The American Journal of Poetry
"Strong Rx Medicine"®


Sydney Lea

Here Itself

              ...stent placed in occluded right coronary artery of otherwise fit and pleasant 73-year-old  male, former   

              poet laureate of Vermont– from Eastern Maine Medical Center report, 8/21/2016.





He had a heart attack is something,

I keep thinking, 

one says of others.


Searching dazzling revelation,

I’ve wandered blind through the world.

At last I see as much.


I approached Paul’s barber shop

Down the same asphalt alley

In the same hardscrabble hamlet,


Passing through the waiting room

With its copies of Guns and Ammo,

PopularMechanics– what have you?


I contemplated the ancient jug of Kreml,

Paul’s horseshoe-pitching trophies,

His snapshot, curling around its tacks,


Of the 300-pound bear at his feeder,

And myself as ever, there in the mirror:

It’s thirty years and more


Paul’s been cutting my hair

As it’s thinned. So three decades

of those old questions as we finish.


Wet or dry?  

Trim the eyebrows?

A little off the top?


Of course he knows the answers.

It’s a rite, is all – and a comfort.

The miracles that lie in tiny things!


I’m here.





There’s a tough late dahlia

In my good wife’s garden.


A hooded merganser hen is barking

like a dog from our pond.


I had no fear, I had wistfulness

For that wife, our children, their children, our friends.


I had a dress rehearsal for death,

But no, no terror.


I was wheeled in a gurney to visit

The Wonderful Isness of Was.





An Indian summer paddle trip

On my beloved river:

Crows cross the water and disappear

Behind the gorgeous scrim

Of yellow leaves, the silver maple and cottonwood.

I can’t rightly describe it, yet I’m here to see it.


I push through the windrows of bright dead foliage

On the surface. There,

Above the village steeple, floats a solitary cloud.

It resembles nothing but itself.

Not cotton, not whipped cream, not chastity or purity.

Itself. And who would want to change it?


I’m here to see it.



Sydney Lea



Some weeks ago, it looked as though

Sparse snow had fallen along the dirt road

Where we walk our dogs, in a straight line. Odd.


It was only the year’s wild strawberry blossoms.

Today, that small drift vanished again,

The fruit is ready for reaping. But then


How little one gathers for the effort involved!

The berries, more hull than meat, are stingy,

And my back is old, and my fingers are clumsy.


When our children were small they could sometimes be chores–

Beautiful chores, but chores nonetheless.

Now we’d have them back. They grew up too fast.


Ten minutes of picking, scanty harvest.

It seems, as my grandmother used to mutter,

Not worth the candle, though no candle is called for,


The late-spring morning crisp and alive,

Lit by a thousand thousand greens

From the arch of trees, and no matter I lean


A bit at the waist, having stooped to my task

For meager reward, when I reach our door

My matchless wife is standing there.


My wife, open-armed, at an open door.




SYDNEY LEA was Poet Laureate of Vermont (2011-15). His twelfth collection of poems, No Doubt the Nameless, is available from Four Way Books. His fourth collection of lyrical essays, What’s the Story? Short Takes on a Life Grown Long, appeared in 2015.  A former Pulitzer finalist and a winner of the peer-reviewed Poets’ Prize, Lea founded and for thirteen years edited New England Review. Before his retirement, he had taught at Dartmouth, Yale, Middlebury, Franklin College (Switzerland), Eotvos Lorand University (Budapest), and elsewhere. His work has appeared in The New Yorker, The Atlantic, The New Republic, The New York Times, Sports Illustrated, and all the major U.S. literary journals. He has received fellowships from the Guggenheim, Fulbright, and Rockefeller Foundations. His thirteenth book of poems, Here, will appear in 2018. He and his successor as Vermont state poet Chard deNiord have recently published Roads Taken, an anthology of contemporary Vermont poetry.



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