Michael Topa

Michael Topa was born in Ann Arbor, Michigan and grew up there and in Texas and Afghanistan. His mother was hospitalized for severe depression when he was 8 years old, and the state of Michigan would not give sole custody to his father. The state wanted him instead to grow up in a foster home near the mental hospital where his mother lived. This plan was unacceptable to his father. Luckily, Michael’s father and his uncle, Dr. Robert Shaw, a thoracic surgeon, worked out a legal arrangement for him to live with his uncle’s family in Dallas, Texas. His poem The Trip is a look back at his abrupt trip to Dallas.

In 1962-63 Michael spent his grade 10 year in high school living with his uncle’s family in Kabul, Afghanistan where Dr. Shaw was teaching Afghan and Indian doctors techniques in thoracic surgery. He traveled in Afghanistan, Pakistan, India and Nepal during that time.

Michael spent 4 years in the United States Air Force as a Weather Observer during the Vietnam War (1966-1969). He immigrated to Canada in 1969 when his tour of duty in the USAF ended. Michael was educated at the Universities of Michigan, Guam, York and Toronto. He is married and has 3 adult children.

In his professional life, Michael has worked as a Psychoeducational Consultant in the field of school psychology, and is the co-founder and current Director of Greenoaks Educational Services. He has written poetry for more than 50 years.

In the last few years, Michael’s poems have won several awards in a variety of competitions. Most recently, his poem Jerusalem Slim was a runner up winner in the 2017 Foley Poetry Prize Contest and was published in the June 26, 2017 issue of America: The Jesuit Review of Faith and Culture. America has been published continuously since 1909, making it of the oldest periodicals in the United States today.

Besides The Trip and Jerusalem Slim, 4 other poems are included here from Unfinished Business, that show a range of interest and poetic expression: The Scent of the World, Simplicity Speaks, Twilight and Unfinished Business.

If you are interested in purchasing a copy of Unfinished Business, please email Michael at greenoaks2@yahoo.com. It is available for $23.00. This price includes tax, packaging and postage costs.

A Few of My Poems

Click on any title to open corresponding poem.

The Trip

In August 1955 an 8 year old boy
Is driven to Detroit where he is
Loaded on a noisy DC-3 at night
For the trip to Dallas to join the
Family of his mother’s brother
Robert Shaw a thoracic surgeon

Fragments of that journey remain
An American Airlines stewardess
Calmed his childhood fears with a
Soft drink and 2 fluffy pillows that
He clutched for safety as the DC-3
Made its scheduled stopovers in
Chicago and St. Louis that night

In the humidity of Love Field Aunt
Ruth and Uncle Bob meet Mikey
At the plane the nice stewardess
Says goodbye and those strangers
He does not yet know put him in
A car and drive off to their home

Soon Mikey will learn to stutter
Often wet the bed as bad dreams
Tell the boy he must have been
An extremely wicked child for his
Parents to have abandoned him

Years later the child inside looks
At his mother whom he barely
Remembers as they sit together
Outside her locked mental ward

At a picnic table on the grounds of
Her home at Ypsilanti State Hospital
Where she has lived for 11 years
The fact of impending adulthood

Has taught him to understand the
History of her severe depression
And many failed shock treatments
Surely no one here was to blame
But he remains silent when she
Asks Why don’t you go to church

Jerusalem Slim *

I did not know it was Joy
And her fingers
Blessing me from words
Trapped in stone

Now in Gethsemane
You who could not wait
One hour sleep like salt

Scattered on the ground
But even now I forget
Where the difference falls

Some say Elijah
Some say John
But Joy you say nothing
And take me on

*This is what my father called Christ, alone
and muttering to himself, while nursing his
Four Roses whiskey at the kitchen table.

The Scent of the World

Darkness quietly rappels down
The stalks
In stealth as flowers wilt
And at the edges crinkle inwards

The bees now elsewhere
In hidden repose
Still drunk on the nectar of pollination
Dream of their former glory

While the grasses relinquish chlorophyll
Go dormant from summer heart
Wither and lay down
For vespers

Later at night
Stars in their pluperfect wisdom turn out
Their lighthouses on the shore
Of a distant ocean not meant for our navigation

If you are quiet
If you are truly quiet
As you walk under migrating cumulus clouds
That alter moon gleam

If you are lucky
If you are truly lucky
You might breathe in the scent of the world
Natura naturans

Simplicity Speaks

Live sparsely
So that the mind can stand clear
Objects and glitter
Provide no sustenance

Find courage to persevere
When cold winds
And wolves befriend your domicile
Be not resistant to fate
For it is the journey assigned to you

Enter yourself
With a hymnal of flame
Be forged anew on the smithy’s anvil

Extend great kindness
Toward people
For the dark burden on their backs
May not be visible at first

Abandon the need
For adoration and praise from others
All words fray in the wind

Spend time
In the presence of animals
For theirs is truly an ancient kingdom
Of unheralded wisdom

Forage for Love
You may be surprised under what stones
And in whose eyes it waits


When I remember
The aurora borealis in your kiss
Momentarily lighting up my skin’s horizon

I wish to go and hide
Behind your eyes   two dark touchstones that
Glitter and widen   like the encroachment of night
Putting out its branches

I want to find the small star   mistaken for an insect

That shimmers under the catalpa leaf

I want you to tell me   it is ok   to drift off
To be alive   and then to disappear

Unfinished Business

For Frances Elizabeth

That the blood is fiery baggage
That ground must eventually smooth us down
Under its large hooped skirt
These the rife mysteries   tonight

Awaken me to your face
A doorway just ajar   I want always
To your bright animal eyes
And the fierce softness behind   attend

Under night slopes   the drowsy liquid moon
Let us learn to walk on air
Hold hands   and vanish together
I am in your keeping   until then

– July 21, 1979