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Seth Michelson

Seth Michelson

Seth Michelson met Thomas Lux in Pátzcuaro, Mexico, in 1999, with Seth having arrived there with no identification documents, having forgotten them at home in San Diego before crossing the Tijuana border on foot for his flight out of TJ to Patzcuaro. Thomas laughed heartily at Seth for that forgetfulness for almost twenty years. He’s probably laughing now upon reading this reminder of it, wherever he may be.  

Thomas Lux

After publishing a poem about and for Tom titled "Poem in Thanks" in one of my books, I pointed him to it one afternoon in his living room. I'd hoped to swell his heart with a bit of the gratitude so many of us feel for him. Being Tom, he read it on the spot and rejoined, laughing, in his gorgeous bass, "Well, jeez, I want you to write my fucking eulogy!"

Tom and I chuckled in that moment, the great bard patting me on my shoulder, though behind my smile, a part of my brain was rock-sliding into my knotting belly: Here I'd crafted a poem to thank a man who was both one of the living masters of the form and one of my most beloved confidants, but the poem was ringing out to him more as eulogy than grateful embrace.

I can still hear his laughter that afternoon, still feel his hand patting my shoulder, still see his smile as the laughter sparkled in his eyes. How to live without him?

These days I can hardly speak his name without choking up. More than once I, who am lean on tears, have wept in public. Tom taught me poetry with such magnificent grace, patience, and wisdom. More importantly, he also taught me to try to live with compassion, humility, joy, and forgiveness.

I now think Tom was the closest thing to a saint that I, an atheist, will ever know. He formed me as deeply as any parent could influence a child. His voice guides me as I raise my own sons and mentor my students. His voice rings out as I write, read, teach, and translate poetry.

So please forgive me for having learned the cursed news and taken my two young sons to eat ice cream sundaes with extra maraschino cherries. It was half pitiful, half honorific, as I'd imagine so many of your early responses might've been, too.

In my case, there we were: the three of us huddled in a hard, orange booth in a far corner, me fighting back tears while quietly reciting Tom's poems to two of his youngest readers, pausing every so often to make them laugh with a goofy story of this great man I loved deeply, my boys cracking up at tales of fart machines, burnt chicken, loudmouthed homerun trots in softball, all of it making them eager to look again at photos of Tom when we returned home.

Photos like the one below: Tom as happy as you could believe while visiting me in L.A., where he so tenderly held and cooed to my oldest boy, Ilan Sebastián, just six-weeks-old. Tom the ever-loving. Tom who radiated goodness.

Take a look at the photo, friends, and you'll see, too, how Tom has died but endures, coursing through all of us who knew him, and through all of those who didn't but who know us, because how could we be ourselves today if we weren't also him, Tom in everything we do?

Tarantulas on the Lifebuoy

For some semitropical reason  
when the rains fall  
relentlessly they fall

into swimming pools, these otherwise  
bright and scary
arachnids. They can swim
a little, but not for long

and they can't climb the ladder out.
They usually drown—but  
if you want their favor,
if you believe there is justice,  
a reward for not loving

the death of ugly
and even dangerous (the eel, hog snake,  
rats) creatures, if

you believe these things, then  
you would leave a lifebuoy
or two in your swimming pool at night.

And in the morning  
you would haul ashore
the huddled, hairy survivors

and escort them
back to the bush, and know,
be assured that at least these saved,  
as individuals, would not turn up

again someday
in your hat, drawer,
or the tangled underworld

of your socks, and that even—
when your belief in justice
merges with your belief in dreams—
they may tell the others

in a sign language  
four times as subtle
and complicated as man's

that you are good,  
that you love them,
that you would save them again.




from Half Promised Land, Houghton Mifflin Company, 1986

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