Michael Tarabilda, 83, of Kennebunkport, left us on Sept. 23, 2020. Diagnosed with advanced prostate cancer in 2001, Michael decided not to fight the disease, but to live well and embrace the life he had left on his own terms. And he did just that: for nearly two decades he not only survived but thrived.

Born on Jan. 12, 1937 in Evanston, Illinois, to Michael Victor Tarabilda and Mary Tarabilda (nee Mannebach), Michael lived in the Chicago area until his early 30s. Having spent time studying in seminary, he later earned his master’s degree in English from Loyola University. Michael taught at the high school level and in the English Department at Elmhurst College.

In 1969, Michael set out on a quest: traveling by bus and train or walking and hitchhiking, he traversed most of Europe over the next four years. These adventures became grist for much of the poetry and prose he would write over the course of his life.

While in Belgium, Michael met Suzanne Stohlman, a New Jersey native studying abroad — it was, Michael would repeatedly say in the ensuing decades, love at first sight. After returning to the States, Michael and Suzanne came to Kennebunkport in the summer of 1974 to help an aging relative, then never left. Though they never married, the couple inspired those around them, for nearly 50 years, as a model of loving partnership.

Michael played many roles in his community. His love of gardening consumed most of his summer months, and his appreciation for the natural world led him to serve on the Kennebunkport Shade Tree Committee. He was not only chairman of the committee, but also the Tree Warden for many years.

Michael was a voracious reader and devoted bookman from an early age, and the Louis T. Graves Memorial Public Library served an important social and intellectual hub in his life. While he lovingly cultivated the library’s gardens over the years, much of his often all-consuming dedication went into the library’s ongoing book sale. He spent countless hours carefully sifting through the donated books, pricing them with a pencil in his distinctive scribble, and thoughtfully arranging them for sale. Well-read and blessed with an insatiable curiosity, Michael often sunk into long conversations about books with visitors, staff, and friends. The low, infectious timbre of his laugh frequently reverberated through the quiet library.

Michael loved to give readings in the Children’s Room at the library, a passion that also took him to nearby Consolidated School, where he spent time with first graders reading aloud with a dramatic flare that delighted the kids and helping them write their own stories.

At the heart of Michael’s life was writing. He wrote and edited “The Village Gazette” for several summers, sometimes assuming the roles of made-up characters to write columns under various (and intentionally silly) pennames — for all his seriousness about literature, Michael also relished irreverence. But the essence of his life’s work was poetry. Michael lived and breathed verse.

His subject matter ranged from the deeply philosophical to the comedic, from short spiritual poems to a sweeping epic. He not only worked with a wide range of subject matter, but wrote in many forms and styles, often of his own invention. Michael could compress a few lines into something hauntingly powerful, and do it all with deceptively plain words. Perpetually writing, Michael refused to be distracted with submitting his work for publication. However, friends occasionally insisted they be allowed to submit his poems, and his work appeared in literary journals in the U.S. and U.K., and, most recently, in the Deep Water poetry column in the Maine Sunday Telegram. In the last few years, thanks to Suzanne’s and his friend Joshua Bodwell’s encouragement and support, he collected his writing into a series of volumes. Five of those volumes are currently in print and several more are in production.

Michael loved and supported his fellow writers with a rare enthusiasm, and he frequently attended their readings and purchased their books. After his passing, a friend remarked that Michael was a model of how to sincerely celebrate the successes of one’s friends. Another friend quickly responded, “He was a model for BEING love. Not just practicing it.”

Bushy-bearded since the 1960s, Michael held tight to a rebellious streak all his life; sometimes that meant a fiery denunciation of bullies and injustice, and other times it simply meant embracing an impish zaniness when he felt those around him were acting too somber. Like the natural world he loved so much, Michael contained multitudes: he could quietly discuss the Buddha one moment, then pop on a top hat and perform in a comedy skit at the library the next; he would switch off a much-loved classical score to flip on a football game; he could be surprisingly obstreperous and he could be crushingly tender. Michael was a bright and complex light — those who called him friend were lucky; those he called friend were blessed.

Michael Tarabilda was predeceased by his parents and two younger brothers, Edward and James. He is survived by many adoring cousins and by Suzanne Stohlman, the true love of his life and partner in all things.

Contributions in Michael’s memory may be sent to the Graves Library (P.O. Box 391, Kennebunkport, ME 04046) or to Hospice of Southern Maine. Arrangements are in care of Bibber Memorial Chapel at www.bibbermemorial.com. To share a memory or leave a message of condolence, visit his book of memories at the same address.