Collected Poems of John Holmes
Holmes, John A., Jr.
The modern poet
The modern poet
He walks in this age looking for the One
Overbanking law that keeps all in,
Flows him from source to sea to sun;
For one course roundly answering all
Floodwater at tight turns with a pool,
Returning him to make high clouds full.
It will pour him down to find the Way.
Losing it, he shall be punished with dry.
In the middle of the channel let me flow.
Walking in this age, he came to a river,
Real, with a name. It had run forever,
Image of the image he must discover.
Over the fast green water a bridge,
Green steel on concrete, arched on a ledge,
Carried a highway crossways, edge to edge
Of image and river, who knew where?
But he knew. He had a route-map here.
And why war's roadbed would endure
A generation's traffic east from east.
Laboratories proved this surface best.
He lived, he died, not all a waste,
Knowing exactly where he was and lost.
He watched, and never twice the same
Saw seasons light the same shut room.
His words would prove it sometime.
Ask how in engines the holy ghost
Explodes the godhead of compression
That heats the airmail's hourly passion.
He tried to pray against confusion.
This decade branches like the blood,
Arteries for freight trucks, side road
For poetry, on the map not bad not good.
Murder at a point in history called X
He knows all about, a matter of Greeks,
Jews, policy, and why a heart breaks,
How the weather bureau hears the wind.
Willow, will you, how the tree must bend.
Tomorrow and tomorrow in the mind.
He knows, he knows, and tells as he is told.
But before the trees were all felled,
There was wilder wind in the world.
I hear five thousand miles, but travel
One square mile of good and evil
At any one time, barefoot on gravel.
That there is no hell, he can prove,
And that heaven is on earth, both relative.
Love harms him, but he values love.
He knows he has wandered from the River.
Nothing is as it should be, and never
Will be. He bums with an ugly fever
To know why it never will be, to know why
Eighty is twice too late for the hated to die.
One rich old bastard died off yesterday,
Who before thirty had done all his worst,
But lived on insolent and cursed
Fifty years more, uncaught, nor forced.
The doors of time shut down on a long war,
And locked him into an unlikely somewhere,
Opened, and again the unsolved Here.
He has lain awake to voices in the night,
Stupid and repetitive, and too late,
And listened to his wrist and wrist beat.
He knows that a dabbling child, to catch
In the bright water fish near the touch
Does fall in and drown. He knows too much.
Knows it is very beautiful and imperfect.
No image, no motto, no new sculpture erect
To say what the decade is, or be exact.
It would be good to be god-damned bitter
About this decade, and state the matter.
It makes house-noises. Doors. Water
Draining away, nothing whole or resists,
The care and the schooling worn, or waste,
The iron of mind's music at rest or rust.
III. 1452 - 1519
This incorruptible star is known
By knowing its laws, by watching man
Wrinkle his face in fear or pain.
This radiant mote of dust has tongues
To praise the very least of things,
To speak its angels, plan its wings,
Has hands, has mind, and had a name -
Da Vinci. He watched the way birds climb,
And shadows fall on shapes in a room.
He loved the laws of light and force.
Great knowledge, he said, is the source
Of great love of the universe.
So, veins in an iris; or silver sound;
Animals always; and laws to find
For stone-saws, looms, and lifting wind
That a man might fly on. Man must fly.
Beware coarse outlines, he would say,
And let thy shading melt away.
Four years on the Mona Lisa, never
Done, she died, his double mind forever
The mystery he might not discover.
In his black courtyard where the light
For the Last Supper was soft and right,
He measured to make the table straight.
He counted wing-beats, built canals,
Guns, towers, cranes, pumps, walls.
He said a man makes real what he wills.
Copy in red crayon this, and this,
When a man knows or knows not peace,
The atmosphere of the human face.
Study perspective, study and keep,
While all the age is still asleep,
The shadowy mysteries of shape.
The store-room and the notebooks filled.
Force. Light. The Precursor John.
The laws. Wings. Wings for a man,
So that in air moving, and upheld,
God and his mechanics could be told.
And died with the impossible undone.
Jeffers and Yeats said the world is dying
Toward resurrection, all poets agreeing
Who love gaudy disaster, all saying
This world men use has man too much.
Man has more world than he can teach
Law to from more lore than he can search.
He says, What a fractional polysyllabic
Denominational damned world we knock
Our heads on, and get no echo back!
The River is bridged, banked. He knows.
The maps need maps, codes, colors. True.
Color means chemistry. Water is a law,
Like the law of cycle or of government,
Massive, inevitable, on a world front,
The swirl predictable at one point.
He has learned that he has learned that.
So. And an east wind, a mind lost, what!
Has he not mastered these currents yet?
I have had my world as in my time,
Chaucer said, who had it in small room.
It tikleth his heart's root the same.