Short poem: ‘Loss’

Which is the worst –
Is it the loss, or memory of loss,
Or loss of memory? Who gives a toss
When the brain’s banks have burst
And all we valued yesterday
Is washed away?


The above is a short poem, semi-formal (i.e. it’s in iambics, it rhymes, but it lacks formal structure) published in this month’s Snakeskin No. 298. I like semi-formal because it allows natural expression in a way that formal structure often prevents. Contrast these examples from Matthew Arnold of the formal (from The Scholar-Gipsy) and semi-formal (from A Summer Night):

Thee at the ferry Oxford riders blithe,
Returning home on summer-nights, have met
Crossing the stripling Thames at Bab-lock-hithe,
Trailing in the cool stream thy fingers wet…

The inversions of adjectives and phrases were used to fit rhyme and metre to line length. Drop the line length requirements and, even retaining the “thee”s and “thou”s, the expression is more naturally conversational:

And the rest, a few,
Escape their prison and depart
On the wide ocean of life anew.
There the freed prisoner, where’er his heart
Listeth will sail…

Poor Matthew Arnold! With his father a famous Headmaster and himself an Inspector of Schools, there is a sad irony in so much of his poetry being about escaping the tedium of regimented Victorian life.

Photo: “Müllhaufen Villa V R s 1000 s” by rosalux-stiftung is licensed under CC BY 2.0.


2 thoughts on “Short poem: ‘Loss’

  1. Michael Burch

    Robin, I like your poem and would be glad to publish it when it is no longer current at Snakeskin, if you care to submit it at that time.

    When I think of Matthew Arnold, I first think of his magnificent “Dover Beach,” a masterpiece that may have been the first great poem of what we now call Modernism. I then think of him giving up poetry when he could no longer “create joy.”

    Your poem reminds me of these poems and translations of mine about loss (a frequent subject in my work). Please don’t feel obligated to read them if you don’t have the time or inclination.

    Speechless at Auschwitz
    by Ko Un
    loose translation/interpretation by Michael R. Burch

    At Auschwitz
    piles of glasses
    mountains of shoes
    returning, we stared out different windows.


    Ko Un was speechless at Auschwitz.
    Someday, when it’s too late,
    will we be speechless at Gaza?
    —Michael R. Burch


    by Michael R. Burch

    It is the nature of loveliness to vanish
    as butterfly wings, batting against nothingness
    seek transcendence …


    How Long the Night
    anonymous Middle English poem, circa early 13th century AD
    loose translation/interpretation by Michael R. Burch

    It is pleasant, indeed, while the summer lasts
    with the mild pheasants’ song …
    but now I feel the northern wind’s blast—
    its severe weather strong.
    Alas! Alas! This night seems so long!
    And I, because of my momentous wrong,
    now grieve, mourn and fast.


    The Effects of Memory
    by Michael R. Burch

    A black ringlet
    curls to lie
    at the nape of her neck,
    glistening with sweat
    in the evaporate moonlight …
    This is what I remember
    now that I cannot forget.

    And tonight,
    if I have forgotten her name,
    I remember:
    rigid wire and white lace
    half-impressed in her flesh …
    our soft cries, like regret,

    … the enameled white clips
    of her bra strap
    still inscribe dimpled marks
    that my kisses erase …
    now that I have forgotten her face.


    For All That I Remembered
    by Michael R. Burch

    For all that I remembered, I forgot
    her name, her face, the reason that we loved …
    and yet I hold her close within my thought:
    I feel the burnished weight of auburn hair
    that fell across her face, the apricot
    clean scent of her shampoo, the way she glowed
    so palely in the moonlight, angel-wan.

    The memory of her gathers like a flood
    and bears me to that night, that only night,
    when she and I were one, and if I could …
    I’d reach to her this time and, smiling, brush
    the hair out of her eyes, and hold intact
    each feature, each impression. Love is such
    a threadbare sort of magic, it is gone
    before we recognize it. I would crush

    my lips to hers to hold their memory,
    if not more tightly, less elusively.


    What Goes Around, Comes
    by Michael R. Burch

    This is a poem about loss
    so why do you toss your dark hair—
    unaccountably glowing?

    How can you be sure of my heart
    when it’s beyond my own knowing?

    Or is it love’s pheromones you trust,
    my eyes magnetized by your bust
    and the mysterious alchemies of lust?

    Now I am truly lost!


    by michael r. burch


    Here “briefling” is a diminutive of “brief” and also a pun on “brief fling.”

    Liked by 1 person

    1. Robin Helweg-Larsen Post author

      Thanks for the kind comment – I’d love to see it in The HyperTexts!

      As for your own work: Excellent pieces there! I’m flagging several for possible future chapbooks (but you know the restrictions they face, so no guarantees!)

      Liked by 1 person


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