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Michael Milburn

Shelter in Place, 2020


This would have

been mid-March,

just as we realized

we didn’t walk well together,


me striding ahead

for calories burned

while she scanned

puddles for frogs,


and once, I couldn’t believe it,

sat on one of the iron benches

to just, apparently, be.

That’s when she saw them,


shell to shell along a log,

bodies retracted

to look like bark or moss

or round stones


a kid placed there

or a giant his coins.

She called me back

with a glint in her voice


of knowing I’d glance, grunt,

and as if late for something

start to edge away,

but this time I lingered


to see if the shut-ins

would stir. None did.

It was still early days.

Everyone was safe at home.



The Medium

after David Jackson

This poem isn’t mine.

­ –James Merrill


I met him at a reading Merrill gave alongside

the actor Peter Hooten,


the younger lover

who’d supplanted him

and now voiced spirits


at performances

of Merrill’s Ouija board epic

on which Jackson


had shared séance duty

but neither authorship nor fame,

the latter poison

between writers,

one prolific, then popular, the other unpublished, then blocked.


Merrill introduced him

after being introduced—

“And this is David Jackson,”

as in “The Honorable So-and-So and wife,”

the wife a bored-seeming,

ravaged, Waspy-looking guy, dashing in old photos,

now pure entourage,


unlike Hooten,

fit, loud, confident,

declaiming lines


the dead had spoken

through the teacup-tracing

hand of Jackson


as Merrill transcribed,

begging the question

of whether he faked it


for love or poetry or getting as close

as he could to both.


Wisdom


1.

Parents embody it best, though less in the sense of knowing anything extra than what gets one through.


2.

My father followed his

with a suit yourself sniff

like the saved resort to.


Dad and religion— you gotta love

their conviction.


3.

Sages don’t have answers so much as say them well, which is what cults

come down to, too.


4.

As to whether one accrues it just by living,

it’s more that you’ve run your experiment

longer and with more mice


than the other guy, which doesn’t make ignorant instinct any less profound.



The Arborist


He can tell by looking which limb

will fall or


trunk cleave

more than it

already has,

which trees


a gale like

last month’s

might bend

to the point


of roots rising

up from earth as the mast lies down

in its bed of branches.


He diagnoses

my entire yard

using knowledge

that experience


bores inside us,

acquired by all

who go around

appraising houses,


bodies, weather,