A Fitting Tribute To One Who Died Far Too Young

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It has been nearly 34 years since Michael Busby, one of my closest friends, died from lung cancer at the far-too-young age of 36, in June 1990. I think of him often, even decades later. Michael was a renaissance person who loved books as much, if not more, than I do. We met in Nacogdoches in 1974 while both attending Stephen F. Austin State University. I co-owned a modest, and ultimately unsuccessful, bookstore in a small two-story house next to the fire station on North Street, where Austin Bank is now.

Michael worked across the street at Pizza Inn (now Cotton Patch Café) and would come over to browse our books, The bookstore failed, mainly because my business partner and I had little money and less sense. I was 20, and she was 22, which should suffice as an explanation. Michael and I remained close friends. He obtained a master’s degree in history but eventually moved to Dallas and became a banker. He became the godfather to Kasey, my oldest daughter.

We wrote often and phoned each other about once a month, as I returned Behind the Pine Curtain after attending UT-Austin, while he worked in Dallas. We talked mainly about books and politics, sharing a love for history and mysteries and an equally strong disdain for Ronald Reagan and supply-side economics. Somewhere, I have a thick file of his letters, written in his hen-scratch on yellow legal paper. Michael never did learn to type.

Michael and I both were fascinated by stories about Native Americans, loved plinking soda cans with large weapons, and relished late nights spent arguing arcane points of politics while sipping whiskey. He introduced me to the works of Tony Hillerman, who wrote mysteries centered around the Four Corners area with Navajo characters; to Ed McBain, the master of the hard-boiled police procedural; and to Shelby Foote’s masterful three-volume history of the Civil War.

His passion was floating down the Attoyac River, armed to the gills and eager to shed his urban skin, if just for a few days. I went with him once. He rode in the lead boat, pump shotgun poised to shoot water moccasins, gimme cap tilted back on his head. Michael was in his element on the Attoyac, a man born 100 years too late. He would have made a heckuva of a 19th-century newspaper editor, with his handlebar moustache, wire-rim glasses and fearless nature.

Michael’s passion, besides history, was for writing poetry. I think he was a fine poet. Now you have the chance to decide as well. His widow, Melanie, has compiled and edited a collection of Michael’s poems: On a Country Porch: Poems by a Son of the Red River Valley. You can find it on Amazon.com by typing his name in the search bar or by clicking here.

Melanie and I talked several times by phone, text and email as she compiled the book. I was happy to provide a long-cherished photo I took of Michael back in the 1980s, as well as a blurb on the back of the book.

Here is what she wrote on the Amazon page: Michael Busby’s rich world burned brightly for too brief a time. His autobiographical poetry is filled with nature, wonder, and plenty of wit…always reflecting the vibrant inner world of a man who was nurtured in Mulberry, Texas (in the Red River Valley). His poems are tributes to family, place, love, and letting go.

In the foreword to the book, Melanie wrote:  Michael and I were only married for six years, yet I would unhesitatingly do it again even knowing how short our time would be.

I am savoring this collection of Michael’s work, reading a poem or two at a time, also grateful for our all-too-short time together. And I am grateful to Melanie for putting together this, as she wrote, “invitation to enter Michael’s rich world, which burned brightly for too brief a time.

It is a fitting tribute to a fine man, a fine poet.

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