Jun 182015

Sydney Lea


Tuesday. Somewhere I’d guess around the 4000th
one of my life, and I’m washing my coffee pot
and putting it onto the dish rack, the way I’ve done
every Wednesday too, every Thursday, every Friday,
Saturday, Sunday, Monday for many years–

most of the 72 by now– so there’s nothing
that you’d call thought in the process, and then with a whoosh,
like thrilling cascade or comet, in broadest daylight
a broadwing hawk swoops in and scatters the finches
from the feeder, which, whatever we try, is a feeder

for squirrels as well, both red and gray. It’s a gray one
the hawk has his eye on, and the hawk seems big as a hog,
though he’s lithe and deft and unbelievably quick
in his stoop. Which misses, however. His quarry cartwheels
under a stunted pine I’ve meant again

and again to hew to better the view we have
through this same kitchen window. And now, as something you might
call thought returns after all, I’m pondering whether
I’m glad to have left it standing. The hawk was lordly,
as much as the eagle my wife reported seeing

last week, which started an almost identical dive
but flared up the ridge when he found no game out there
among spilled seeds, where the blood on wet March snow
would in either case have shown so gorgeous, so brilliant.
The look of the writhing squirrel would have been pathetic,

no doubt about that. The world’s a puzzling place.


Old Lessons

The metaphor struck me so quickly that it felt trite:
I wanted my son to depend on me forever,
But wanted him also to learn to ride a bike,

First phase of course of a first child’s setting out
Away from his father –farther, always farther.
Speed up. Please stop, I thought. Mixed feelings. Trite.

Knuckles pale, he clutched the hand-grips tight,
Cried Hold me! Hold me! Which of course I did
For week after week as he learned to ride a bike,

Until, while one June day slumped into night,
I took my hands away from fender and seat,
And he pedaled off into darkness and distance. Trite,

Looking back, to figure our future lives,
The changes that would come, the way he’d speed
Away on years, as I stood behind that bike.

It’s right, of course, that he no longer calls me to hold him–
Have confidence, I recall, was what I told him–
Though it never was really a question of riding a bike,
Nor were my sentiments ever entirely trite.



Our old dog threw up today
Nothing new nor convenient
I kept myself from cursing
She didn’t mean to do wrong
True some words pushed at my lips
But I recalled the Psalmist’s
Caution on the loosened tongue

To describe it too mildly
Wrath can be too enticing
That tongue harder to govern
Than any ship or blood horse
Says the scripture I summoned
I thought that of the seven
Deadliest anger might be worst

Though I leave room for pride which
Is kin but today my calm
Seemed to me a miracle
The poor dog looked so contrite
Nothing she had done her fault
Now I must go to the vet’s
The thawing wind came last night

Bringing other things to do
Snow slid off our metal roof
Into a mass on the drive
Which needs to be cleared away
A job of course I despise
But that is where duty lies
And there’s where I need to be

I always wanted to be
Somewhere else I don’t know where
Earth must be the place for me
Sometimes I must laugh at how
Coaches say they want their teams
To play one game at a time
What in hell else would they do

Play two or three at a time
But I’ve been likewise silly
In my crazy history
I take one day at a time
Look for an easy does it
Stance toward life on this planet
Death once beckoned me and I

Rushed there I won’t give detail
Opiate Cutter Gunfire
Mustard gas Sprint Infernal

These were some crossword problems
I pondered last night in bed
Of course they’re not connected
Except in that I saw them

Together I solved just three
Before sleep overcame me
I did not feel frustration
Nor too much inner protest
I know our dog will be fine
I know I’m a lucky man
I’m grateful for peace and rest

I spoke an awkward prayer
If that’s in fact what it was
I only spoke it within
And in ignorant belief
That it might just land somewhere
I thanked some hidden power
That I never carved my life

Quite to hell nor did I race
To needle blade pistol gas

—Sydney Lea

Sydney Lea is Poet Laureate of Vermont. He founded New England Review in 1977 and edited it till 1989. His poetry collection Pursuit of a Wound (University of Illinois Press, 2000) was one of three finalists for the Pulitzer Prize for poetry. Another collection, 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. 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 College of Fine Arts and Middlebury College, 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. His selection of literary essays, A Hundred Himalayas, was published by the University of Michigan Press in September, and Skyhorse Publications just released A North Country Life: Tales of Woodsmen, Waters and Wildlife. His eleventh poetry collection, I Was Thinking of Beauty, was published in 2013 by Four Way Books.


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