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  • Black Marks
  • Sydney Lea (bio)

On this Sunday morning in March, I’ve been walking the Snake Road, its tar prematurely dry; our winter was small this year. I kneel to consider twinned, dark marks on the pavement, snake-like themselves. They were probably made last night by some adolescent burning rubber, as my buddies and I used to say as beer-crazed boys.

I won’t continue another mile or so to the turn where a beater Ford Ranger went out of control two decades ago. A pair of kids—the one named Willy driving, Evan his passenger—slid across the macadam and smacked into a pine there. My wife, to whom I’d been married only twelve years back then, was heading the other way in the very next car on the scene, our two-year-old daughter with her. How sadly different my life would have been if those two had turned up mere seconds earlier.

Wife and child watched Willy as he shook his friend by the shoulders, crying, “Evan, wake up!” Evan would not wake up.

I rise to my feet and feel my stomach pitch. How sadly different too some other lives might have been if a certain child had walked ten [End Page 55] feet more closely behind the small, car-chasing terrier I ran over at seventeen. I see that girl clearly, mouth gaped in a wail. I think of the fear that must have gripped her mother, behind her, clutching a trowel.

Spring’s familiar flocks of snow geese have begun to course over. Their dog-like yelps sound woeful enough, yet the birds strike me as icons of life. Those that survive will come by again in late October. I imagine an autumn rain, this buckled roadbed a welter of mud and yellow leaves. I will smell that chamois odor of decaying sweet fern, which certifies the absolute death of summer.

I sometimes think we endure, if we do, by accident. Evan’s drunkard grandfather had given the underaged boys their liquor. One afternoon, years earlier, the old man knocked his wife out cold on the broken ground where she tended her flowers. Or so I’d once heard from Luther, the wretched couple’s son, like his own wretched son gone to a too-early grave. Luther, black sheep among black sheep, overdosed on Oxycontin, and Evan gone now too. The sins of the fathers, indeed, as is written.

Today’s March 1st, which happens to be my wife’s birthday. By now there have been twenty of which she might not have been conscious, nor that daughter either. I turn from these tracks on this tiny roadway, having been reminded how everything in this world awaits a defining moment. [End Page 56]

Sydney Lea

Sydney Lea’s most recent collection of nonfiction is A North Country Life: Tales of Woodsmen, Waters, and Wildlife (Skyhorse, 2013), and his latest volume of poetry is I Was Thinking of Beauty (Four Way Books, 2013). He is poet laureate of Vermont.

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