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Published: Thu Jul 1 2010
Diego Isaias Hernández Méndez, Convertiendse en Characoteles / Sorcerers Changing into Their Animal Forms (detail), 2013, oil on canvas. Arte Maya Tz’utujil Collection.
Winter Poet

Again the full moon climbs, precisely on time.
What else would it do? A shame that as it floats
it doesn’t spark interior commotion.
Or perhaps it does in its way. What it produces
is no less familiar, though, than moonlight on snow.
Fireplace wood, well aged, neither cracks nor hisses
but makes a soft dull hum. He’s just come to
from a doze, with someone’s book of poems on his chest—
which he sets aside. He suspects if he opens it now
he’ll shut it. Not that he won’t find time to persist
in reading it later. He has little else to do.

He watches as shadows extend themselves on the lawn.
Also chimeras. He’s tired of tired old tropes
using shadow and light. But what does he want at his age?
He’s seen enough to hold to what he’s got,
to the lovely, faithful, intelligent woman he owes
for what at its best is bliss, and even to his cat,
who after a nap of his own seems focused upon
an angle of parlor baseboard. If he longs for his children
to be children once more, for instance, he knows they’re gone
to live with their children, and all his magical thinking
will never transform them to rosy infants again.

Perhaps this is more than anything else what unnerves him:
that memory’s his topic, he can’t resist it
and seek out something more lively. This afternoon,
inventing a chore to cure his idle brooding,
he revised his ragged address book, which largely consisted
of rubbing out names of the lost. He’ll be a witness
to more funeral ceremonies now than weddings.
Not that he’ll make memento mori his theme,
since that’s as hackneyed too as a fat moon’s rising.
He hates his incapacity to behave
or express himself these days without ironizing,

to dream as he used to dream some absent lover
and how he’d been wronged by her, by the world’s meanness,
the witless incomprehension of those around him
_—dull, bourgeois like him now—_of colorful pain.
As if that kind of thing had ever been less
a commonplace, either, than the dreary return of moonlight.
He still can muster the risibly easy sort
of phrasing he once thought fresh: There you will sit,
lonely, adjusting a lamp, as I step abroad
into moonshine. He almost sees the lover pore
over things that he could explain to her were frauds.

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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