Whatever I Might Say

By Sydney Lea

Though to touch its flame would surely be as painful as when it burned brighter, the candle’s low now. On the table, just prior to guttering after dinner, it vaguely illuminates friends.

The glow takes me to Creston MacArthur, one son’s and one grandson’s namesake, and to our many evenings as a campfire ebbed. Just now I’m remembering a particular night, the two of us seated next to a favorite river, swapping stories. His were better.

A bleakness sinks into me despite the patent pleasures of this later interlude with other people I care for and admire. I’ve long savored their camaraderie, their conversation, their gifts for wit. The lateness of the hour has turned our talk to rote murmuring, something like the water of that river, which always flows right below my consciousness.

I should do more now than merely prattle with these good companions, just as I should have said more to Creston, gone almost forty years, and perhaps he to me. Or maybe not: deep in the woods, barred owls started to chatter that night. “Like a good pack of hounds,” Creston said, and that woodsy locution seemed perfect, seemed pinpoint accurate.

Still I’m unsettled. It’s as though I were looking on these people here, on my children, on my children’s children, on my past—I’m looking from above. Having failed to put the right words together, I’ve risen over our group like smoke. The chill in my spirit has something to do with feeling removed, and feeling removed because I’m tongue-tied, tongue-tied for fear that any speech of mine will sound formulaic.

It’s late. The guests will leave. The candle’s wick whispers. I must hope I’ve found a way of being with loved ones that’s better than any talk I could grope for, than any I craved as those old fires grayed, a way that bespoke me better than whatever I may have said, whatever I might say now.


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. Visit his website here

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