From 2011 until November 2015 I was Poet Laureate of Vermont. My successor Chard deNiord and I have recently co-edited ROADS TAKEN: CONTEMPORARY VERMONT POETRY, to be published by Vermont's own maverick house, Green Writers Press; in 2018, the same publisher will re-issue a book of back-and-forth essays between me and former Delaware laureate Fleda Brown, GROWING OLD IN POETRY: TWO POETS, TWO LIVES. My thirteenth collection of poems, HERE, is due in 2018. From 2007-2016, I chaired a conservation campaign in Washington County, Maine, where my family has had a camp for six decades. The new project involved the purchase of 22,000 acres, to be managed by the local village as part of its town forest, which had already owned 40,000 acres. The Downeast Lakes Land Trust, of which I am president, has now conserved nearly 400,000 acres of forest, lakes and rivers. www.sydneylea.net
Mahayana in Vermont
–in memory of Dick Allen
My objectives this morning were vague.
As always I’d hike these hills —
a way to keep going
against the odds age deals,
a way to keep body and soul
together, and not so much thinking
as letting things steal into mind —
but I started counting
from the very first step I took.
I wore rank old boots, ill-laced,
and patchwork pants.
From my neck hung the frayed
lanyard of a whistle I use
to summon our trio of dogs,
who capered and yelped their pleasure
at one of our walks,
and more miraculous still,
at having me for a master.
It’s true in a sense
that I always count as I wander,
though it’s usually the beats of a tune
(Thelonious Monk’s “Well, You Needn’t”
a favorite) that mark my time.
These counts felt odder,
better. We scattered a brood
of grouse at step 91.
The deerflies strafed us.
At 500 a late trillium
glowed by a ledge like a lotus.
Right along the rain kept pounding.
I was mindful of all these things
but I never stopped counting.
Life was good, and more.
It was worthy of better response.
At 1000 I thought,
Enough -- and counted on.
Nothing was coming to mind.
Nothing is coming again
from my hike half the day ago
with three dogs through rain
but a mystic sense of well-being
in quietly chanted numbers.
Whatever this trance,
I treasured it as a wonder
not to be wrenched into meaning,
as in Every second counts,
as in You should count your blessings,
though of those there seems no doubt.
© 2018 Sydney Lea
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