature of angels

not to show their wings.



All Off


The man in the middle of the street is crying.  

Even from this distance,

at which you cannot see the tears

you can see that his body has the warp

of someone who is crying. He is no less a man 

for this crying: see the scraps of life 

blowing around him and the way 

the sunlight trembles in the smoke.


His loss is imaginable to any of us 

who have seen him and this street before,

heard the sirens or radio crackle that are

its best explication. But we do not imagine 

this crying man’s tomorrow, the days 

and days, their crumpled hollowness.


That is left in the dust of the news cycle, the wheels

of the plane folding into its belly, the world moving onward

with the camera crew, removed with a touch

of the button on the remote: All off, all gone.


Dawn Comes to the All-Night Diner

for John Bowie


The man we think of here, face sallow,

dark in its depths from the shadow

cast by the low fedora’s brim,

raises a hand to his forehead, the dull

ache of the neon, endless cup of coffee.

Only it does come, preceded by shades 

of lilac, throwing its wash

across the dirty windows, making

the waitress yawn, the cook

look up from the sports and shift

against the stainless ice cream case.

And then everything is still again,

but in a white light.


A meager attempt. Hopper had these colors

absolutely. Truth is, Bowie, the place

might have been empty: you spent half your time

behind the camera in your attempt to record this—

or cartoon, slander and forget it.

I have no questions about that.


Someone enters, straddles a stool;

two more come in; the juke box wakes

and stretches the first notes of some lament.

This part is all Midwestern, the sun

making the truckers hungry; in the city, 

it’s hookers, subway people….


You leave. A steam whistle blows and you

jerk your head up, watching the white smoke

shooting against the blue sky just

out of sync with its music. Now you turn,

heavily, and begin to move off,

but toward the camera, left, growing

larger, largest just before you disappear.



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