"Madman's Drum"

Alice Burdick

Alice Burdick is the author of four full-length poetry collections, Simple Master, Flutter, Holler, and Book of Short Sentences. A book of selected poems, Deportment: The Poetry of Alice Burdick, was published in 2018 by Wilfrid Laurier University Press. Her work has also appeared in many chapbooks, broadsides, folios, magazines, journals, and anthologies. She has been a judge for various awards, including the bpNichol Chapbook Award and the Latner Writers’ Trust Poetry Prize. She also visits elementary and high school English classes as a “Poet In Your Class” (through Poetry in Voice/les Voix de la Poésie) and has led workshops through the Writers Federation of Nova Scotia. She co-owns an independent bookstore in Lunenburg called Lexicon Books.


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"This poem responds to Madman's Drum: A Novel in Woodcuts by Lynd Ward (1930). My mother, a visual artist, had a first edition of this book, and I inherited it when she died in 1994. Ward's work has always been incredibly powerful to me, each woodcut print a poem, a story, and a feeling in itself."

     My treasures and my hopes are beyond

     the blue. Heaven’s door is ajar.
     Study in the fields with ghosts, curse
     the cursed choices of your lost precursor.

     Study under the lamp until smoke
     fills the room. The butterfly will sit still

     for you, as you pinned it, wings spread

     and unmoving. Get lost in the stern lyric.

     When a sphynx stares at you,
     your icons hit the floor,
     and you will curse your lost precursor.

     Follow the piper into fallen dead stars.

     The comet turns into an explosive bouquet,

     once it hits our earth eyeballs. I always
     let my bloomers air dry and enjoy handing

     you your top hat before hitting the town square.

     In his library, the drawn man hears the piper pipe,

     arms waving through rays of dusty light.
     If you organize the people, the owners
     will frame you and take you down.

     Have a heart for what goes down
     under a graduated sky. Be aware
     that your heart will be stabbed by propriety

     and the maintenance of property and capital.

     The scales of justice are on a pulley,

     weighted by accumulated lucre.
     There are few who remain,
     and you should curse your lost precursor.

     The golden man with shadows under his eyes

     has lured me to a tavern.
     But I want to be there. Sorrow
     has made me sultry, and sex saves.

     Immorality is a corsage
     pinned directly to my breast.
     It’s beautiful, courage,
     and I will curse my lost precursor.

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