Sampler

........Stitched Together

After these sixty-plus years,

The symmetrical look of the wound­

Its stitches’ tidy hybrid

Of dots and cross-hatched lines­

Remains completely at odds

With the rough gash my father’s knife made.

 

The odor of charring meat

Had been drifting up to my nose,

And how fresh the rest of the world,

Its sights and noises: toads

Grating, peeper-chant swelling.

Life--such a sumptuous spread!

 

Dad cut between index and thumb

And managed to jimmy his mouth

Over that crude little cavity

To draw the venom out.

One is told not to do that these days,

But the scar, if not quite pretty,

 

Is so neat it belies its occasion:

March, a warm afternoon,

My father tending his cook-fire

Down at the edge of the pond.

I’d been climbing a glacial erratic,

Proud of my strength and valor,

 

As I vainly considered them then.

I found handholds on that big boulder,

And footholds. At last I laid

Those very left-hand fingers

On a shelf at its top, where a jab

Came from nowhere. A copperhead

 

Had been shucking its torpor in sun.

It was otherworldly, that hurt.

Something got me! I cried,

Then fell to the sodden earth,

Which must have been less far down

Than my pride had let me surmise.

 

Next came the dirt-road rush

To a nondescript house in Green Lane

Where our doctor gave me a shot.

In bed by mid-afternoon,

I felt my neck go rigid

And wry until the daylight,

 

Soft and lavender, sifted

Itself through window curtains.

My father loomed by the bed,

To me the very emblem

Of love. My body relaxed

When he put a hand on my head.

 

Now the water glass on the nightstand,

Dad’s dog-eared issue of Time

On a chair, the mirror, the clock­

Each occurred to me as a sign

Of a brand-new, glorious beauty.

Under the gauze, my hand throbbed,

 

But no matter how, I foresaw

That my scar would forever mean

I’d known glory. I couldn’t have figured

Just why, and of course never dreamed

It would do so right up to this age:

That is, some twenty years older

 

Than my father’s the winter he died.

Back then, older years felt so distant,

They might have been unknown planets.

The glory I sought surely couldn’t

Be found in simply enduring.

Yet whatever I may have imagined,

 

I find glory now precisely

In how I contain a life:

Whatever its poisons, its riches­

Odors and sounds and sights,

The love of a father and as one­

Are somehow implied by old stitches.

 

.........Robert C. Lea

It has taken these seven decades for me to surmise

That there must have been more to my grandfather’s life than some tales

About his comical temper. What lay behind

That temper, I suddenly wonder? But all I recall

 

Are trifles­ say, my little toy boat, which I’d sail

Around the old man’s belly. It broke the surface

Of the tub as he lathered himself. He’d sing all the while,

And even I could hear that his voice was glorious.

 

This morning, I study some tracks now sealed away

On this favorite trail by an overnight scrim of ice.

I think of how for wildlife, hunter or prey,

A day means a fight to endure. But then, of course,

 

No animal rues its life, which is merely its life.

By some rule of opposites, maybe, such thought reminds me

Of that crotchety grandparent. I hadn’t reached five when he died,

So I know what little I do of him from those stories.

 

It seems his voice was famous all over our region.

And even I could tell its songs were sad

And gentle. He married a beauty, says family legend.

Needless to say, he never could have foretold

 

That a horrid central nervous disorder would put her

­From early on, and for good­ into a wheelchair.

It must have floored him, but as for me, Grandmother

Was chiefly the white-haired woman who forevermore sat there,

 

Spellbound, it seemed, by her tall blond radio.

I later would learn that she especially favored

Eddie Cantor’s evening variety show,

And her husband once wrote Cantor a nasty short letter.

 

This morning, I see where a turkey clawed for acorns.

And there’s where a hungry coyote missed it, if barely:

I make out the big bird’s scrabble to get itself airborne

And up to a bare winter limb. Below the oak tree,

 

The predator waited a while. It’s so easy to read.

The turkey’s not gloating. The brush wolf feels no wrath.

