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Slow Burn

by Sydney Lea

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, founder and for thirteen years editor of New England Review, is author of eight collections of poetry, most recently Ghost Pain (Sarabande, 2005) His prior collection, Pursuit of a Wound, was a Pulitzer Prize finalist in 2001. He teaches at Dartmouth College. (5/2009)

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