House of Women by Sydney Lea

House of Women

All he calls back from the last of the War are cameos.
He’s barely three, and the house all women—mother and grandma,
cousins and aunts and friends, the husbands in Europe or Asia,
in something the women keep calling a theatre. There’s theatre at home,
.. . . . . .he believes. But how can he know it, theatre,
having never seen play nor film, the great drug TV unheard of?
He crouches in the kneehole, curtained, of Aunt Fay’s vanity table

While nightly she daubs on makeup, although it isn’t makeup
that makes her a beautiful woman. With a flourish, he parts the cloth
and the show begins: she’s lovely, despite the polio-withered
leg that makes her lurch so dramatically. The lurch—
.. . . . . .it’s part of the beauty. All done, she sighs.
She kills the light and lights a smoke: a Lucky Strike,
though he can’t say how he knows that. She puffs and sighs and puffs

Some more and sighs. She must miss the deadbeat Uncle Nick,
who isn’t yet that, the deadbeat, but cruises somewhere in a ship.
The boy doesn’t care. Their daughter Nancy’s a grownup, fourteen,
and flirts with him, though he surely can’t know that word either,
.. . . . . .kisses just sweets from the stores of the women,
inexhaustible, warm. Sun stands low, theatrically so,
on the roof of the Farnums’ house next-door when he appears,

Strapping stranger in khaki, with nerve enough to scamper
up the drive toward the house as though somehow he owned it.
The child is standing watch at an upstairs window, in shock,
the end of a world lying near. He is sick with terror and anger.
.. . . . . .Meanwhile the high-heeled shoes of his mother
avalanche downstairs despite his howls, the impostor
lifting her, swinging her round and round, till earth must seem

Distant to her as a star. His own days of stardom are over.

by Sydney Lea

Editor’s Note: This complex poem flirts with two points of view—the child and the omniscient narrator—which describe an emotional landscape of war and theatre and childhood and how relationships function within these difficult situations.

Recession by Sydney Lea


A grotesquerie for so long we all ignored it:
The mammoth plastic Santa lighting up
On the Quik-Stop’s roof, presiding over pumps
That gleamed and gushed in the tarmac lot below it.

Out back, with pumps of their own, the muttering diesels.
And we, for the most part ordinary folks,
Took all for granted: the idling semis’ smoke,
The fuel that streamed into our tanks, above all

Our livelihoods. We stepped indoors to talk
With friends, shared coffee, read the local paper,
Heavy with news of hard times now. We shivered.
Our afternoons were gone. At five o’clock

—Once we gave the matter little thought—
Our Santa Claus no longer flared with light.

by Sydney Lea

Editor’s Note: This sonnet expertly describes how easy it is to feel that the present moment is the worst, but nostalgia teaches us otherwise.

To a Grandson in My Arms by Sydney Lea

To a Grandson in My Arms

I can’t play Duck-Duck-Goose anymore,
I tell you–barely five years old,
and feather-light in my arms. I might
try joining you in the family’s game,
but it takes me so long now to stand from sitting
I’d lose every round. Might you like that?
Victory is still all harmless delight

for you, not an urge for arrogant triumph,
not lust for another’s humiliation.
Why can’t you do it, Grandpa? you ask.
I shrug and say, I’m old. Outside
in late March, the hills are still showing snow,
though out the south window while I stand here and hold you,
I behold green hinting itself in the grass,

dun stubble fading, and downhill, pines
flaring with incandescent candles:
spring’s growth. Yes, sweet boy, I’m just too old
for your harmless play, and you can’t see
what I see all over– the sweet and the other.
One day you will, but Lord knows there’s no hurry.
Things make their rounds. So do we all.

by Sydney Lea

Editor’s Note: The delicate metaphor that frames the latter part of this poem beautifully illustrates the movement of life from beginning to end.

My Wife’s Back by Sydney Lea

My Wife’s Back

All naked but for a strap, it traps my gaze
As we paddle: the dear familiar nubs
Of spine-bone punctuating that sun-warmed swath,

The slender muscles that trouble the same sweet surface.
We’ve watched and smiled as green herons flushed
And hopped ahead at every bend, and we’ve looked up

At a redtail tracing open script on a sky
So clear and deep we might believe
It’s autumn, no matter it’s August still. Another fall

Will be on us before we know it. Of course we adore
That commotion of color, but it seems to come
Again as soon as it’s gone away. They all do now.

We’re neither young anymore, to put matters plainly.
My love for you over thirty years
Extends in all directions, but now to your back as we drift

And paddle down the tranquil Connecticut River.
We’ve seen a mink scratch fleas on a mudflat.
We’ve seen an osprey start to dive but seeing us,

Think better of it. Two phoebes wagged on an ash limb.
Your torso is long. I can’t see your legs
But they’re longer, I know. Phoebe, osprey, heron, hawk:

Marvels under Black Mountain, but I am fixed
On your back, indifferent to other wonders:
Bright minnows that flared in the shallows,

the gleam off that poor mink’s coat,
even the fleas in its fur, the various birds
–the lust of creatures just to survive.

But I watch your back. Never have I wished more not to die.

by Sydney Lea

Editor’s Note: The sharp longing of the last line focuses the clear imagery of this poem into a difficult realization that any reader who loves and has loved will understand.