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


Clear afternoons when I was young,
The rounded arch of heaven hung
So lightly over me I knew
The earth turned over slow and true.
Men strode along my native street
On confident, habitual feet,
As if no almost visible line
Marked out direction's stiff design.

Look right, look left, direction said.
Unwavering, they walked ahead
As if, I thought, they walked inside
An endless tunnel shoulder-wide.
Rails went somewhere, double, bright,
Wires went somewhere out of sight,
And under trees that arched in files
Ran wheels unrolling a reel of miles.

If all my faith, when I was young,
Was given the laws I lived among,
To gravity, to air, to flight,
To the sense of touch, the sense of light,
It had been true a long time then
That builders were the wisest men. 35.
They knew that every living thing
Had skill of root, or leg, or wing.
They built that secret stone by stone,
To make a wall stand up alone.
They stripped that muscle almost bare
And left it tense and tall in air,
Clasping light, and not the soil,
In motionless and breathless toil.

A builder knew the sleeping strength
In idle stone or timber-length,
The wings in wood, the solid shoulder
Thrusting up in the buried boulder.
I needed a language all of signs
For surfaces and working lines.
Not names of things, but the way they look.
The nail. The wheel. The hinge. The hook.
Suddenly printed bright and bare,
The color of fire and fine as hair.
I sent my mind inside their minds
And found the thing a builder finds
Who watches men heave up a load,
Or lean to the curve along a road;
Who watches birds balance themselves
On lakes of air and airy shelves,
Or watches a tree grip soil and grow,
And guesses boughs of root below. 36.

I climbed a tree so high I weighed
In wind no more than leaves. I swayed
With the leafy boughs, alone and free,
Riding above geography.

I gazed from the street beyond my street
To where the sky and highway meet
Where the land rises like a wave in green,
And falls away, but falls unseen
On the further side of noon and here.
Then suddenly I looked down sheer
At roof-slope, sidewalk, backyard fence,
Roof, dormer, roof, and their difference.
I saw that tower, man, and tree
Rose parallel to gravity,
Although great shapes of windy air
Crowded against them standing there.

Look and come down. Deep grass received
A child who knew, but now believed.

Then I walked knowing I could feel
Earth rolling backward under heel,
Knowing forever I should know
That I must bear my part of snow,
My weight of darkness, rain, and light
Like any field or mountain height.


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