Susan Lanier

Letter to My Daughters’ Father
About The Farm in Green River, Vermont


Blueberry season we’d drape
the frame over the row of bushes
with nets, the pale blossoms scattered
like pearls on the sawdust,
berries swelling up dusty blue
and spit-shine black. Remember
mornings, the air still cool but
the sky milky, walking out to check
for birds? Two jays flashed down
the row, a single catbird flicked
his tail, singing medleys as if
he had more to tell than time
to tell it. And the oriole wedged
in the net, feathers splayed...
do you remember how he broke
into song? How we pulled him
through? How we’d roll the net
up over the entrance then gentle
the prisoners out with prattle and
    Still, those birds would flash
right back by us, choosing blueberries
over sky, mate, flock. It must
have been all the years those bushes
stood open as the farm lay fallow.
All those years of banquet.
We yield to deep memory
and impulse. If it tastes
like life we sing,
oblivious to our wings,
pinioned in the net.


Dog Moods
          Green River, Vermont


There's a mood

dog-eared under the eaves

that says to me,

Split, Baby. Now's the time.

The dog has fleas and the head lice

are back. One child at school, one

toddling after me, Hungry, Mommy,

hungry! You work in another state. And

when you return, if history provides

precedent, you will bring no gift,

only your body and its needs. Don't

touch me. Look at the floor, its pelt

of dog hair and grit, oatmeal, dried

pebbles of cheese, a bloody bloom

of beet juice.


Outside, cardinals colonize the quince,

flirt, attack. Buds and thorns.

Winter is coming on and mice

have invaded the basement,

eating all the pale tips of the crocus

I put in pots. Before I finish the dishes

I remember the rosemary,

clogged with aphids.


I'd go. I would. But then who

would shampoo the children’s hair?

Comb it in little squares? Spray the floor,

powder the dog, vacuum the couches,

strip beds, wash, fold, close the drawer.


Later, I hear my daughter’s intransigent

huff as she stomps up to bed,

her rage embedded as a railroad track.

You stand at the table reading, your back

in too much pain to sit.


I didn't know I'd be called upon like this.

The dry dark at the window, the dog,

barking to be let out, the dog at the door,

barking to come in.


The Vale of Pewsey
          to Halle Grainger


Dusk. I walk the vale
where fog thickens, thins.
Light haloes a lamp
in the crook of a roof.

Back home, my grandmother’s dying.
Since grandfather died, she refuses to eat,
shuts her face against the spoon,
clutches my hand.

People lived on the downs.
Wolves prowled the vale.
The trees on the downs are gone to fields
and the wolves are only dogs
that worry the sheep
grazing the mild green vale.

I hold her hand.
She forgets who I am;
remembers, forgets.

I stand still. The fog yields up
lines of roofs then thickens down
and dims the lights.
People once farmed the downs
with antler hoes and shoulder blade shovels.
Their bones have been eroded, sucked up
by root hairs. While around the barrows
wolves stalk the sheep. But there were
no sheep or are
no wolves.

She drifts asleep
under the painting of a woman
bathing a child in a small tin tub.
A kitchen towel drapes her lap
and sunlight shines on her forearm.

Down here in the Vale, mist beads
in the ears of shadows that rove the meadow.
I whistle and call them by name:
Black Jack, Big Boy, Jim.



When the wind finally stalled


and the raucous colors of sunset
cruised off over the horizon,
I walked out to the porch.
My father sat in his director’s chair,
tipped back, smoking,
watching the islands char,
the lake silver and slate blue,
lapping still, clouds cloaking down
dark wool and the sky behind
in shades of rose and lavender
backlighting the mountains’ silhouette
and solitary crowns of pines, as mosquitos
buzzed and thrust against the screens.
He smoked after a day of anchoring the dock,
changing spark plugs, sharpening the chainsaw,
pruning the cedars, clearing a trail, no day
complete without working up a sweat,
to finish with a swim, to finish
with drinks, his bare legs jutting out
of his robe, to dinner, where he hungered
for us, disdained his need for us, asked us
why we weren’t like the Monger children
or the Hills’… for the porch, the loons,
their calls, dribble of a beaver quitting
the water, splash of a pike. He smoked
into the dusk, tipped back to watch,
as the dishes were being washed, light
paving a path to the kitchen door;
quiet finally at the end of the day, when he
could give it all up. I would sit behind him,
watch what he watched, listen to what
he was listening to, smell the water,
the cedars, the smoke of his cigarette,
and creep into his shadow before he
left, before he slept his dreamless,
untroubled sleep

        return to poetry

Susan Lanier, MFA, grew up in rural Ohio, farmed and raised her children in Vermont where she taught elementary school and college level creative writing. She has been published in Harvard Magazine, MS., Passages North, The Poetry Miscellany, and THE Magazine of Santa Fe, among others. She is also the winner of Oberon Poetry Magazine’s 2012 International Poetry Contest.