Collected Poems of John Holmes
Holmes, John A., Jr.
My father's silence
My father's silence
There cannot be many living
Who say their forefather was Adam,
But mine was. He was the first man,
Then Abraham, John, Franklin, and John
My father, six generations to me
From a banished Presbyterian.
Any man who left Ireland was an Adam.
We married women tuned for music
And talk, all looking like my mother.
But little good they did the husbands,
Little good I, an offshoot poet,
Have done my father's knotted heart.
My father has sat in the kitchen
When not all the great-great-wives
Could chatter away his Celtic dark.
He turned inward to his Abraham,
Or back to our family Adam, or hunched
Like the stones of Scotland in gray rain.
I had a brother and sisters younger,
Named from the old names in his book.
Crying one another, we cried a rune
Our father must have heard,
No harpist Could rouse him from the melancholy
He got from his fathers, the stones.
No harpist; but he gave a slow sigh,
Breath brought from North Sea caves.
He heard us, spoke, and was home again.
But I am of Eve's husband, that Adam.
In my own kitchen I honor still
Apple, first fruit of the family tree.
If John Calvin's ghost followed me,
Inquisitive of New England blood,
And is not dead, I'll finish him,
I was better than my whole Sunday school,
I said, and did not steal, much,
Or lie, much, only to get what I wanted.
I grunted in perfect sloth like a dog
Slumped on the floor, when I was twenty.
Gluttony did no more than keep me alive.
I was a quiet wencher, and remember
All their parts; had a drinker's gut
And five men's drought to drown.
I had a virtue, hope; two sacraments,
One my birth, one the marriages
I priested and made, a worse, a better.
The story of looking back at a girl
Taken back by hell is my story.
After her, love so new love never was.
Of the involuntary brotherhoods,
Pain's mysteries, or joy's,
I joined that of the second marriage.
I outlived what I did not die of,
And the world began a second day.
She is Eve, naked not a child.
But I lie awake, or, as if asleep,
Sit in my father's hunch, hear
The stones knock, jump to my feet,
As Cain might at his children, I bellow
At mine, who have no history yet
From either Adam. But I have.
This son of five sons kicks a chair,
Sits down almost on his shoulders,
Glares at his ancestors, and writes:
What have my hands done? Nothing
They would remember my name for,
No fields, meat, limber, gates:
As I am of Ireland and of Eden
Before words were, it is stony
Having two Adams, so many fathers:
Lust between legs, envy in the eyes,
Both burn and harden, but envy stinks
Like a buried fire in a city dump.
I hate any poet who has outdone me,
Not a good poet seized out of himself,
But the poem I had and did not write,
And some bastard did- wither
Today his damned laurel tree!
Adam Holmes's farm had seven springs.
His brooks and rain made beef and corn,
Taste of his own ground in the food,
As they the it on the first of farms.
In the chair-dream of that abundance,
I smell wet leaves in autumn air,
And wish not to wake, never wake,
Back and down into my father's silence,
Head over heels into Eden
The dream drops me, and I stand
Not in that paradise of sheep-pens,
Pastures, and hand-wrought tools
I thought he sank to in his sleep.
This is the old country, the garden.
My father is dead, and I am Adam.
O Lord, how marvelous Thy name
Is on this mighty world outspread!
There life His footprints under a bush
Of faces. Books fly above fat hills
Of wide trees heavy with red apples.
This is what fathers cannot tell sons.
I shout to him that it is not dark,
It is all light, light, in the garden,
Sun-blaze on the waters of time.
I fall into the vines, nimble and dazed.
Aagh, gluttons, my peasant patriarchs,
You've been in Eden, every one,
And come back black with guilty gloom,
You liars. What are we, all of us,
But first sons, scared of and hungry?
I'll stay awake. I'll eat in the open.
This place it loud with sweet-petalled
Birds and flying flowers, with mumbles
And rejoicings of rocks in flood.
Cliff-edges fall off like hurt minds.
Water rattles, the grass is rippled.
How do I know these? I name things.
But no one has stretched his arms round
This new air, or run and run
To circle it, until I breathed it in,
Took air and twisted it into sound.
What an animal is the word air!
For sun no possible word but sun.
I've never been homesick, only for home.
Eden is where I've always lived,
My civil days, in Ireland's Medford.
I lean above marshland like a mast,
Sailing the green roll of grasses
Toward the flag of Eve's fingertips.
We sleep after landfall and exploration,
After the metaphor is used and used,
Quiet into our rooms to the rim.
But sleep in Eden is to wake from,
Outside or inside, the same garden,
Real toads, but real honeysuckle,
Or loud in the morning leafage, both.
The morning papers have news or winds.
I cannot sleep, thinking of tomorrow.