Failure is common when the world’s wild creatures seek

Whatever they seek for survival. Grandfather collapsed

 

And died one night, chasing a streetcar driver

Who’d failed to stop. He meant to attack him with fists,

No doubt. Yet even that death came in for laughter,

And the incident showed, some said, he always had guts.

 

According to lore, he’d written Dear Mr. Cantor,

Balls! Sincerely yours, Robert C. Lea.

The note in hand like a dagger, reported my father,

He bolted out of the house to post it upstreet.

 

For the short years after, I’d now and then hear his wife cry,

Which both confused and filled me with something like horror.

As I said at the start, back then I was younger than five:

How might I decode adult behavior?

 

Compared, I repeat, wild animals’ actions seem simple.

It’s famously a matter of eat or be eaten:

These iced-in tracks I’ve found will do for example.

As for my dead father’s father, it’s all speculation.

 

I only recall it took time to maneuver my boat

Around his ample stomach, and while I was sailing,

I wonder if he thought much at all about me,

So intent did he always seem upon his singing.

 

I remember no words, just the sounds that rose from his throat,

And how they smacked of sorrow, and how they were lovely.

 

........Here at Summer’s End

.............................................­for Jerry Dennis

That birds have largely quieted may distress us,

 

and like neglected mail, the garden’s lettuce

went yellow weeks back, then simply dissolved. But let’s all pause

before we focus on loss

in a season still teeming with vegetation.

No matter the month, our sense of wonder remains­

unless we will it to leave.

Even now the mercury flirts with 85,

so it’s wondrous, say, how flickers decide

to convene for migration. Let’s watch their flocks in the roadbeds.

 

It’s a marvel as well, whatever the force is

that already starts to blanch the legs of the snowshoe hares.

Our longing is always for now to endure,

though since the dawn of our thinking, contemplators

have found death an engine of beauty.

Truth is, however, our world will never go dead:

those heads of lettuce have fused with humus below,

and after these flickers wing off, the juncos and titmice will show,

and the ghostly hares of winter

 

won’t be ghosts at all but creatures

with dark flesh packed onto bone under ivory hides;

coyotes will hunt them to keep alive

through the ineluctable ­I almost said awful­ chill;

and even then, the ice-beads on softwood boughs may look,

if we want, like permitted fruit. As a season nears,

or lingers, or ends, an amplitude can tell us

we still are subject to spells.

We’re here after all. Let’s chant it throughout the year

 

like so much birdsong: we’re here we’re here we’re here

............Ukrainian Eggs

I’m headed off on a hunting trip with the guys.

We bump along in my beat-up pickup, laughing.

Our humor’s adolescent, the day bone-chilling.

Meanwhile her dear friend Portia and Robin, my wife,

Are learning from Joan, north on a visit, to fashion

Ukrainian eggs. The teacher and students are certain

They’ll really be something to see­ the eggs, I mean.

 

After our umpteenth idiot joke, obscene,

I feel some sadness rise up in me like one

A cello might summon. That trio of women back home­

They’ll be chuckling too, I suspect, though their jokes remain

No doubt a lot less puerile than ones we’re telling.

And the three will be serious too, each one intending

To paint objects of grace and beauty, as I’m sure they will.

 

But why on earth would my weeping impulse arise?

Vain male, I turn my head side-to. To call

Those women cute is absurd. There’s no way at all

To claim it wouldn’t sound so if spoken aloud.

They’re hardly a group you’d incline to patronize.

It’s perhaps that I’m thinking­ and not for the very first time­

How much in my life I would if I could atone for,

 

Like the way my grade school posse of punks and jokers

Scoffed when the girls turned to projects of their own.

Some wore pants under dresses against the cold.

They’d play secretary, nurse or, laughably, doctors,

Even cops, firefighters, pilots, cowboys, robbers.

And we, all solemn and witless, mocked them and clowned­

In an age before we helped to raise our daughters.

_______________________

Sydney Lea

Vermont Poet Laureate 2011-2015

P. O. Box 9

Newbury, Vermont 05051

leabaron@aol.com

(802) 866-5458

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