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. www.sydneylea.net
Fire and Jewel
Eighty-foot hemlock, spruce, fir, pine—
They kept lifting off their stumps like so many rockets,
smoke-trails and all. And I
beheld the fire cross-lake from where I drifted.
I’d been beating the water for fish when my eyes were lifted.
Fifty years later, I still recall my thoughts,
and how I felt that to think them was more than odd:
I was glad I had the faculties to notice
the hill’s astonishing orange heat as it flared
to white with each explosion,
then the whole of the conflagration bending toward earth,
a horizontal wall, a monolith,
that somehow tore downhill in a sudden blast
of wind. It was gorgeous. Several hours would go by
before I knew Earl Bailey had had to fly
as quickly as he could on his ’dozer down
from the ridge right into Farm Cove.
He just had to take the loss. It was that or burn.
Donald Chambers, wielding an axe in his turn
with the makeshift crew, collapsed from labor and heat.
Paul the storekeeper dragged him away by his feet.
I knew Don, sadly, only a few more years.
He and Earl and Paul: good honest men.
I can’t account for dreams
like the one last night when I watched that fire again.
Miles above, in what seemed pure quiet, serene,
the same jetliner crossed as years ago,
the same scent rose– torched needles, caustic smoke,
the same diabolical roar came on as I rocked
in the same canoe, the waves still slapping its hull.
In an hour, five decades back,
the length of that ridgeline turned the color of onyx.
The latest of my wife’s birthdays will soon be upon us.
Is that why the dream passed smoothly into the next one?
I saw, precisely, a beautiful onyx stone,
hung on her breast from a slender golden chain.
I’d never dreamt such a woman as that ridge blackened,
wouldn’t meet her for years. Today,
I drove to a jewelry shop, as if still dreaming.
Three hundred miles to the west of that little mountain,
I bought the necklace, and felt some fire in my being,
mild version of one that kindled in that old autumn,
which has, underground, for a long time gone on burning.
©2016 Sydney Lea
Editor's Note: If this poem(s) moves you please consider writing to the author (email address above) to tell him or her. You might say what it is about the poem that moves you. Writing to the author is the beginning of community at Verse Virtual. It is very important. -FF