Collected Poems of John Holmes
Holmes, John A., Jr.
Mr. Holmes's brother
Mr. Holmes's brother
Once a man I'd certainly known long enough to get used to him,
So his cheekbones and eyeshag and voice, his first name and last name,
Were all one-this one-of-a-kind Charlie Robinson
Told me his brother said-. What kind of a brother? Brother?
I never heard of him, talking to me while I stared,
Charlie's voice from the wrong mouth, standing there
Wearing a difference of clothes, fatter, taller, what?
There's only Charlie. I'd be seeing his ghost.
Each brother is the other's ghost, what he might have been,
His son-father, the left glove. They have only a last name
In the world, to one another only the first names,
While the father's bones show through words and skull-shape,
The ghost of the last name, that never left the house.
The brother is another room both walk in, talking,
Then together through the whole house they were children in,
Searching walls and mornings, people among the furniture.
But it wasn't Charlie Robinson and his brother,
Whatever his name was, Pete, that scared me. It was my brother.
I have a brother Bob, two years younger, in New Jersey,
The most patient man I know, and I guess tough, and the funniest.
We all have some of this in the family, but he has it all.
If I tell something he said, are they so used to me around here-
Old pipe-sucking, one-of-a-kind John, with that unseeing look
They think means I'm thinking-that a brother is an im-possibility?
Once I spent a day with two men who work for him.
Somebody fractional, Mr. Holmes's brother, but older. Hard to believe
Mr. Holmes has an older brother, but there's something
About the voice, or the nose, they said, almost grudging.
Trying to see him as they did, I saw him larger than he is, separate,
Yet not a stranger. I was the impossibility. I was his ghost.
We ask one another now what we saw when we looked out,
In that time when we were brothers, before we went outside
And were lost, each alone with his first name and last name one name.
The world was in us, not we in the world then.
We raised dirt forts for our lead soldiers under the calla lilies,
Ramparts under the dahlias at the porch-side, the soil black and cool.
Or swung derrick-loads, the mast-guys tacked to the playroom floor.
Saturdays we read old magazines on the cellar-bulkhead steps.
People from outside gave us our last name, neighbors in the streets,
Fenced yards, church, the butter-and-egg store-the Holmes boys,
One gangling, one stocky, in brown corduroy knickerbockers and jackets.
As we get older, I see him looking more like our father.
A child's eyes are near the grown-ups' hands on chair-arms,
And now the backs of his hands look like our father's, like mine.
I breathe like my father now, and to myself I sound like him,
Speaking to my children, as if I sat inside him.
I see my brother only two or three times a year,
And write to him more often than to anybody, usually Sunday night,
When I'm quiet, and a little sad, a little lonely.
I'm not, but that's when I write him.