Sunday May 26

LeaSydney Sydney Lea, founding editor of New England Review, is Vermont's Poet Laureate. His tenth collection of poems, I Was Thinking of Beauty, is due in 2013. In fall of 2012, the University of Michigan Press will present a selection from forty years of critical essays, and Skyhorse Publishing in NY will issue Now Look, his third volume of naturalist essays.

Same Old Path

2010 was all Haitian earthquake—
To which dear friends lost a son.
Here among hills very different from Haiti’s,
My dogs sniff some winter-killed animal ruin.
Somebody’s heart has failed in Savannah:
An old student of mine, collapsed at 40.
Spring—that cliché—seems hard to envision.
I climb to stay fit as I can,
Choosing the same trails wild game uses.
In snow I read the tracks.
Sometimes it’s I who am first to make them,
At other times it’s the creatures that do.
Surf raked a Georgia shoreline,
Hot wind clawed at a Haitian mountain,
But here, late winter’s perversely blue.
Come back, I want to shriek.
I stop where a brook hums under ice.
Life is good, I say.  Life’s good.
But my mind’s a spiral, so I know better
Than to liken this blather of water to song.
I stride wide, not to break through.
How would good sound to parent or lover?
It’s as if I’ve chosen this path I’m on,
But then any footed thing would,
I know.  I have no special instinct.
For now it’s a moose I’m reading:
The size of its hooves might compare to headstones’....
No figure of speech stands up to grief.
I think, we’re along for the ride,
However much we persist in motion.
I think, I’m holding on for dear life,
Though I meant to follow something,
And thought I’d be followed by something.

Old Country Song

He remembers that night and his guts twist again:  he lost all feel
for the pool he was shooting with this friendly Indian guy named Dee.
Easy enough to be friendly when you’re robbing another guy blind.
He’d run way over his limit of gin for the five hundredth time,
so the racket inside the barroom seemed loud, then soft, like the sea
when it washes in and out.  His head, as they say, was mush.
He could play this game, damn it all, if only his normal light touch
hadn’t flown south.  He knew it was wrong in the first place to be
in that stinking hall, his wife back there at the Roundup Motel
with their three-year-old.  That morning the boy said, Wyoming Friday
is Japanese Tuesday. Maybe his wife had told the kid
time changes around the world.  The kid was heartbreak cute
—and all confused.  Who wasn’t?  A tiny worm that could bite
hid under the clack of the balls and that ocean sound inside.
The worm felt like conscience: this had been meant for a family trip.
Years would go by before the damned thing got big and gripped
his neck and sat him down, and chewed right into his pride.
And broke him but good. The worm would hiss and growl beside him
when that time came;  he’d be holding a handle jug of booze,
a gun in the other hand; he’d be thinking about self-murder.
He recollects how just a few hours before he’d tried
to talk a barmaid to bed—or his car.  She had her eye
on some other dude.  But what the hell?   He didn’t want her.
Not now.  He  wanted the lightness back.  He’d stay away
from another drink just long enough to get himself straight
and get back on his game.  And that would mean this mess was over,
he’d be there with the family, on vacation, out west.  He flat-down knew
the change he needed was coming, and soon.  When it did, he’d take
his money back and then some.  And every time he got beat
he got surer of that.  It was nuts.  He was nuts.  And he might as well drink.
He had to, of course.  Christ, it was normal.  He was strong off the banks,
too strong for the goddamned tight pockets, strong each time he hit
a lot-of-green shot.  And always behind the 8-ball.  And Dee,
his two-hour buddy—he kept being friendly, but why wouldn’t he be?
Dee knew his touch was gone, if it ever did exist.
He had to be done with all this.  Then he’d haul his sad ass back
to his wife and son.  He drank up, put the balls in the rack,
stuck his glass on the rail, and set himself  up for a good hard break.


A gigantic John Deere tractor drags
a rotary mower
at highway speed down the timothy field
along our river.
We’re driving toward unhurried, expensive Sunday
breakfast out with friends and family.
I brake for just a moment to sight
down the stubble swath
the tractor has left as it carves another.
I could stay and watch
for week upon week, and yet I’m sure I wouldn’t
know just what to feel.  I envision
a group of sinewy men—all blood
kin, I’d say—
with long-hafted scythes.  They’ll work until noon
to lay down the hay
the big machine has just laid down in seconds.
Then I picture a later farmer who reckons
how many more hours will disappear
before he can finish
his task with the horse-drawn sickle bar.
The day will vanish
into black  and he will have cropped just half his field.
How did those workers feel?
Did feeling matter?  I blink and sigh
and go on my way,
too old by now, I hope, to imagine
Good Old Days,
that witless myth, with its claim that exhausting labor
once made men and women better.
That strikes me as the very sort
of sweetened belief
contrived by people who haven’t ever
toiled in life—
farmed, or done much with back and hands at all.
And what about me?  I do recall
bone-wrenching summer jobs I took
when I was a boy
on a neighbor’s farm:  I planted fence posts,
I heaved baled hay,
and so on.  Now I cut six cord of wood
to dry each spring inside our shed.
But it’s not that I have to now, and I didn’t
in those summers either.
So I don’t know much, though I knew this place
when it was a diner.
Today quaint tools are hung on its walls as examples
of  An older time when life was simple—
or so it says on the placard.  A two-man
crosscut saw.
A harrow disk.  Ice-tongs.  An auger.
At least they know
how they feel, the sentimentalists.  I order
the Cider Crepes with Hand Churned Butter!