The Poet's World The John Holmes Collection The Poet's Words The Poet's Life The Poet's World The John Holmes Collection
 
 

I.

A map of my native country is all edges,
The shore touching sea, the easy impartial rivers
Splitting the local boundary lines, round hills in two townships,
Blue ponds interrupting the careful county shapes.
The Mississippi runs down the middle. Cape Cod. The Gulf.
Nebraska is on latitude forty. Kansas is west of Missouri. 1. 2.

When I was a child, I drew it, from memory,
A game in the schoolroom, naming the big cities right. 3.

Cloud shadows were not shown, nor where winter whitens,
Nor the wide road the day's wind takes.
None of the tall letters told my grandfather's name.
Nothing said, Here they see in clear air a hundred miles.
Here they go to bed early. They fear snow here.
Oak trees and maple boughs I had seen on the long hillsides
Changing color, and laurel, and bayberry, were never mapped.
Geography told only capitals and state lines. 4. 5. 6.

I have come a long way using other men's maps for the turnings.
I have a long way to go. 7.

It is time I drew the map again,
Spread with the broad colors of life, and words of my own
Saying, Here the people worked hard, and died for the wrong reasons. 8.
Here wild strawberries tell the time of year. 9.
I could not sleep, here, while bell-buoys beyond the surf rang.
Here trains passed in the night, crying of distance,
Calling to cities far away, listening for an answer. 10.

On my own map of my own country
I shall show where there were never wars,
And plot the changed way I hear men speak in the west,
Words in the south slower, and food different. 11.
Not the court houses seen floodlighted at night from trains,
But the local stone built into house walls,
And barns telling the traveler where he is
By the slant of the roof, the color of the paint. 12. 13.
Not monuments. Not the battlefields famous in school.
But Thoreau's pond, and Huckleberry Finn's island. 14.
I shall name an unhistorical hill three boys climbed one morning. 15.
Lines indicate my few journeys,
And the long way letters come from absent friends. 16.

Forest is where green ferns cooled me under the big trees.
Ocean is where I ran in the white drag of waves on white sand.
Music is what I heard in a country house while hearts broke.
Not knowing they were breaking, and Brahms wrote it. 17.

All that I remember happened to me here.
This is the known world.
I shall make a star here for a man who died too young.
Here, and here, in gold, I shall mark two towns
Famous for nothing, except that I have been happy in them. 18. 19. 20.

   
Acknowledgements Tufts University Tisch Library Digital Collections and Archives
Poetry Notebook Map of My Country Along the Row Part XII Part XI Part X Part IX Part VIII Part VII Part VI Part V Part IV Part III Part II Writing Poetry: Biographies of Poems Part II Top