To a Granddaughter in My Arms

I can’t play Duck-Duck-Goose anymore,

I tell you--- barely four years old,

And feather-light in my arms. I might

Try joining you in the family’s game,

But it takes me so long now to stand from sitting

I’d lose every round. Might you like that?

Victory’s still all harmless delight

For you, not an urge for arrogant triumph,

Not lust for another’s humiliation.

Why can’t you do it, Grandpa? you ask.

I shrug and say, I’m old. Outside,

Late March: the hills still showing snow,

Though out the south window as I stand here and hold you,

I behold green hinting itself in the grass,


The dun stubble fading, and downhill, the pines

Flaring with incandescent candles:

Spring’s new growth. Yes, I’m too old

For your harmless play, and you can’t see

What I see all over­ the sweet and the other.

One day you will, but Lord knows there’s no hurry.

Things make their rounds. So do we all.

Then into our places we flutter or fall.



How Does That Make You Feel?

At a hard curve on route 25, there’s a tower with a birdhouse on top, the size of a steamer trunk and painted ice-blue. You’d think the birds might be scared off by that color, which seems almost spectral. The tower’s legs are strung with a score or so more of birdhouses, like dangling Christmas bulbs, and the space inside the legs is full of still others, rough-piled there like loose flakes of hay.

What manner of people, I wondered, would decide to throw together something like this clutter, and why? Was it love of birds or birdhouses? Was love the word? I wanted the truth, but on the road to the vet’s, even before I noticed the tower, I’d been a jumble of befuddled speculations.

Later, when he saw my hunting dog, the doctor said, Bone cancer. Then he gave me narcotics to last him until he was gone. Could I have done something to save him? Who owns such power?

Back on the road again and feeling godforsaken, I wept and whimpered, though when I reflected, I recognized that I was musing on other things too, such as the fact that the dog didn’t seem blue, or even ill, not to mention baffled like me. He just lay quietly in the car. Life was still life.

I drove on, still in tears, to visit my new grandchild: I pictured that peach-skinned girl, who was a miracle, and that someone like me could make her giggle and grin a greater one.

After some hours and back in my car, I remembered that the house beside the tower had had a sign in front of it, showing four block letters. Did they spell LOVE? I hoped so. I vowed to stop on my way home to examine the word and be sure, but I forgot my intention, lost in thoughts of dog and granddaughter both.

I sit here now and wonder by what earthly right I considered them strange, those purposeful birdhouse builders? Who was I to make such a judgment, I, whose very head seemed a cage of odd twitters, who felt nothing but uncertainty? One builds whatever one can, and however one will, I figured.

And just now, home alone, I imagine a whirl of flight: some of the creatures within it are drab, others brightly feathered. There are mild songbirds and ferocious raptors. They’ve all come back to roost in that family’s yard. When they wing in by the score like this, I wish I could ask those people what a psychiatrist kept asking me years ago, before he’d write a script for pills to calm my nerves. How does that make you feel? He asked me and asked me. He asked me until I wanted to scream.



Easy Wonder

............................ ­Oxbrook Lake, July 2014

Sweet wife, for hours we floated

In kayaks, side by side, scarcely dipping our paddles.

No motors allowed here, not a soul in any

Of the south shore’s four other cabins.


Still we orbited north,

Through an uninhabited cove, where beavers had left

Neat piles of musk on four flat rocks.

We smelled no fetor: the breeze bore it off.


The beavers somehow know

To place their mounds at every point of the compass.

We wondered why and how they’d do that,

Though ours was easy wonder.


The same small wind now lifts the curtain

In our room, from which we’ve banished watches and clocks,

Having few obligations, our children grown,

They and their children not due here for weeks.


The breeze raises tendrils of hair

From your head on the pillow. I love your hair.

The water, quiet marvel, appeared to lift us

Above our lives ­ above despair,


Above your brother’s and mother’s deaths last year,

And anything else that might tense or appall.

You trailed an arm on the surface. I love your arms

And the slim long legs tucked into the hull.


The sun hardly seemed to move all afternoon,

Making just the right warmth as it floated there.

