Wednesday, April 23, 2014


One of the quietest books of Vermont poetry ever to fall through the cracks is this thin wonder. Nicely divided between two contrasting themes: "Vermont" and "Asia", and the lyrical power and persuasion remains constant and sure no matter where Lyle traveled. Just listen and feel the language work. Born in the spring of 1911 in Leverett, Massachusetts, a country boy raised in country schools and with farm stock, he worked his own way at odd jobs to make his way through an extensive education at Middlebury and later Harvard, where he had to be the most unassuming and modest Ph.D I ever met, and later worked for, at carpentry and landscape jobs at locations found in these Vermont poems. Hayden Carruth took a shine to the poems, too, and with the help of the Vermont Council of the Arts and fine arts publisher Roderick Stinehour, this series of Vermont Poetry Chapbooks was kicked off in 1975, with Hayden as its editor. You couldn't have been in better hands. I wish it could have gone on forever. Lyle as well. He passed away in North Bennington in the fall of 2004 at age 93.
 The time of year he loved.

[ BA ]



Moving from Buffalo
to Bennington
he digs a shoot
of her spice bush
from its lodge
by the corner of the garage
and some red roots
of a choice peony
and two small saplings
from the big maple
in front of the house,
he tails them into
the rough sod at the new site
waiting for October
rain for a final
transplant, inside
the new small house
raw from the builder's
plane and saw and mortar board
he scrubs spilled
sealer from the linoleum
floor, hangs pictures in bedroom
and livingroom where
they will please her eye,
arranges all the upstairs furniture
before starting to unpack
boxes of books
for his downstairs den,
they have been married
33 years, they have lived
in apartments, the first small
house, then the great house there
in Orchard Park
for growing children
and growing reputations
this house is for themselves


For an old man
who cannot walk the trails
the hills are
supinely beautiful
surrounded by
green hogbacks
remote from town
he seems insulated
from everything
even a visit
to the supermarket
from which he can bring back
a quart of milk
a loaf of bread
no handclasp
from a friend


In the livingroom
of the new house
lights switched off
his feet fumble
in the dark
nonpulssed to find
no clue
to the familiar way
still too
bright in his head
to be switched off
with the overhead


He rolls his mower
down to the big farmhouse
the only house in sight
and cuts a patch of grass
for his sister-in-law
roaming afterwards
through the cluttered
chambers of the great barn
storing hay
and junked machines
from old days
when the farm
was acre to acre alive,
now a neighbor's
crops clover in the rented
pasture, here in semi-dark a churn
heaved in a corner
is cobwebbed, there
a cement block
marked at corners
with rusty tags of steel
shows where the separator
once chirred
after the spurt of milk
to scrubbed
and shining pails


Rummaging in the pighouse
at the farm
he comes across
a fence-maker's
barb-wire creel
suitable for a sawbuck
ready for use
this legacy
from his father-in-law
who sawed and squared and nailed
the solid frame
to last beyond his life
stopped twenty years
but speaking sure
in oak that can endure
beyond one man's tenure


never get over
trying to find out who
what you are
pretense jars, scars
in the end will wear out
so be true you
at peace,
even so
somebody says
"I didn't know you were like that"
and the whole rigamarole
to find out who,
then, she thought you were
starts over again
to prove it to her


Morning air
is so clear here
and today so still
a herd of cows
four sheep
are pasted
like a child's cutouts
white against green
on the opposite hill


My father-in-law told
how one spring when he was getting
out dressing for the fields
his spreader cleared the drive
and gained the dirt highway
in time to meet a two-
seater from town, the driver
and three ladies got up
in white, and parasols,
to view the pretty country
cows and barns and horny
handed farmers in
denim bibs, he managed so
his team got crossways
of the road and he kicked
loose the whiffletree
just as they drew abreast,
the load was fragrant
and it took awhile
to calm the restive horses
his and theirs,
he tipped his cap
and saw them on their way
passing a green bottle
from nose
to nose, it was not so much
they were shocked as
shocked was what they thought
they ought
to be


An immense
tenderness comes over him
for all the shared
or missed
he feels lucky
to have been spared
aloneness, the look back
on years of self-
congratulation, knowing
at heart
it wasn't all that great
to be fourth for dinner
and bridge the customary
spice of the party, but late
at night in the spic
and span small
apartment all
to himself an inventory
of rage


Once poised
upon the edge
for ever
you look down
on fields
and farms below
green groves
and furrows far
and fallow
where they walk
the godlike people whom
to join would be to plunge
but once up there impaled
upon the cliff's
high brink
who evermore
would dare
the paradise


From his small house
protected against risks
he looks across dry fields
already harvested
and at a hill on fire
with autumn flame, 
the panic in the leaves
infects his reverie
with worse
than the old fear :
the inferno in his brain
this year
will it winter
spring again
and summer
to a new


He makes
no mistake
about his great
not loss of life;
everything else
depends on
that going-on,
that little
of pulse and nerves
scarcely deserves
fretting over,
rather he dreads
to discover
he must not expect
a reincandescence of words
during the agony
of every new day
a rebirth


Walking the brown and gold
October swamp
in search of a stray he
stirs the curiosity
of a pastured bull
and comes back laden
with orange ferns
and from a ruined wall
a lichened rock
suitably flat for one
more stepping stone
across the incipient lawn


Deep in the swamp
maple and tamarack
birch and pine
give way to feathered ferns
above the glittering stream
whose murmur here
speaks to no ear
year after year
till now
I come and stay
a moment
and as softly go


How unexpectedly
he misses the coercion
of all those years
of rows
of students driving him
to fresh discoveries,
now books become
the pets of idle hours
fret his mind
mildly, lack
the irritant
of panic, what
can I say
today to stir
their apathy
look, see
the poet self-
amazing drew
aside a curtain
on his hell
or heaven
for you


On the high hill
above our house
November winds
obliterate the view
which wide and far
beyond the Monument
contracts in chill
of shoulderblades
too hunched too narrowed
to permit
for inward sight
an outward slit


Two Continents
Vermont Poetry Chapbooks
The Stinehour Press