A Childhood Memory

A Childhood Memory

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Headshot of poet Sydney Lea

A former Pulitzer finalist and winner of the Poets’ Prize, Sydney Lea served as founding editor of New England Review and was Vermont’s Poet Laureate from 2011 to 2015.He is the author of twenty-three books, including, most recently, Seen from All Sides: Lyric and Everyday Life, essays (Green Writers Press, VT, 2021), and Here, poetry (Four Way Books, NYC, 2019). In 2021, he was presented with his home state of Vermont’s most prestigious artist’s distinction: the Governor’s Award for Excellence in the Arts.


From WTP Vol. X #6

I haven’t seen such a countenance since:
the streaming eyes and the open mouth
contorted around an agonized shriek.
They must have mirrored mine. We were trapped
behind a ‘49 army Jeep.

Eddie’s big brother Charles had fastened
our wood toboggan to its trailer hitch,
and we’d both piled on, light-hearted, eager.
Now, when Eddie twisted my way,
his look suggested pure disaster.  

 Here in Vermont it’s a sticky night,
the sickle moon clouded over, the air
so dense that sweat still swaddles my body,
and coyotes palaver. But I think of the torment
Charles caused us in winter. He soon joined the army,

went off to Fort Dix, and died within days.
It was flu, of all things, in middle July.
When they shipped him home from basic training,
his mother cried on the flag-draped coffin,
but so did his father. Tears were amazing

in a strapping adult, and one I’d revered.
And now this cluster of reminiscence:
how a grown man wept; how once we’d started,
my mittens felt like ice, and the wool
like so much gauze on my red plaid jacket. 

Four hundred miles north, sixty-six years later,
I can shiver to think of that dark afternoon:
how callous he was, our hero Charles,
how our desperate pleading seemed to inflame him.
He charged over pasture and teeth-jolting marsh, 

as if part of some military assault.
I fantasize those untuneful cries
from tonight’s coyotes are ironic remarks
on our amateur anguish on that cruel ride,
though Eddie and I believed in our hearts 

we hurtled hell-bent to the ends of our lives.

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