Sydney Lea


The generic print of a seascape
hangs crooked above the usual beige phone.
Chill rain out the window,
smell of my own rank sweat on sheet and pillow.
I may never get back home….

For no reason at all I lie here
trying to imagine some original way
of feeling so ill.
Or of testifying to love — as I never will.
This seems so tragic to me

that I fear I may drop dead.
I have to remember it’s only a nasty illness
inducing such thought
as it sears my every joint, my eyes and throat.
I’ll forget the physical sickness,

all platitude, but febrile
in a rented, nondescript room, I finally know
I’ll never tell
my dearest ones what I need to. Ailing or well,
I can’t, I don’t know how,

which is, as I say, so profoundly
painful I’m in a condition that borders on panic.
Only fever,
I say, to gloss the deeper trouble over.
Recollection goes antic:

I remember our two younger daughters
and me, all three of us supine in a hammock;
we’re seeing how many
tunes we know, singing them all. And then I
recall a back-pasture camp-out

with the oldest son: I am all
but hypnotized in the dark by the brilliant glitter
of moon in his eyes.
And next, mere nails and wood, the airplane toy
I’ve made for the firstborn daughter,

who seems to think she beholds
a masterpiece in my makeshift, crude contraption.
And the younger son,
having caught his very first fish, sits staring, stunned —
I still see that rapt expression.

Those children all are grown now
and none will ever grasp how much they mean,
such remembered moments,
no matter how desperately I want to explain them.
How desperately I cling

to our history’s dearer remnants.
What if I lose even these to some sudden seizure?
What if I die?
I won’t, not yet — but so achingly far away
from my longed-for home, in a fever,

away from my only mate
and confidante of thirty years, away
from all I crave —
I imagine how people may crawl toward their graves
in useless, ineloquent tears,

alone, having never told
a soul they treasure the things they ache to tell.
I whisper it: Never.
Disconsolate, hoarse, I whisper it over and over
in some dingy chain motel,

Never, Never, Never,
though I’m sure I only say it because I’m ill.

Sydney Lea recently published his ninth collection of poems, Young of the Year; his tenth is due in 2013. Founder and longtime editor of New England Review, Lea recently retired from teaching at Dartmouth College.