Collected Poems of John Holmes
Holmes, John A., Jr.
Instead of albums
Instead of albums
dead people on porches posed, at meadow picnics
With hats. My chattery aunts. My cuff-linked father with my smile.
Cousinly third cousins. My mother younger than my wife is now.
Runaways! You did not outlast yourselves, and why?
Your unforgivable desertion makes me answerer
To my child on your laps, looking at himself in your faces.
Who's that? She was my grandmother Murdock. That man there?
Will Upham, he painted the pictures we have. Why?
What fabulous an Uncle Harry from New York we had,
Who'd run away from Charlestown young, and, rich and old, rumbled
In his moustache at our Thanksgivings. And my antic, my clever-handed,
My young fat father, black hair parted in the middle,
How he and his clock-collecting cousin Artie, and Will
The painter, makers, three of a kind, spun my tin Christmas
Spinning-top on a dinner-plate and broke it. Why? What running
Up and down bare stairs, booted, a most cousinly clatter.
Far over the Fourth of July family lawns, scattering
To the barberry hedges, down the terraces in among the apple trees,
How we ran in white sailor suits, and sandals, and hair-ribbons,
Away from all the aunts in white. Summer. Nineteen-ten.
Who's that? That was my mother. But she's old.
No. Is this you? No, my father. Oh, did you have a father, too?
Yes. Like you. You have the father I had, and the father he had.
I cannot ask the dead what will become of us all.
Mortality aches in me. I wake up nights, Murdock-
Holmes-Upham ugly-tempered, a six-generation Scotch-Irish melancholy.
Maybe this is my quarrel with you, that you left me holding hard
This inheritance of kind and mind, and no instruction.
This was my mother. Here. A narrow velvet black ribbon
Round her neck. And here. Her hands in a brown fur muff shyly.
This is in a canoe on the Charles, they are alone together there.
He must have taken the picture, her face all in light.
Let's look at them all again. No. And you tell me
Who they are, again. No. Come back come back I am lonely I am afraid.
I remember so much, and know little, not even the simple dates,
Or where you are buried or were married. Tell me what to say.
You ran away into your separate deaths, leaving pictures.
It is my trouble that I am fifty, minor chief of our tribe. Instead
Of the Upham eye, the wide Holmes mouth again in my son's face,
I want voices, warm walking bodies, bands big to reach to,
I ask the faces in the album if this is what we come to,
If this tightened their eyes, grouped on that porch, holding me young
As I hold this one, when the camera opened and shut on our generations.
They do not answer. They have stopped running. They sit
There forever, and I sit here, holding their warm youngest.