The current Census operation is wrapping up quickly (good thing, too, according to the numerous citizens who have been contacted in person or by phone four and five times now — at least according to them). And I am busy keeping up with the influx of work to correct (nope, not a teacher any more: make that — “check over and pass along”). So I searched for a poem to present, discovering in the process that although I have used stuff from the Bicentennial Year liberally in this space already (try a search on “1976” to see for yourself), not everything in that creatively fruitful era was good. And I may just do a post soon on that subject  — bad poems from a time of evident inspiration. So here is one from the next year, my first in Jackson County, before I had even begun to teach (I think, although August 29 is pretty late for school not to have started, even 33 years ago).

I have a notation attached to this poem to tell me that, the best I knew at one time, this was the first poem I wrote in my new home in Maquoketa, after the unpleasant staff reduction sent me packing from Ft. Madison. Although I had a girlfriend at the time, the Coe College student (who would dump me in just a few more months, on my birthday ironically/appropriately after just over a year together), you would probably not know that from this sour/savage bit of  “advice.” Perhaps the signs of the approaching split were unconsciously apparent even to me, unadmitted.

On the other hand, I know I felt I still needed to take lessons from my job loss, as well.


A truly inappropriate knife, but this is more or less the model I carry, as I have done for almost forty years. I think I am on my fifth…

Arrowhead, bayonet, dagger, knot.

The knives of nature are double-edged

and keen: don’t force them; cut only

easy and without effort — time stabs

slashes and bruises you enough, shaves enough

blood in its quick unspoken passes. Don’t

reach for life’s thin knives as they slice

past at you, lest you lose your fingers or

your hand, lest a thoughtless point

pierce your eye and spill your brain.

Blood is ink: preserve it for the songs

your love will have to write; don’t waste

it on yourself — let others bleed for you.

Love carefully, for love’s a rare sword,

razoredged, hiltless, with two points.

It’s awkward to handle; better to thrust

it from you (don’t hug its steel), and love

will spinning like a star return to you

to spit your heart. Fear not,

for love allots you little enough.

You can know nothing only remember that;

so lose cheerfully, and sever everything —

such cutting unites. Discover that sword dance.

A book’s a blade, like love, cuts

you as well as others: words reveal

and conceal pain as bright as steel

infects the air and laughs as ice.

Speak foolishly only, you have

no other choice. Words pass out, severed

breath, to cut you tomorrow. Remember,

nature’s knives all burning turn

and take your blood. Recognize them.

Possibly the first poem in the new house on Emma Court in Maquoketa

29 August 1977

I donʼt really think thereʼs anything too hard here. The imagery of knives had me fascinated (check back on “Freyaʼs Steel” about that), although I think it fits here.

And I donʼt know if it works as one big stanza or if I should break it up. If I were to do so, the breaks would probably come before “Blood is ink” and “You can know nothing only.” But I donʼt know if those phrases or the sentences theyʼre in deserve that much attention (that they would receive if they began stanzas).

Oh, yes. I stole my street for a character in “Mantorville,” didnʼt I? Emma Court always made a fascinating fantasy beloved for my imagination and may have been one reason that I liked that schmaltzy Christopher Reeve/Jane Seymour time-travel, love-story movie. (Yeah, I knew the name, but I liked my temporary description too much to drop it.) A pity Emmaʼs not playing that romantic role in the story.

©2010 John Randolph Burrow, Magickal Monkey Enterprises, Ltd, S.A.

One thought on “Advice

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