Word Poetry

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Sample Poems by Michael Milburn


Passage

At a party a man I once liked remarked,
ďI havenít seen you since you became
a father. No doubt you’ve faced it
with your own low-key, sensible reserve.”
He said it to be mean, I thought,
but approached me smiling later to chat:
his wife had abandoned him to mingle.
At such comments one nods, ponders,
slowly drilling each word for its ore.
Low-key. Sensible. Reserve.
I remembered a cozy New Year’s Eve
in their Cape Cod house, swapping
drug tales—college LSD trips, the exploits
of stoned friends. Me conspicuously silent.
Earlier, he’d proffered a thick joint.
When I refused, he said, “Well, I didn’t
count on this.” They smoked while
I sat with my drink, trying hard to keep up
with their hilarity. At midnight, everyone
embraced except me. The next day
we walked the beach, his wife and mine
up ahead. I spoke vaguely and he pressed
for precision—one of those fastidious minds—
until I, hopeless with facts, shut up entirely.
At the party the same thing—my comment,
his querying, querying. I tried to see myself
as low-key, sensible, reserved in a good sense,
facing fatherhood like that, as when I calm
my son’s fiery panic at bedtime.
Then my traits serve as routes into
the world, no less than that man’s blunt,
plaguing conversation, or a small boy’s
pounding at the bedroom door.



In Common

for J.C.

We lay on the sunny grass full of complaint,
braiding our marriage tales
through the noon hour—the moody wife,
the constant child, a life social or solitary,

subtly flexing our marriages
against these blows as if to say,
I’m strong, I beat my chest.
And you did beat yours and it held;

for all I pressed you it held,
and now I see the iron there. Yet mine,
like a bridge slammed
too long by jolting trucks,

gave way invisibly inside, shocked
to powder and disintegrating outward,
until when the cracks showed
the heart was already gone.

Stress—I watched yours vibrate
into the midday sun, as you shook
your marriage free of it. Mine
piled up inside, though I talked on,

like some so-called expert
on what makes a structure succumb,
hotly predicting the damage
long after the damage is done.



Freeze Frame

Some comb the past for blame,
forever reviewing the tape
like Monday Night Football
to say, “There, stop it for a second,

the injury occurred there.” Others
know deep down they’ll be hurt,
say so and it happens.
In the kitchen today,

remembering a conversation
from six months ago, I stopped
the tape, but couldn’t tell
from the angle if you were

pushing or I was simply falling
and would have crumpled anyway.
I’d like to have you over to see,
run the tape and you could cue me

to stop it and say what we’re doing,
like football where someone watching
from a distance decides and it’s over.
They just decide and it’s over.


Adoptee

When I first saw you at the meeting,
diving from your mother’s lap,
you gaped like a visitor
from another land,

the one she’d stepped off
the plane from that morning,
rushing to work to show you off.
You looked, to put it bluntly,

extremely Chinese, not just foreign
like our émigré receptionist,
but like you were still in China,
toddling by a roadside

while your new mom
strode through rice fields
to claim you. Just then
the idea of a world

where a child
could fall asleep in Hunan
and awaken in Hartford
seemed as preposterous

as the fact that today,
twelve years later,
you’d prance before me
in braids and cut-offs,

whiffing on a soccer ball
and shouting, “Shit.” Now that’s,
as someone murmured
when you entered, a miracle.
Chaperone

Four of us laugh at Scrabble
as a dance throbs next door:
Sally, Tim, Michelle and me,
their English teacher, host

of this designated quiet room.
Others stop in, sweating, happy,
and one girl, shy in class
but dressed tonight

in a tight blouse and skirt,
presses close to whisper
in my ear. Her hot breath shocks me.
The walls hold snapshots

from another teacher’s life—
family, pets—and posters
meant to make math
seem silly and fun.

We play for hours under
the fluorescent lights:
Sally, the plump poet,
sophisticated; Michelle,

hampered by a nervous silliness,
a plague to boys; and Tim,
whose voice swoops and cracks this year
like radio static—each feels blessed

just to sit and play,
not gyrate under strobes.
When the wall clock clicks to ten
we fold the board and stand,
like four Bingo veterans. Outside,
kids call wisecracks as I unlock my car.
Hot Breath hugs me good-bye.
They all seem drunk on something—

music, the April evening,
or what I in my own giddiness
might call youth, though never
to their rolling eyes.