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
I thought I was storing it up. I guess I did.
I didn’t know a thing.
I was a slightly portly, slightly handsome kid,
sixteen, on scholarship, away
from the new hegemon.
France was still coming to
–from the war and the war.
He didn’t say World War
One or World War Two or World War
anything. He spoke of the Guerre de quatorze,
which had dismasted him. He drank up
what I’d bought him and he shuddered.
He adjusted his instrument
–some crude banjo-y thing–
on his stubbed right thigh. Badly and long,
he sang of the Guerre de quatorze.
O it lasted so long
and it was bad. An idea –suffering–
fired itself through my frame
like the pastis I’d ordered
in my not half bad French.
If I could just stay right there like that on that bench.
Those slight waves lisping. That gravel strand.
St. Jean de Luz. That breeze and mollusky stench.
That sun melting on the far Low Pyrenees.
If the people around me could just keep keeping quiet
like that, not because the music was good
but because it was long and awful
and was his and was theirs and was soulful.
If that warmth could run like liquor into my feet.
If it could all stay like that, just slightly rank and tearful.
If it could just be this light forever.
If every eye could be wet but mine
and that of someone’s daughter, which kept shooting at me,
though I couldn’t tell whether to flirt or rebuke me.
To make a soul –I could tell !– would be so easy.
"1959" appeared in my 2005 collection GHOST PAIN (Sarabande Books).
© 2018 Sydney Lea
© 2018 Sydney Lea
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