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Published: Wed Jul 1 2009
Eva Lundsager, Were now like (detail), 2021, oil on canvas
Slow Burn

She writes him after this lifetime of silence.
There’s a tumor. They tell me it’s final.
She adds, My father’s farm burned down—
_             _oh no no no.
_                       _First love meant hot vinyl
all through one summer. They crooned
along with that Platters tune

they treasured, “Smoke Gets In Your Eyes.”
Long drought, but they felt exalted by sighs:
for children like them hot love meant salvation—
_             _but no. Oh no.
_                       _There’s a beech tree, or was:
are they still there, his incisions
in its trunk? Their crude initials . . .

Her treatment failed, having charred the innards.
How quaint, her diction. Fat clouds gathered,
he vaguely recalls—as they lay in thrall
_             _to their radio—
_                       _over thirsty acres.
Rain boded but never fell.
She wants to catch up, that’s all.

Later she’d have a son and daughter,
who in mind dashed through some suburb’s sprinklers.
They must look like each other, would not be taken
_             _for his children. No.
_                       _He imagines specters:
gap-beaked turkeys shaking
dry wattles, mute geese scolding,

and her late old man’s late cows and heifers
inaudibly bawling in stalls of cinder.
Absence, silence. After some brief season—
_             _ what can he do?—
_                       _her disaster will kill her.
Both adults, the children.
Perhaps that’s consolation.

He and she scarcely noticed dead leaves
and corn in the fields, wizened at seed.

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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