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

VIII.

I remember cities for this broad and brightening map
Where friends have disappeared into their lives,
The last word third-hand, years later.
Did the boy next door thirty years ago take over his father's business,
Is that his name in the newspaper? Walter Martin.
Alexa with the black hair teaches in South America, I heard.
My college room-mate shipped in the fruit-boats, I heard.
Jack Moody was in New York, the last I knew.
I didn't get to that high-school class reunion, couldn't make it.
Bernie Glaser is in the army. Don Woods is in the army.
Dan Smythe is in the army. What was the name of the fellow
Who showed me how to make a tuning coil and crystal detector?

Who, in that distance, who under the sun
That I could have cared so much for?
Why, after this space of time?
But they were important once, and I lost them.
Oh, where? And I still remember.
43.

Or they died at whatever age too young, still strong, still needed.

John Cousens. Robert Newdiek. Albert Kahn. Charles Gott.
These were the always-believed-in, these were the foundations
On which I was to build a new world in their names.
I remember cities, decades to come, loves, all lacking my friends.
I imagine for my own map of my known world regions of silence,
I cry their names in the desert places,
I draw the black boundaries black.
In what lives, I ask now of few who answer, and always fewer,
In what towns now might have been good will, stride, wit, height,
All their warm wise power, all the pride they had to spend?

Unspent.

Listen. John Cousens looked right through you, and you'd better be sure he'd see nothing you'd be ashamed of. He worked hard, with a grim love, with life for his material, knowing time short. You wouldn't do less than your best for the president of your col-lege. You couldn't. He'd know. You gave him your first book; the years he gave you to make it you had given him back, you thought, when he dropped dead a few months after. It was a long time before you could walk past his office window, and not go in, and not look, and not accept death.

Robert Newdick wrote you letters you read like the morning paper, and answered like telegrams. Lov-ing the same great living poet, you both poured all you knew into one deep pool; and books, teach-ing, hope, joy. He was so busy. He planned so much work. You couldn't believe the clipping from the Columbus paper. Not Bob. Not dead.

And why does it always come without warning? In the midst of life?
What are the words of the preacher but the words of the preacher?
And why does it always take the men it must not take from us?

Listen. Albert Kahn was a lawyer who liked music, and had a houseful of good books and two sons. You never really knew him as you were to have known him, and he guessed it; we both knew and never said so. He was tall, he was wise, he was kind and eager and sad. Even now you catch yourself thinking, I must tell Albert about this, this is something Albert would like. It was better to be talking a little while with him anywhere than with the best talkers in the world every day in the week. You didn't get it often. Too many things stood in the way, death the last one.

Charles Gott was the best boss you ever had. He knew all the answers even if you didn't ask the questions, and you didn't. You knew what he wanted, he knew what your work was. He told the best stories you ever heard, you looked forward to seeing him every day, his mind made your mind clear and calm when you talked things over. You were just thinking you could work a lifetime for him and like it, when he died. He died.

All these red lines, like blood, mean letters coming and going,
Netting the wordless land with words.
See how they tighten boundaries round areas of love and life.
Here's when my brother was in Philadelphia, who remembers
Walter Martin next door thirty years ago, and Jack Moody.

We used these thousands of words to keep the family feeling.
To Dorothy in England, to Warren in India,
To Robert Frost, to Carroll Towle, to Dave Morton, to Ted Packard,
Asking in New Hampshire and Vermont and the Berkshire country
About books, health, children, visits, poetry.
Here's Beal in Madison, Ciardi in Kansas City, part of me gone away
And the long lines out from name to name, saying
Don't forget me, Keep on thinking about me, Tell me. Tell me. 44.

 

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