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

XI.

Listening down five o'clock streets to hear,
If I could hear it, the sound of American life in my time,
I got lawn-mowers, mill whistles, piano practice, and trolley cars
Bringing people home to eat to sleep to get ready to go back to work.

I heard, somewhere off Maine, a hundred-trap lobsterman
Cut his old motor and drift the boat in to the mooring.
Rubber-booted and sky-blue-eyed,
He rowed the skiff standing up, lifted bait-baskets out on the rocks.
A few white gulls hung over the dark pines, over the still tide.
Somewhere in the plains country a Ford truck with a week's supplies
Kicked rocks out of the road, cutting around a bend,
House six miles away, night not cold yet but the sun down,
And leather jackets felt good, and the sky high. 50. 51.

I heard men curse and wonder, joking in drug stores,
Talking in bars, in grocery stores, in the up-country trains,
Taking a long time in Minnesota to say,
When I was a boy, we all had to go to Sunday School.
Not saying much in Kentucky, saying as if they wanted to know,
What do you think, are we going to win this war?
Waiting a while, looking out a Vermont post-office window, saying,
I never thought he'd go like that, a big man like him.

Listen to this map. There is a big old slow clock ticking.
My father is nailing up a box. The camp bugle blows over the lake.
In a silence at Herbert's funeral his mother sobs once. Listen. 52.

In the house in Somerville there is a sound of poems.
The map here shows a midnight fifteen years ago, the door shut,
Words running and speaking from the pencil in my hand, saying,

O heart be quick, this late hour like the first,
And pride be rock in you to rest upon.
Of all that years may bring you, this is worst,
And will not come again, and now is gone.
Be secret. Do not call the lonely name
Once hers, and now forever set apart.
Be kind. Be full of gifts at every claim
Of pity for your three-times-iron heart. 53.

Here the map says noontime in Massachusetts, and I open the window.
Two children roller-skating on the uneven bricks.
An old man's thin soles on the wooden porch next door, shuffling.
A crib in the next room squeaks. A plane scratches a long line on the sky. 54.
I saw men painting whiter the white houses with green shutters,
Painting signs brighter; saw grass, striped flags, stony rivers,
Saw taxicabs, and lights and flowers and eyes.
From my own front steps I saw the Northern Lights.
From my own windows I saw the local sunset
When my mother called me to come quick and look. 55.

And turned back to my room full of books; and the medallion tile
That said Terar Dum Prosim; and the clumsy ship-model. 56.
Turning the typed pages, I listened to my poems again.

God bless your evening road,
And bless tomorrow then;
Lighten whatever load,
And bring you here again.
Time crowds upon us black,
But your talk had a glow
That fought the darkness back,
And I did not tell you so,
Because my clumsy tongue
Lacked grace to give good-night.
That was a homely wrong,
But in my power to right.
There are wrongs enough and more
Almost past hope to mend,
But by Fire and Food and Door,
Let this one have an end. 57.

And on the next page, the next night, with another heart,

Be proud and fierce
Like a wild thing better dead than tamed.
Be like the wrestler no one can throw.
When the ringside
Thinks your shoulders touch the mat,
And shouts they do,
And hopes they do,
Then twist, you losers, twist.
Take a big breath, come out from under,
Saying, Not this time.
The wrestler no one can throw. 58.

I have painted my map man-color and country-color,
Rubbing in colors of autumn, or ocean, or childhood.
(Childhood's color is blue corduroy overalls;
The sound is a tin truck on a bare floor,
And the same song hummed all morning.)
I've said here the dirt roads, the Christmas wreaths,
The girls' soft bright sweaters in a classroom, the searchlights;
Saying on the map tools, uniforms, restaurants, costumes,
Saying the color of life isn't all here without billboards and printer's ink,
Stop-signs, magazines, mountain meadows in the sun.
It isn't all clear on the map without Johnny's toys when he was five,
And got the color of them into every room in the house every day. 59.

Then I remembered the world, and here on a smaller map
A poem hides color in sound, shines in a memory of light:

With his forefinger curled, and then uncurled,
He spun on its spindle the bright-colored world
Slowly, letting it lunge up and over in space
At what he thought, for weight, would be its speed.
His was the one Hand here that fulfilled the need
Of light again, and time again, and the right place.
Almost invisibly to him the slow tide
Moved on the world's waters blue and wide.
The round bulk carried his own country down,
Then slowly up, and, turning steady, swung
Even the small house in this anonymous town
Toward all the stars the world revolves among.
But not if he spun the world all night tonight
Would any country overtake another,
Or, spaced in their orbits like wild birds in flight,
These starry travels bring two worlds together.
He let the world run down, and let it stop.
The lamplight made a shiny place on top,
On the blue ocean, and on some country colored red.
He put the world in a box, and went to bed. 60.

Then lying awake in the small house somewhere on the world in a wooden box,
I thought of the poet Gogarty, his clean rich Irish speech,
And of an old man on the street I was told was Whitehead;
I thought of Fish Ellis, who played football like a scientist's poem,
Whirling and running, hard, fast, reckless, and right and winning;
I thought of Jeffers, a wary Indian, brown and lean;
Of Jim Curley slowly pulling on gray gloves in a barbershop door;
Of Margaret Osgood at ninety warming her soft hand in mine
While I told her she was too old to die, and too deep and strong;
And I thought of sleep, and age, of Elinor in white;
Of a long story someone had told me, the words repeating words
Without getting to the end, and the last day my grandmother Murdock
Came downstairs to a meal, and she cried, and her hair fell,
And she would but she could not stay with us all there,
And I carried her to her bed in my arms, and she thanked me. 61.

That stroke of gray, that streak like smoke in the room,
Blue-gray in daylight, dark in the year's shadow, is time.
Time keeps names alive in my country,
Drives them or drains them of color,
Stays them, or swings and stirs them,
Brings them in storm together, shields them with silence.

Grief (love) brightens and lights the run of the wave.
Memory (history) is the wave lengthening as it fails forward.
Names break over the world's edges where they reach.

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