Time was, long ago thankfully, when I used to worry about running out of ideas to write about. Nothing like that happens to Sydney Lea; Syd can’t get out of the kitchen before poems strike him. He makes coffee — a poem. He thinks about scraping out the firebox in his stove — a poem. Not that I am making fun of this; it’s a rich spiritual condition to have that much respect, and even love, for the existence of things. Things contain memory, affection, duty, ritual, even a moral armature — mere persistence, at a certain point, implies strength of purpose and will. Sydney has that Heideggerian ear for the sussurations of Being and we hear them, too, in the cadences of his poems.
For some it’s prayer and for others I guess it’s sitting quiet zazen
And for others still it’s chanting a litany of protest
At what life deals them and though I pray myself in my way
I’ve been known to recite the litany too though it’s clear that I do best
When I go downstairs and make a cup of strong black coffee
In the elegant glass French press my wife so good and lovely gave me
Years ago I think for one or another birthday
Then drink it because I should desire to be awake
To the world I see around me though it’s more than merely coffee
That will make me so I understand but still and all
The ritual can help incline my stubborn heart and soul
To appreciate that a doe let’s say before she runs
Stands silhouetted sideways there on the ridge outside
My window momentarily backlit by morning sun
And I should treasure the ridge itself and all the rest
The sun included spangling all this myriad glorious mess
Of October color which I’m willing to grant is just as corny
As any postcard but I also believe that for me to treat it
As no more than platitude will mean to miss the point entirely
Of why I should sustain deep gratitude no matter
Autumn’s here and gone more quickly nowadays than ever
Though that should be even greater cause for me to marvel
At all I behold and never mind that I don’t sit
Like some wise monk or yogi or sage I can nonetheless be mindful
Feeling that certain inclination that only a cretin
Would fail to cherish so why not feel it more often?
The View in Late Winter
…….Step right up, come on in,
……………….If you’d like to take the grand tour…
My wife and one of our daughters, home to visit,
sleep through the creaks and moans of timber and sill.
More than I might have once, I welcome
warmth, so I a load a log.
One fights the tug of nostalgia,
fights to accept the idea of acceptance,
of surrendering first one thing, then others, then all.
To judge by the journal I just took down from a shelf,
on this very day in 1968,
I hiked all the way up Mousely Mountain
to camp at height of land.
There are maybe a dozen visions
scribed indelibly into my mind,
and one, however minor, is of that night,
when the world seemed oddly, generously upside down.
From high above them, I spied on a pair of owls
that coasted tree to tree on a hillside,
while their perfect shadows below them
slid over snow, cast there
by a moon as wrought as museum marble,
all else but those birds and shadows equally still.
I’ve checked the mercury now through a frost-starred pane:
at 22 below, it seems far too frigid
to scrape the ashes out of the firebox.
I should have done it before
this cold snap, but that would have meant
letting the stove go dead to haul them,
and so to invite the chill into our kitchen.
Instead of moon or predator or hill,
from a favorite chair beside the stove I fix on
a lovely ceramic plate we found
in an Umbrian village somewhere.
Our honeymoon. Years ago…
On the cluttered counter before it stand
still photographs of children–and their children.
I see pictures as well of dogs, most of them gone.
Each thing in anyone’s life is fated to go,
and yet here it comes, the faithful day.
Who doesn’t vainly long
for what he has loved to stay?
Another photo shows our house on the pond,
with its still, inverted reflection in water below.
Sydney Lea is Poet Laureate of Vermont. His tenth collection of poems, I Was Thinking of Beauty, is now available from Four Way Books, his collaborative book with Fleda Brown, Growing Old in Poetry: Two Poets, Two Lives, has now been issued in e-book format by Autumn House Press, and Skyhorse Publishing has just published A North Country Life: Tales of Woodsmen, Waters and Wildlife. Other recent publications include Six Sundays Toward a Seventh: Selected Spiritual Poems, from publishers Wipf and Stock, and A Hundred Himalayas (University of Michigan Press), a sampling from his critical work over four decades.
He founded New England Review in 1977 and edited it till 1989. Of his nine previous poetry collections, Pursuit of a Wound (University of Illinois Press, 2000) was one of three finalists for the Pulitzer Prize for poetry. The preceding volume, To the Bone: New and Selected Poems, was co-winner of the 1998 Poets’ Prize. In 1989, Lea also published the novel A Place in Mind with Scribner, and the book is still available in paper from Story Line Press. His 1994 collection of naturalist essays, Hunting the Whole Way Home, was re-issued in paper by the Lyons Press in 2003. Lea has received fellowships from the Rockefeller, Fulbright and Guggenheim Foundations, and has taught at Dartmouth, Yale, Wesleyan, Vermont and Middlebury Colleges, as well as at Franklin College in Switzerland and the National Hungarian University in Budapest. His stories, poems, essays and criticism have appeared in The New Yorker, The Atlantic, The New Republic, The New York Times, Sports Illustrated and many other periodicals, as well as in more than forty anthologies. He lives in Newbury, Vermont, where he is active in statewide literacy and conservation efforts.