Traverse City Record-Eagle

September 8, 2013

On Poetry: Man in books finds way in woods

Local columnist

---- — My friend Sydney Lea, the poet laureate of Vermont, and I exchange poems all the time, looking for advice, praise and complaints. Complaints are good, of course. They help us with the poem. This is a brand new one from him that he gave me permission to use here.

We have another bond in our friendship—both of us own cottages that have been with our families for a long time, his in Maine, ours here. Both of us love the woods. Syd has been responsible for saving thousands of acres of his beloved woods in the Downeast Land Trust. I admire him a lot. And I wish we saw as many minnows in our lake these days as Syd finds in his.

As for our cottages, we both know what it’s like to close up for the season. Every closing up is an ending. There’s a tenderness in the heart, putting away the kids’ toys, the fishing rods, bringing up the boats, covering the beds with plastic (did you know sheets of fabric softener will keep mice away?). Just yesterday I threw out the pitcher of wildflowers brought in by some grandchild. It was the pitcher that sat by the stove full of utensils, all dumped into the drawer when we weren’t looking, in favor of flowers.

This poem has such a strong sense of time—the loon chick who’s escaped the raptor one more time, the aging speaker, the released minnows, the wilting black-eyed Susans, the fish they ate for dinner last night. All past, no longer looking forward, except toward home.

I especially love the end of the poem. Maybe those are tears, as he throws out the “dim” bouquet. What does he want but to sing in some way this love, love of place, love of his wife? The pause he speaks of? That could be the poem itself, stopping to look at what’s here, now.

Sydney Lea has been described as “a man in the woods with his head full of books, and a man in books with his head full of woods.” He’s written ten books of poems, as well as a novel and collections of essays about the North Woods. The two of us collaborated on the e-book, Growing Old in Poetry: Two Poets, Two Lives, out just this year from Autumn House Press.

Fleda Brown of Traverse City is professor emerita, University of Delaware, and past poet laureate of Delaware. For more of her work, and to see her website, go to


Last Evening at Oxbrook Camp

On the pewter calm of the lake,

I see our loon chick has escaped the eagle

one more day, the valiant

drake and hen having jammed it between

their bodies, the raptor circling.

Another reprieve. And here I am, old,

who stooped an hour ago

to dump the bucket of minnows I’d trapped.

I watched them scatter, the ones

we hadn’t hooked through their dorsals for bait.

Twenty or so now swim

at large, still prey, but not to us.

We’re headed home in the morning.

I’m poised to throw away this clutch

of wilting black-eyed Susans

picked by my wife of so many years

to decorate the table

where we lifted lattices of spine

from fat white perch, last supper.

So here I am, just another old man,

but a man who wants to write

only one love song after another.

I pause, I blink, I fling

my dim bouquet into late summer’s woods.

—Sydney Lea