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

XII.

Coming out the front door of my house, east was at my left hand,
North at my back, and south at the end of the street under trees.
To my right was west as I walked down the front steps into the world.

There is hardly space under my hand now for more color or contour.
Music runs over the state lines like storm on a weather-map.
Names and the days I remember crowd on famous houses,
Shadow and travel with, spread, echo, and brighten beloved lives.
Home is the compass-star in the nearest lowest corner;
The scale is the distance a voice travels from room to room,
The distance a word moves from page to heart;
It shows memory, a match struck in the kitchen at midnight,
Memory, a green fern opening on the windowsill. 62.

But how shall I measure the distance, and was it a main highway,
From Charles Gott to the desert places? How many years to the mile?
How far is it from home to the fortieth birthday?
The scale said, All roads as wide as this are main highways,
And all roads lead home, or away from home.
How far from the Governor's hand on my hand on the whistle, when men
Chopped ropes that dropped gates at the Charles River Dam,
To the Sunday night I cursed the news of Roy Baxter,
Dead in Australia? How shall the live man tell the dead boy
Home is the compass, and time is the scale to measure by?

Dear Roy,
Your letter from Hickam Field, telling me of seeing the movie of "The Devil and Daniel Webster" in California, was good to get. I had forgotten you were in that freshman English class the year I first read it. But you hadn't forgotten. Your signature was a surprise: Lieutenant Roy Baxter. You'd laugh, but I read that letter to my classes last week. You could have signed it Roy Baxter, freshman- Roy Baxter who worked afternoons in the library- Roy Baxter who read aloud to the other pilots on the Pacific transport. Now it is Lieutenant Roy Baxter, killed in action, my first student, a good reader, and a long way from home.
Yours faithfully 63.

Needing a scale to help me understand
Distances in this land,
I have written on this map in my own hand,
"Decades are measured with the names of friends.
East is an ocean smell when the wind changes.
Age is an old calendar. Peace is a room.
Home is the compass, and the scale is time."

I knew a tough sea captain who had good luck.
He bought the broken old house he had run away from at nineteen;
His money made it comfortable for the ghosts:
His dead sisters enjoyed, he said, the flagstoned gardens.
Henry Thompson took me there, Henry whose road never got him home,
Henry who kept his own, mine, and a thousand secrets,
And crashed them all into a tree one midnight.

Needing a north for that story
I have drawn compass, legend, color, scale.
Blue is the glass in one of Charles Connick's windows.
White is a tablecloth at Sunday night supper.
The longest distance I ever traveled
Was from the kitchen to the telephone,
Ten years ago, knowing what the ring meant.
The deepest I ever went down
Was into the night that Johnny, aged three, spent alone,
Bruised, bandaged, drugged, in the hospital after an accident.

Some young mothers and fathers know how we clung together awake
All night that night; how quiet the house was in the morning.
That was years after the evening
I first heard her singing
Up ladders and flights and skies
Of many measured voices,
Then her one voice no more,
But the praise to God of the great sounding music
At Bethlehem of the Bach choir in the Mass in B minor.
And how should I know her after that, I, of the listening crowd?
But found her and brought her home. 64. 65. 66.

Measure from the first meal the first day in our first house
To London under the bombs, Greece after the bombs, or France.
Measure the darkness
Of our living room any night in the sixth year, the eighth year,
The last lamp-switch snapped off, the chairs there unseen,
Our hands finding each other's hands, and we go up to bed,-
And the darkness in the dark
Behind bandaged eyes by a wall in Czechoslovakia the same night.
The scale reads no distance here.
The scale says near.

All the roads lead home and away from home.
One from this book-walled, print-hung, lamp-lit room
To an English writer's lost burned library, and back.
One from our family Sunday afternoons, all the children,
Food, music, a garden, to a Chinese town, and back; grim.
One from my own voice speaking to my son
To my father's voice to me, thirty years ago, and back. 67.

I have come a long way using other men's maps for the turnings.
I have a long way to go. I have drawn the map again,
Spread with the broad colors of life, and words of my own.
I could not say where I am now until I knew where I had been.
Until I found my way here I would not know how to go on.

I am in the happiest house since I was a boy;
Big, airy, quiet in the mornings, with trees outside all the windows.
Our furniture is full of stories, the books speak,
The rooms are scarcely empty yet of our friends here yesterday.
I am almost forty. I worry. Sometimes it is very bad.
The planes drone often, like conscience, or fear, overhead,
My son asks what the whistles are for and I tell him trains. 68.
Sometimes I forget to worry. We are all here
Where our planning brought us and our luck and love.
It is enough, I think, at the table; we have enough food.
So we eat the good moments, the meat; we have one another.
Then we remember the starving.

What we want in our new house is more news of building,
Of a great love of building houses
For people like us now, and the child later.
What we want is a little more money; not much;
Money enough to rejoice with, and more time.
We want the world, not the moon. The world
Well, the world with sun shining in all rooms
As in ours through flowers on glass window-shelves.

What we want is the world making good news.
People like us talk this way, a kind of prayer.

We have the first child now, a boy growing.
We have the employer's caution, no warning really.
People like us trust him, he is anxious for many.
But we overhear, we wonder, and what we know
Is a crack showing in the outside house-wall;
Once in a while the wind through it a little.
What we want is to be let alone in our own house
With the child's noise, the day's letters, the door open,
A friend's painting on the wall, and meals, and music.

All this can be taken away from people like us.
But why? To us it is ours, to others nothing.
Takers destroy what they take, they never gain.

We govern our country kindly, our seven rooms,
Naming our holidays. And who, what neighbors,
Envy or need our books, our flowers, our evenings?
People like us would build in the wilderness, build
If there were two stones on ground to set together.
We never ask who made wilderness, man or God.
People like us hear the world's wars, but think
Beyond. What we want, and always wanted, is peace.

-Medford, Mass.
Jan 12, 1954

Postscript.

   
Acknowledgements Tufts University Tisch Library Digital Collections and Archives
Poetry Notebook Map of My Country Along the Row Part XI 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 Top Part XI