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Kevin Sweeney

The Temperature In Aroostook County


Melancholy arrives with clouds and news the ocean

is 57 degrees at the Large Navigational Buoy this first

week of July, but joy follows when NPR notes the air

in Van Buren is 67 while Wells is only 59.  Van Buren

is sunny too, maybe a reward for being progressive;

unlike Caribou and Presque Isle, the enlightened

electorate of Van Buren emulated neighbors in

Madawaska and St. Francis, voting for Hillary, an

anomaly not only in The County but around our rural

state where Donald won Fort Kent by 11 votes and

Glenwood Plantation 2 to 0.  But light shines in Van

Buren where old Peaks Island friend Peter, back

from Vietnam, began his teaching career on the St.

John’s River, a school whose children spoke French

at recess.  Thank you, God and the usually random

skies of Maine for news of brightness and warmth 

on the eve of my 69th birthday in South Portland,

nearing the end of a life lived in improvisation

while others ably followed a crafted script, finishing

in paid-off houses with copious garages, extra

bedrooms, bountiful children close to home who

haven’t succumbed to amorphous bad luck. Hearing

the forecast on a day going the wrong way brings me

back onstage to a story constantly revised by teleological

playwrights. I’m driving my 17 year old car amid the

bearable lightness of being, certain the tank is full, 

weather promising.  For once, this poor player

neither struts nor frets.  Indeed, I know all my lines.

Uncle Vanya In Mad Town

I could’ve been better at discussing Chekhov’s play though

I told students about a production in Cambridge, actors

on stage twenty-five minutes before curtain, passed out

from another Russian drinking night like those on old

Peaks Island.  I might’ve said Chekhov was writing about

Maine, where long winter appropriates April and people

drink too much too early then wake to hard mornings.


The idea, one student said, is get out of Russia, but Vanya

was tethered, like Sonya, to the estate, could only long for

Yelena, the youthful beauty married to an old academic who

owned the place.  My class was too young to understand a

Russian mid-life crisis that made this short, chubby man try

to shoot the selfish elder. They thought Vanya should take

a yoga class because I failed to tell them about Route 11.


Not the road near New Hampshire where he’d stock up

on cheaper vodka nor the middle near Millinocket, close to

summer concerts at Darling’s Waterfront Pavilion in Bangor.

It’s south of Fort Kent, the stretch from Portage to Patten,

dubious cell service and tedious trees. It wouldn’t be easy

to live in Fort Kent, I should have said, though locals from

The County might disagree, pointing out contemplative


river views, poutine at the Swamp Buck Restaurant, a small

university campus where, if Vanya truly thought he could

have been Schopenhauer or Dostoyevsky, he’d take classes.

No need for Bangor if he experienced ennui. Only 20 miles

to racy Madawaska and Parisian-like beauties in bars redolent

of joie de Vivre rather than the anguish of Russian souls.


I see him driving along the St. John’s River, listening to radio

songs in French, crossing the bridge to Edmundston, heading

to Quebec where women take off their clothes on nights of

single digit cold then back to Mad Town where the VFW’s

onion soup has drawn veterans from far away as Van Buren.

But it’s too late. Maybe next semester I’ll place Vanya in

Presque Isle, eating Chinese alone from the Food Court’s

only restaurant in Aroostook Centre Mall.  Maybe I’ll talk

more about Sonya and gloomy Dr. Astrov, but it’s windy,

10 degrees, and snow, says Channel 6, will be here soon.


Kevin Sweeney’s latest book is "Imminent Tribulations" from Moon Pie Press. He has taught at Southern Maine Community College since 1983 and is an assistant poetry editor at the Café Review for which he has done interviews with poets Carl Dennis, Kim Addonizio, Martin Esapda, Gerald Locklin, William Carpenter, and Margaret Randall.


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