Michael Milburn

Michael Milburn

Ex Libris

For T.L., 1946–2017

As if indignant

at being viewed as dumb

after his habit of self-deprecation

led us take his poor-mouthing as truth,

he embarked upon a feat

of reading that perplexed

as much as it impressed—perplexed

for the books bored through

and impressed because

he’d really liked them.

Shirer, Gibbon, Macauley,

all of Francis Parkman

and Edel’s Henry James,

each enough to sate a speed reader’s summer,

and he wasn’t one,

he insisted with a laugh,

but a plodder to the end,

which came this week,

and set me trying to recall his puckish, boyish squint

and imagine where they went

and what they meant, those words, and was all that erudition

for effect or professional pride

(he was a poet after all) or rather the opposite

of a pompous fool’s—he had it

and made it look as if he hadn’t.

When his eyes closed

for the last time,

enough sentences had entered his brain

to fill it, I thought,

altering little,

just something he did for the doing,

like a caught bird freed,

no other plan than that.


Michael Milburn teaches English in New Haven, CT.