Early Life

Sydney Lea

All the pastor’s years of serving God
and humankind—they’re nothing now.
His congregation has long resigned itself
to anecdotal, meandering sermons.
But how forgive his mixing the liturgy
of welcome to a new church member
with the ceremony—however it may be related—
of baptism? The poor young parents

blush and fidget while veteran members feel
something between impatience and rage.

The minister and infant, robed and sleeping,
appear serene, above it all,
the one too young, even awake, to know
what’s going on and the other unable
to keep intact his thinking. Painful pauses.
Autumn rain on the roof like gunfire.

Of course there are some members who, approaching
the old man’s age, feel sympathy
as he stands, bemused and calm, his wan blue eyes
entirely empty, like the font he forgot
to fill before the service got underway.
No one knows that yet. He’s always
been a reflective sort of man, concerned
with things that matter. No one knows

what to do with him. Arriving late this morning
yet again, he plucked a flower
from the vestry garden, and wears it jauntily
in a hole in his cassock. You might compare
his look to some young man’s of a certain era
setting out on a certain evening
to visit with a woman, girl really,
the one he wants to be his wife.

As a poet said, The world lies all before them.
Early life. When a deacon whispers
into his ear, the pastor cocks his head
and finds a momentary means
back to the requisite rite. The empty font
is still a problem. The girl he wed
in fact is decades dead. The pastor seems
to shun the mention of her name,

though seasoned congregants admired and liked her.
No one knows or probes his motives,
even if there are members who, approaching
the old man’s age, still mourn and miss her.
Forget the font. Let’s leave him with his aster
still in place, and memories
of other times now fusing with whatever
he may be musing as he holds the child,

who, just awakened, grasps the flower
and babbles so brightly the pastor smiles.


Sydney Lea, a former Pulitzer finalist, recently published his thirteenth collection of poems, “Here.” Shortly ago, Able Muse published “The Exquisite Triumph of Wormboy,” a graphic mock epic in collaboration with former Vermont Cartoonist Laureate James Kochalka.

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