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


Once upon a time dragons in the curled wave,
Nights of waiting in starlight for the wind,
Sails tall under the slow antique Pacific clouds at sunrise;
Once upon a time, and a long time ago now,
Slim men on neat narrow decks, with good manners, and guns.

The elaborate legend of the great-uncle's voyage to Japan. 31.

Once upon a time red stripes
In the striped flags whipping in sun.
Dark blue uniforms. Gilt and green carven
High-breasted ship's figure-head. Cannon. Once upon a time.
The foreign shoreline compared by a Boston man to Boston.
Brass glinting, the western ship's clean deck easy at anchor.
Speeches and gifts under the awnings,
The foreign costumes, the fans. Once upon a time.

A long time ago now. The strangeness; letters; the diary.
"Clothes are queer. Visited a temple. I send my love." 32.
At home, later, the fat blue porcelain jar of dry rose petals.
In my grandmother's parlor, in my aunts' houses,
The table screens of faded rich brocade, the ivory carvings
In a motionless procession forever in a brick Boston house,
The inlaid cabinets full of kid gloves, calling cards,
Pictures of the children, souvenirs of the World's Fair.
At my mother's table, in my uncle's office,
Later, a little at a time, family talk:
His good clothes of gray cloth, his job at the Navy Yard,
His long walks on Sundays in Charlestown, under Bunker Hill,
Alone, carrying a thin cane, and his linen very clean.
Had he seen the Emperor? Had he tasted the metal music
Of gongs in some shrine in the Japanese hills, worn the costume
Of moonlight on a curved bridge to some flowery island?
His silence at dinner. His sudden angers.
As if he had seen in a war more than he could bear thinking about,
Hearing the people at home talk and ask questions.
His death at forty-two.
The pencil color of his pocket diaries. 33.

Writing my cousins' names here, I think of him, call to him,
And I keep his color still rare, though mixed with time.
We believe he climbed the bridge to the island
Shaken with music, and
Came back.
His passion in us is poetry, music, painting, theater.
I have shown this on the map everywhere,
Painting red and bronze over white and black, swirling;
Telling in color here how the west went east, telling
What he remembered on his Sunday walks, alone, slim, silent,
Telling it at last only in his blood.
He knows we know him. We think he voyaged well.

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 III Part II Part I Writing Poetry: Biographies of poems Part V Top Part III