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Published: Mon Jul 1 2013
Eva Lundsager, Were now like (detail), 2021, oil on canvas
How to Sort It

That woman’s husband works night shifts in a warehouse someplace.
He’s a big man, and sleeps all day. I bet
he drinks. But what do I know? Dark clouds are stealing in…
Well, no they aren’t. That’s poetry, and bad at that.
She’s a headstone color: gray hair, gray face,

her hooded sweatshirt dull, like a sheet of old tin.
It’s as though she can’t look forward to much but death and the grave.
Her eyes are gray, though it’s too easy
to call them empty. Their tears might so easily- flow. Oh no.
I’m hunting around for eloquence here and coming up empty.
The woman and I just nod at each other

as we wait at the post office window. Though I’m an old man now,
I go on looking toward some sort of future.
I’m a big man too, which may be why
that woman shrinks. Or I think she does.
We all like the postmistress, who’s old herself but spry,

and despite her loss still cheerful and bright.
Her hairdo’s new. I recall her husband, who was
a person people here always called Big Mike.
Some old folks claim the man could lift a barrel
brimful of hard cider right over his head. I’d like to imagine
some tribute to Mike. I’d write it, if that were feasible.

A character, Mike. He drove a truck that
he’d brush-painted pink. He lived with his wife and children
and a bunch of critters and mixed-breed hunting dogs far back
in the woods. In time the kids grew up
and moved from here, but the family, we remember,

seemed always so decent and gentle with one another.
The postmistress wears that shirt she loves.
It’s a pretty shirt. Now what shall I call it? Purple?
Fuschia? Puce? And how might I portray good and evil?
I wish I knew. Let the clouds above,
the God-damned clouds, steal in. No, let them hurtle.

Sydney Lea is the author of twenty-four books: a novel, five volumes of personal essays, three of critical essays, and fifteen poetry collections, including the forthcoming What Shines (Four Way Books, 2024). A finalist for the Pulitzer Prize and winner of the Poets’ Prize, he is founding editor of New England Review. He served as Vermont’s poet laureate from 2011 to 2015, and in 2021, he received the state’s most prestigious arts distinction: the Governor’s Award for Excellence. (updated 4/2023)

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