We floated too, between water and air,

As though we’d never be let down.




Whoever you may be, stop reading now if too much sentiment, no matter how genuine, makes you uneasy or angry or whatever else. If you do hear me out, however, I hope you’re not the sort who’d say that my good wife throws like a girl, as my Little League baseball coach once claimed I did, the moron. I threw just fine until my arm got robbed by age. That happened some time back, to be sure.

You don’t have to remind me I might have known worse losses.

Whoever you are, go stand beside my wife, at exactly sixty feet, six inches from some target, and then by God we’ll see how many times she can take a ball or even a stone and hurl it, and how often she’ll hit the can, the post, the tree­ and then we’ll see how often you do. Good luck, sucker.

No, wait a minute. There’s little reason to start all this in anger at you, whom I probably don’t even know. I won’t pretend I’m not angry, but why lash out at a stranger? It’s doubtless only despondency that makes me talk this way.

I’ve now and then pictured my wife playing catch with the one boy in her five-sibling family, the one fought cancer for twelve years and died this past . I loved him, which is no doubt a crucial factor in my behavior here, my rhetoric.

I’ve seen photographs of those two kids, gloves on left hands, half-smiling, squinting under a summer sun, decades and decades ago. They were a good-looking pair in those days, and both were handsome into late adulthood, no matter most of his hair had been robbed by the vile, stinking chemo, and some of his teeth.

My wife recalls how, in the warm months, when they got home from school, the two would head right out to their yard to toss the baseball around and chat away the afternoon. For me, that’s the very picture of innocence and affection, and if you, anonymous you, consider it the stuff of Norman Rockwell or Hallmark, just haul your sorry self off.

There I go. Forgive me. I’m just uncertain which emotion is which here. For all I can really say, you were innocent too, and still may be, or at least known as a decent, caring person, and it’s not after all as if I have some corner on innocence myself. Sometimes I reckon I’ve never been any better than I have to be.

For one thing, I probably should have been paying closer attention to my wife’s brother­ and to my wife as well, come to think about it. Not that it does anyone a bit of good when I beat myself over the head for my omissions. That doesn’t change a thing. If it could, I’d keep at it forever, as in some respects I suppose I have.

On those long-gone afternoons, my wife learned to throw like a man. Instead of moping and cursing, I wish I were man enough to report all this and not break down. But do I really? Do I want to be manly by that definition­ furious, fearless, unwilling to take any quarter or give any? There are better things to wish for. I know that these days.

My brother-in-law and I used to go down and watch our Red Sox play at Fenway Park. After a while we had daughters and sons, and we’d take them along. Home runs, triples, double plays: we roared approval at these and more; but we all, child and grownup alike, especially loved those bullet throws that Dwight Evans delivered to cut runs off at the plate.

Too soon, it seems, our lives just seemed to get too busy for Fenway. Then the god-awful cancer showed up. Starting in my brother-in-law’s colon, it got to traveling elsewhere afterwards, and the whole time I only sat here and typed words, as I’m doing even now, weeping. Meanwhile my poor wife is sick with sadness, and I wouldn’t blame her if, thinking back to those old summers, she picked up something and threw it dead-center between God’s eyes.



When in tears I beg for a judgment from Love almighty ....

....................... ­translated from the Italian of Gaspara Stampa (1523-1554)

When in tears I beg for a judgment from Love almighty,

who by scarcely noticing such implorings

and the thousands of breaths I spend, day, night and morning,

who by indifference all but crucifies me

..........--- “Love, how could I take what lay within me,

my heart and soul, to give my lover that evening?

Now he alone, not I, can stanch this grieving:

he owns my laughter and joy, while I own only

...........this chilling store of jealousy and fright.

By quick surrender, I squandered my inmost wealth.

To live in him, I emptied my Self of self.”

..........--- “It’s my will that you die from life, both dark and bright.”

So Love pronounces. “Your emptiness is enough.”

His judgment and final sentence: “It makes you write.”



Sydney Lea

Vermont Poet Laureate

P. O. Box 9

Newbury, Vermont 05051

(802) 866-5458


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