On the Death of a Poet
Michael Macklin’s obituary appeared in this morning’s Portland Press Herald, several days after his death. Already, however, his friends and students have turned out what seems to be reams of tributes: short and long statements of what he means to them, how he touched their lives, enriched their writing and reading, made himself into their friend. I’ve come across many on Facebook, as brief as a single heart on his page, through pictures students have posted of them posing with him, and as full as the blog posts I’ve seen from several mutual friends. Michael was loved.
I was shocked by the news of his death. As part of my experiment in reading a poem a day to all my classes every day, I had just read, the previous Monday, one of Michael’s from his chapbook Driftland. Entitled “Grace,” the poem speaks of apple trees and death and rebirth. I introduced Michael and his work to my students by talking about his maintenance work at Waynefleet School, his drive-by distribution of poetry books out of the window of his pick-up truck, and how he’d once told me some students wished to elect him poet laureate of the school. Envious of his new status, I’d included in my contributor’s note to The Café Review (in the issue for which he’d actually solicited my work), that I wanted to be Poet Laureate of something, but wasn’t sure what–and was surprised and gratified that he put that note in.
Then he died. That fact was like a strange and unidentifiable object that I held in my hand and turned over and over again, trying to make sense of it. Every observation I made about that–thing–came out as a question. Michael died? Yet it was true. He had taken students to the Breadloaf Young Writers’ Conference, and was living the poetry life–which is how a person as vital as that should go, if he has to go. He was doing what he loved. Would that we all, when our time comes, be doing what we love.
This week, I told my kids about the death of a poet, a friend, a fellow board member, a maintenance guy, a teacher, an editor, a family man, and so much much more. I read to them another poem from his book, “Overhanging Branches.” I only broke down and cried once.
One of the last times I saw Michael was at a Saw Doctors concert at Port City Music hall. His posse had taken possession of the leather couch at the back of the hall. I saw the back of his leonine head from out in the street, and immediately took my sister to be introduced, because everyone I love should know everyone else I love. The noise level was tremendous, and we spent a few minutes in shouted conversation, me on my knees at his feet–until Tommy Shea arrived, and I was able to introduce more people I love to people I love. Then, in the gentlemanly way he had, Michael tucked our coats behind him on the couch, so we didn’t have to pay to check them. He was just like that.