Michelle Y. Burke


At Lake Erie, the sky collapsed
in snow. My headlights lit up
a miniature globe before me, a world
too small to navigate.

What does it mean when the only
signs we have of others
are the lights they send out?
I made it somewhere safely.

Or safely made it somewhere.
I can’t remember how. Who knows
what we pass unseen.


The sun drops behind the mountain
like a good orange yolk into a pan.

The final rays bounce off the frozen lake,
goldening our faces. A dozen adults,

a handful of children, we’re silenced
by the display. The lake, when frozen,

groans like a heifer left out in the cold.
The white edges of the ice rub up

against one another. Sometimes,
when the tension builds,

something hard and unseen gives way.
That’s when the lake bellows.

That’s when we find one another
in the rooms of our houses

and confirm for each other
that what we hear is only the lake.


My brother owns it now
though once it belonged
to our grandmother.
I took it from her, my brother
from me. It’s a good chair,
heavy wooden frame,
stripes with sailboats inside them,
comfortable slab of a cushion.
I remember reading Ovid
in Ohio in this chair.
I remember when the old couple
turned into trees,
leaves sprouting from them,
just enough time to say farewell.
From this chair I could see
the man in the apartment
across the alley
on nights he left his blinds up.
Sometimes he read too,
each of us alone
in our own orb of light.


Michelle Y. Burke is the author of the poetry chapbook Horse Loquela. Recent poems have appeared or are forthcoming in Poetry, The Laurel Review, and Parcel. She is a recipient of two Dorothy Sargent Rosenberg Poetry Prizes and fellowships from the MacDowell Colony and the Vermont Studio Center. She holds a Ph.D. from the University of Cincinnati and lives in Brooklyn.