In 2011, my family lost my step-dad, Michael, on this day, July 10. I thought of him the other day when I passed a vintage Volvo, a man driving it through South Portland with a very long piece of lumber tied on top to the roof rack. Orange flags trailed in the wind. It reminded me of my step-dad, who drove a vintage Volvo when he first came into our lives (and I later adopted one 1986 Volvo, which had belonged to his grandparents). Michael, a Scorpio, and a self-taught Buddhist, who shared my love of swimming in the lakes and ocean, loved to paint and draw, play guitar and piano, and sing in his band. While he was a respected regulatory lawyer, his first love was probably the ocean and boats. I wrote this poem in memory of him, just after he passed away July 2011.

Sallow, Sailing

Michael Julian at lake

Michael and my brother at the lake

The Buddhist believed, as Michael read,
The willow extended compassion. And
Shakespeare spared the sallow
To symbolize loved ones parted.

Leaning, a big umbrella over our little beach,
A weeping willow’s silky leaves tickled us
As it hovered and hugged when we ducked
Beneath soft slender branches, air mattresses
Tucked under our arms as kids at the lake.

Willows wear watery bark, tolerant swimming trunks;
Ancient Greeks believed the tree remedied aches—
A precursor to aspirin, but more likely, ours stabilized
The ground, holding us together with tough tenacious
Roots unseen while we looked upon a dreamy canopy
Of green all summer: our windbreaker, shade-maker,
Father to our shores, a crown of butterflies.

Long after someone felled the willow,
Michael backed the Volvo into the grove
Trailing a sunfish he launched at Little Sebago.
He loved the ceremony of boat maintenance: standing
On principle waist-deep, wrapping rope, tacking
And teaching his son to sail at sunset,
The art of swerving tall torsos
Tango straight-backed
Timed to the boom.

Hot pink blooms on the breeze
Danced chaotically into pines,
Maples and oak trees, their
Backward leaves flipped
By a sudden change
Held like hands
To a face.

Two brothers sailed in bright
Sun & Michael’s windy voice;
We talked while treading water,
Pausing for the faded
Break on the beach,
a wave’s echo.

                 In loving memory of Michael