James Clarke Burbank | 3 poems

photo (c) by James Clarke Burbank
My Brother and Mozart

my brother listens
to Mozart on the
porch and watches
mountains and clouds
he could be out
there forever lost
and found in the music and
silence blended into
all these changes he sees
I don’t like your
brother my father told
me many years ago
in confidence ashamed
hanging his head
He did not know
Mozart nor my brother’s
power to listen
once when the
alley kids threatened
my brother I faced
them down and stood up
to all their deadly taunts
so what if they
beat me up how could
they know how
my brother could hear
in between the spaces

photo (c) by James Clarke Burbank
The Water Machine 

In the Adams Pharmacy, Adams Hotel, on
June 20, 1916 Frank L. “Kroopie” Toombs
demonstrated to an amazed

and slack-jawed gathering
of Phoenix citizens the
first evaporative cooler with

aspen pads. A squat and
ruddy man with slits for
eyes and a short sloping
forehead, Kroopie Toombs had one ambition:
“Soon every roof in the
great Southwest will have
one of these here water
machines cranking away 
to keep everyone cool. I’ll be rich.”
A tiny tear appeared in
the corner of Kroopie’s improbably
tiny right eye.
If you are just beginning your
summer swamp cooler
maintenance, you have good
old Frank L. Kroopie Toombs
to thank for the hazardous journey
on which you are about to
embark. Of course, as every
wise swamper knows, cooler
maintenance is almost never
really done, never really
finished through the summer
months and on through the fading year.
Sooner or later, a hose will
pop, the float valve will
cease to function, a pillow
bearing in the whatchamacallit
will spew squirrel parts released
from their ever-rotating cage
throughout the living room,
swampwater-saturated squirrel
parts yearning to destroy
grandma’s leather couch.
There is wisdom here!
The cognitive dissonance
between supposed completion of
the annual swamp cooler restoration
ritual and the fact of cooler entropy
has ripped apart many a good swamper,
leaving him or her trembling between
abject defeat and ecstasy, hunkered
at the bottom of the ladder
surrounded by copper or plastic tubing,
compression nuts, aspen pads, and duct tape,
water spraying everywhere.
Ah, yes, time for yet the twentieth
excursion to Home Despot to
purchase yet another pump, yet
another fan belt, yet another
spider distributor kit.

So persistent, so infused in the
biochemistry of every swamp cooler
devotee, the call of the wounded cooler will sound
through the bones even in winter months.
If you see me up on my roof at
work on the swamps,
on the complex system of tubes and ducts in
the bleakest of snow storms,
wielding my wire brush,
and screaming curses and benedictions to
the ghost of Kroopie Toombs,

do not interfere or call me down
from my slippery and icy perch.
This endless swamp cooler maintenance
is as close to deity as a human is allowed to get.

photo (c) by James Clarke Burbank
By Corrales drain where
sky enters water
and tinged by the scent
of clouds the air blue
and fallen back
to earth as rain

photo (c) by Dee Cohen

Biography of a Disappointed Bete Noire: 

North Valley Poet, Photographer, Curmudgeon, James “jimbu” Burbank

I have suddenly come to the realization that my capacity for becoming a bete noire diminishes with every fading year. I weep. I am indeed edging toward eminence grise, but I’m over the hill I guess for bete noire.

Damn. I’ve always wanted to growl, and be respected for it. My growls might shake the world to its very core and set old men and young kids trembling in fear, I thought. But then along came the word “curmudgeon” that stuck itself to my gnarled and wizened form like a sign.

Damn. I wanted to be a bete noire and ended up a bad-tempered, cantankerous old crank grumbling about the meaning of life over in the corner somewhere.

Not a bad exchange, I’d say, trading bete noire for curmudgeon. At least I’m good at being difficult. You’ve got to know what’s important in life, and being good at something, anything really, that is crucial, my friends.



4 thoughts on “James Clarke Burbank | 3 poems

  1. Fabulous way to start this January day! It’s cold out there but now I’m dreaming of Americo Chavez saving me from non-communicative floaters and instead of listening to the droning of woeful thought I hear beautiful music.


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