By Tracy Ryan
|Andrew Burke (left) in 2008, with Tracy & John|
in memory of Andrew Burke
Frank: you were always that.
I’ll even admit things treasured but
never shared: the way my late ex-
husband nicknamed you Balzac
and it stuck till I almost said it
to your face, not because
you were prolific, though you were,
but for the half-walrus moustache
you had back then, & the nineteenth-
century boho longhair look,
though it was poetry, not prose, for you.
Now: the day I think we first really met:
Three teetotal poets out on a fortnight’s
well-paid country tour of schools, dodging
teacher happy-hours, though you’d
always sit over lemonade in a pub,
letting the dark side down,
trashing the writerly reputation.
Collecting me at Midland station, you
laughingly noted your then-wife had
asked around about us beforehand
(me & E.)
& been reassured I was pregnant
& E. was over sixty —
let’s not even gloss it.
But it was never like that.
On the wild drive through the Mid-West you played
track after track from your full set of The Poet Speaks,
E. upset & sullen in the back seat saying turn it down,
Plath is just not poetry; me, not long turned twenty-six,
wanting those poems blaring on repeat. Yee-ha.
You telling me off for over-and-over loud
Sinéad O’Connor on the hotel jukebox,
rooms damp and the tea-kettle full of ants,
asking nonetheless to read the MS
of my first book, and I let you, frail self
you slashed through with that rhythmic biro
till I heard jazz not mine, & arrogant, took on none of it.
But what I did learn from you: it mattered —
the way you wrote all detail, each day of the journey,
into your poetry, reprocessed every minute,
poems a mode of living,