From 2011 until November 2015 I was Poet Laureate of Vermont, during which time I visited 116 Vermont community libraries, not so much to read but to talk about what poetry can do that other modes of discourse can't. I loved the Q&A the most, because those within the academy often ask things that show how much they think they know, whereas library patrons are inclined to ask the important things: Who's talking here? To whom? Why? Where? I hope my poems can answer those questions, that no one needs some special knowledge or language to penetrate them. My twelfth collection of poems, NO DOUBT THE NAMELESS, is just out, as is my fourth collection of personal essays, WHAT'S THE STORY? REFLECTIONS ON A LIFE GROWN LONG.
I had lately known a real sorrow:
my young brother—gone. So I set out alone.
Deep in Breaux’s Gore, where I’d never been
until that morning, a headstone leaned.
It was quiet. Never such quiet.
Who can recall that marker but me?
Who is there even to know about it?
Doubtless someone. Hunters must see
the canted slab now and then,
there since 1841.
It only bore one name: John Goodridge,
maybe wife—and childless. Water and sun
had worn its shoulders round.
Home late afternoon, near evening,
I moved from woodpile to shed and back,
less as if I were working than dreaming.
Scents rose in that autumn dusk,
then settled. Odors of duff and rain.
I settled too, in the wheelbarrow’s bed,
like a chunk of oak or mud or a stone
that might passively ride along.
Forty years since I bore witness
to that marker, all the world gone mute.
I’d never known so entire a silence.
I wouldn’t forget it. Not ever.
I would never not hear that stillness again.
Our little family was set for winter.
We’d soon be soothed by the iron stove’s hum.
I turned from our surfeit of firewood,
And felt at once that a gentle something–
from above the trees that loomed over the woodshed
and down through all leaf, all vapor—was falling
into my bone and flesh.
I thought back on the morning, so laden with silence,
as if I could move beyond joy or sadness,
stone-quiet myself, and that could mean solace.
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 shouldn’t I feel it more often
Papillons en liberté
–Montreal Botanical Gardens, May 2014
My wife of these thirty-odd short years
(why can’t there be thirty more?) and I
look down on a riffled pool
that forms from a man-made flume and shines
under man-made greenhouse light. These butterflies
have hatched in all their many scores.
We watch them dip and rise among
bright, quick-bursting bubbles.
Spring blooms surround us in pent profusion.
We smile to recall the words of her sister’s son,
now far from the small blond child who spoke them:
Do butterfries fry good? he asked me.
We repeat the cute question as one.
In the wild some “fry” 3000 miles.
I know that’s true, but almost think it can’t be.
They’re swept off-course by the paltry air
stirred by their visitors’ oohs and ahs.
Still I know it won’t do, the trite equation
of frail and lovely. They’re tough. It’s doubtless
fleetingness that floors me. There it shows.
I’ve learned some names today: blue morpho,
and you, rice paper, all but translucent,
and postman, you, the one whose very name
now sounds so quaint, so obsolescent.
Hello-goodbye. Nice to have met you.
©2016 Sydney Lea