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

IX.

Put terrors where no knowledge is,
Said the old cartographers,
Fear comets, and serpents that swallow ships.
Keep away from the edge of the known world.

So they showed whirlpools, and dragons in the margins,
And giants and terrible winds. 45.

Those old maps are very decorative, quaint, desirable for framing.
They were right, though. There are some things you can't do anything about.
You do fall into the whirlpool sometimes, you do get hit by a comet,
You get blown by a black wind out to the edge of the known world,
Slammed against a brick-wall question, and no answer.

A woman was crying as if she couldn't stop.
I listened, but I didn't know who lived there.
Somebody's bad luck, I said; like that.
I watched an ambulance at the hospital door.
They were being very careful with the stretcher,
It was small, it was white, it must have been a child.
Somebody's bad luck.
The morning paper, under a big blurred picture
Of a man with his face turned aside, says . . .
No one I know.

Somebody's bad luck in the newsreels last night.
Somebody's bad luck this morning in the street-car,
Told by a short man with his back to me, I couldn't hear all of it.
Somebody I saw downtown, looking sick, looking scared,
Nowhere to go. Somebody, no one I know.

Who?
Who's hurt?
Where is he now? Where are you?
I'm coming. I'm crying your name in the night everywhere.
You. I'm coming. Answer me. Where are you?

Where are they? Who?
Now that I draw the known world, they are all here near me.
I'm hurt, and you.
I'm scared, too.
It was Johnny carried away in that ambulance, my son,
Or was it your son?
That was you sobbing in the next house.
That was me with my back against the street-car door.
The names in my poem of ecstasy and ancestor
Are yours and mine and might be anybody's-it's all been done.
You climbed the trees I climbed, they hated the same deaths,
We remember the spring-moonlit-leaves at school.
It's drawn here, it belongs to everyone.

Will you follow the map's lines
Past gaps in knowledge, into my deserts and darkness,
And read the reasons for the lines I drew-
Or have you been there, too?

Since the thirtieth year of my age I've heard the cry
That on a seventeenth-century night no one in England answered,
O God! O save me! Black silence, and another blow.
I believe the man died in a ditch, of many wounds, and no name.
I believe there is more murder than they print in the papers,
And the news I read I scarcely understand,
but I have bad dreams.
I dream magazine-pictures of refugees with bundles, plodding,
The road full of them, a long road going somewhere, nowhere,
A road leading away from home,
And they might be my wife, my child, myself with a push-cart, plodding.
Where did they sit down? When did they open the clumsy package,
And what had I put in it, shirts, toys, insurance policies,
Food out of the icebox, what did I save?

The day after this dream I say little.
People notice my bad temper.
But I am not angry, it isn't anger.
What can we save? What have we got that goes best in a bundle?

When I was young, I was the center of my world,
And said from where I sat, serenely, greenly curled,-
Give up, go home and die, no one would care,-
To old, gross, fat, sad, ugly hopeful people everywhere.
But each one was the center of his world, and cared,
And was not old or ugly; but I was sad, I cared,
When I grew up, whether or not they died,
And what they hoped for, and to whom they cried.

I am remembering a cry I heard and answered.
I heard a girl scream; got out of bed and dressed; I was asleep;
She flung herself out of his car and ran up the street home
Just as I got there, and he drove around the block to where I stood.
Would you like to talk to me, he said.
He told me his bad luck, he was married, he was in love with this girl.
When she said, We've got to stop this, it's all wrong,
This is getting us nowhere, and my family doesn't like it,
He hit her. He didn't mean to, but he hit her.
He was going to kill himself that night, he said.
I was very cold sitting in his car late listening to his bad luck.
I was in love myself at that time,
I was very sure about it, I told him,
Very lucky; and at that time I was, and I was very happy.
I think he went home, he got quiet after he told me the story;
I never knew, and he didn't tell me his name.
He had planned to drive his car into the river. 46. 47.

   
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