Sydney Lea

Annie Fitch’s Duck Sauce
February 13, 2015 Lea Sydney

Annie Fitch’s Duck Sauce


I must be prepared to sit

for hours, the same

as ever, to speak heart-to-heart, or just chat.

The main ingredient’s time.


Because Annie’s 89

when she tells me how I should mix

molasses, spices, sal soda,

duck drippings and orange zest,


some of her part of the talk

concerns elders, needless to say,

whom she often recalls with humor

but more often with elegy.


She too has gone away

as I summon the recipe,

and yet she appears as the minutes

crawl and the fixings seethe,


redolent, dark as tea.

Her uncle George MacArthur

made railroad ties with an ax.

Her father Franklin skippered


the venerable steamboat Robert

H: once ice had broken,

she towed great booms to the river,

then men drove the logs to the ocean.


The pan, cast iron, old-fashioned.

is one Annie handed to me

no more than a few months after

her husband passed away.


He and I crouched to wait

for the ducks of a favorite slough.

We never told anyone which.

We haunted that place, we two….


But I was speaking before

of Annie, who, as I listened,

seemed almost a force of nature,

optimistic, insistent


on the good in any person,

in the meanest one in existence,

or the saddest situation.

At last the sauce has thickened.


These days dear Annie’s a figment.

She’s gone, repeat, not here

to test the spice in the mixture,

which causes my eyes to water.


I could have listened all year.

A former Pulitzer finalist and winner of the Poets’ Prize, Sydney Lea served as founding editor of New England Review and was Vermont’s Poet Laureate from 2011 to 2015.  He is the author of 23 books, the latest “Seen from All Sides: Lyric and Everyday Life,” essays; fourteen of these volumes are poetry collections, the most recent of which is Here (Four Way Books, NYC, 2019). In 2021, he was presented with his home state of Vermont’s most prestigious artist’s distinction: the Governor’s Award for Excellence in the Arts.