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Michael Milburn

Summer of Protest


Sometimes a kid

crossing a street

is just a kid

crossing a street,


his fade haircut

just a haircut,

his gait just a gait,

no matter how jaunty,


his head bob,

cords coiling

out of his ears,

just a head bob.



a cowboy hat

is just a cowboy hat

and the driver wearing it


is just waiting,

not seething,

and indifference is neither

arrogance nor control.



Coming Out: A Letter


One learns over time

how an impression of ease

can hide evidence of effort,

giving a dashed-off look

to what is composed,

but next to which

the improvised looks sloppy.

He was going

for dashed off,

loath to frame

what he had to say

as some big declaration,

but the strain betrayed him                                                                      

like a gymnast’s tight smile

in two words lowered into a sentence

on the hooks of commas

that could as quickly

lift them back out,

the removal of an

independent clause entailing

no loss of sense, just meaning.


There had been a wife to tell,

grown children

before whom one cannot

glance over such information

any more than he could

sit me on a sofa and say it.

Only the breeziest of attitudes

that art is capable of rendering

would do

for what had been worked for

and thought through

and lived for

and through.



At Seventy


I remember when time and experience

were like throat clearers—

the sound check,

the pencil sketch,

the vomit draft,

the piano tuner’s glissando,

serum squirted out of a needle,

the first tentative,

skeptical prayer.


I don’t know if it’s a love thing, a fear thing,

a me or a her thing,

a horror of being without her

or of being alone,

just that everything

is overcome by an air of elegy,

of life running down to its end,

and this greater dread

of her mortality than mine.




In addition

to the pond

with its strand

and light-filtering conifers,

I can retrieve

her nonchalance

and assertiveness,

my incredulity and

bafflingly little lust.


I think I said

I didn’t have

a bathing suit,

but her shorts

were off, then

her blouse, bra,

and my T-shirt

and corduroys.


If there was

a monument

to this moment

would it depict

her or me? Her—

this wasn’t her

first such sight.





In his eulogy

he drew upon his faith                                   

and the iconography of his faith

to frame it in words

that rendered it beautiful

in an elegiac way,

dignified in a mournful one,

even hopeful in the sense

of the immortality of souls.


I glazed over a bit,

but who am I

to begrudge this solace,

when in his place

I’d be stifling my sorrow

or processing it solely

through what’s rational and real,

faring no better

and feeling much worse.



Michael Milburn teaches English in New Haven, CT.


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