A Death in the Family

by John Delach

December 2022: I wrote this piece in June of 2016 in tribute to my teacher.

Last Saturday afternoon, the Nassau County Poet Laureate Society honored my teacher by presenting members of his family with personal tributes by poets and writers. This is my interpretation of the man who taught me how to write that I presented that day. 

Maxwell C. Wheat Jr, poet, parent, preacher and a man of peace.

Activist, protester, man of passion, letters, understanding and always; a poet.

Teacher, facilitator, critic, editor, advisor, arbiter, encourager, friend.

Witness excerpt from his eulogy to Pete Seeger’s genius saving the Hudson:

Now Pete Seeger belongs to his Hudson

His outreach of rousing songs

Are the frisky breezes, tall winds coming off the hills,

Touching, stroking the waved back of this 315-mile

Pleistocene invertebrate of a stream

He concludes his poem:

Pete Seeger’s song now parcel of the river’s song:

listen for his voice in the rustling of its autumn leaves,

listen for his voice in the rock slashing of the white capped waves.

Max often referred to his beginnings: reporter, New York Geneva Times Daily.

Assigned obits, his editor explained: “Human interest.” Max never forgot.

This from his poem about 9/11 he called, “Everybody Has a Story,”

Eamon McEneaney 46 in the first attack, 1992,

Led sixty-three people down one hundred flights of stairs.

Senior vice president, brokerage firm, Cantor Fitzgerald.

Calling his wife at her office, shouting “Is Bonnie there?

I love her and I love the kids…”

He was – in the Newsday obit,

The ending of a poem to his wife:

“…The end

is a bend in the road

That we’ll never find

A death I will always


us from.”

Maxwell Wheat a man of peace who served his nation as a Marine toward the end of World War II, did his duty and yet espoused Whitman and Melville; do no harm.

First Poet Laureate of Nassau County, a national treasure; did no harm.

Adios my teacher, my friend: Via con Dios!