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Milton’s Satan

by Sydney Lea

Diabolical heat for this time of year.
There’s the whir and hiss of my fan.
A digital clock blinks on its table.
Self-will is pulsing:
I ache to fly off and find the last of our children,
gone too far away to college.
The nest is empty. It’s burned. The ceiling

of her room still shows her poster for Some Like It Hot.
It’s shriveling after long years
when Monroe looked down on a herd of plush deer
and other mild creatures
now ragged with age. I imagine imagination
might cool my soul: I wrestle to mind
a gentle meadow dotted with flowers,

the checkered shade of a hardwood stand in fall,
a small brook’s ice-jeweled pools,
and last, an unmarred quilt of snow
on our cellar bulkhead.
Such willful visions won’t hold. The meadow is scorched
and tunneled by rodents, parasites thrive
in the trees, mosquitoes will hatch from the streambed.

The snow looks pure. Mercury laces its flakes.
Her absence is bodily ache.
It throbs. It scalds. There are reasons to think of Satan,
his imperious will,
its ruinous conflagrations. Which way I fly,
the poet’s devil claims, is hell.
Satan says, Myself am hell.


Sydney Lea has published nine collections of poems, most recently Young of the Year (Four Way Books, 2011). A selection of his critical essays, A Hundred Himalayas, is scheduled for the University of Michigan Press’s “Writers on Writing” series. He is Vermont’s new Poet Laureate. (10/2011)

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