Collected Poems of John Holmes
Holmes, John A., Jr.
To a friend too kind
To a friend too kind
To a friend too kind
Asking the question most unanswerable
And unforgiven, "What is on your mind?"
I said or did not say,
So flamed within me hope of' overhearing truth,
So died. within me love, dying of' too much love,
I said, "I ran away".
Leaving the red of bittersweet forever rising
Against the wall, the carpets flat upon the floor,
The man whose dull appointment came at four,
The black electric clock with swimming hand.
That pours the modern hours away like sand,
And on my desk a list of things to do,
Send home for book-plates, buy some soap,
Call up Mr. H., remind. the others too,
And shall I come on Tuesday, did I lend
Or lose my Shakespeare, letters I must send-
And so I ran away not far nor did I leave myself behind,
But took myself and I was on my mind.
There in the tearoom with the tables gray
The color of that eventful day
I ate the toast alone, and praised the tea,
Considered the death of Edison, and carefully,
Spreading the paper down where I could see
I lit the pipe that I had run away,
I thought, to light, and come what may.
Then oh but the world keeps close to us,
Taps on the shoulder, though we hunch the mind,
The world, dear unbeloved, hugs us tight,
And cannot bear its being left behind.
For here the paper matches in the tray
Bore not the name of taxi, laxative, hotel,
But Christmas, red and green,
A pine-tree, snow-white coaching scene,
October not yet over, nor the first frost here
But we must hasten on the hurrying year
Ache toward the end
With tense and forward will that time shall send
Another twelve months wherein we may do
The things we did last year
But surely this time better, surely this is true.
Outside the women's footsteps in the street
Brought always not the girl to look at twice,
Always the quick hard hurrying feet
Bore disappointment by, perhaps their own,
But always mine who sat concealed alone.
And. now goodbye goodbye return I dare not.
I have been here far too long.
Oh staying past the time I did a wrong
Not easy to erase. I ate my heart for food.
I wanted New Year's and. the cleanly snow.
I watched the walkers going where they go,
And all the world and I
We hid ourselves and pierced the heart for food.
In order not to live and. neither die.
But sure as last December others too
Noticed a something in the air I do not lie
Saying we knew felicity awhile and moved in light
There runs a deep abiding stream, .
Surely there runs a stream,
Then feed on that and not the heart.
Go westward take the Indian passage north and west
And find the stream again and fling YOU down
Drink deep and so again be blest.
I have stayed too long in the south
Tasting meanness in my mouth,
Eating smallness every day and silence
I have lived on dusty hearts beside my own
And I have known
The shaking anger come that leaves me weak
Anger against the men I know
Who clutch their passions close and will not speak.
Dark and true and tender is the north.
And I will turn my face
Travelling in my mind until I find
That stream - go now - start now - alone,
And drink the vital food of dreams and grace.
I asked myself what hour and day what year
My joy and faith departed left me here.
It was the year I knew the hardest task
Was not so difficult, the cost not half so dear
As I had thought. It was the year I knew
That even I could live despair quite through
And, come out on the other side
And suffer all the light that fell
Upon that future stretching wide
Finding it mattered little after hell.
So when I knew the line was crossed,
And none could answer questions but myself',
Then I was confident and did not care,
Safe in the knowledge I had not been lost.
Then all went well as heart could think
As any heart could think except my own
And no one knew when I was quite alone
Or knew how heavily my heart could sink.
This is enough, the strength to keep
The secret while I work and stay awake,
That while I live I will not break
Although with desperate hurt and deep
The subtlety of lire has bent my sleep.
In that same hour I crossed the boundary line
found repeatedly the sign
That pointed toward the northern stream,
And told me I had lived
the direction of my dream.
And all my tasks are simple now and plain
As everything lies equal under rain.
I need not suffer fools
Nor starve on meagerness.
Time goes by to clear the way
For more and more, not less.
And always far away
Like surf beyond the sight
I hear Truth waiting
Terrible and white.
I had a hunger once
And nothing I could do.
Daily now I eat
And have the hunger too.
And still the answer to the question is
It is myself is on my mind
And all I ran away to lose
I could not leave behind.
I shall not now forget thee 0 Jerusalem.
Once known the secret is forgotten never
O dark and true and tender is the North
And I was strong again and I went forth
To lay my lips upon that river.
For now my faith and joy are this:
That both are possible to find.
My trust is in the true and fiery
Spirit of mankind.
So when I left the tearoom and the tables gray,
The scattered crumbs, the napkin crumpled up,
Burnt matches in the tray, and coins for tip,
And melted sugar in the bottom of the cup,
I left the earlier color of a day,
And crumbs of heart I did not eat
And ashes of a thought used up and burned away,
In pitiful self-pity, and the heat
That glazed the dark blue coffee pot
I left there turned to coolness in the air,
Also I left there Mr. Edison now dead
And what the minister from France had said,
And books, births, deaths and clothes to wear
Great weddings made, and murderers caught:
In short, I left my morning there.
And said goodbye. Return I will not,
For I remembered I had drunk the stream
And seen the other world as bright as heaven
Known my senses were not five but seven
And felt my veins with grace and dream
And adoration running hot.
So I came back to where the spray of bittersweet
Stood in the black vase on the mantel piece
Inevitably right as fountains fall, graceful
As water that has found release.
If I should add one spray of bittersweet
I know the upward curve would still be right
I know that rightness is not far, but near
And possible; not darkly in a glass, but light.
So I came back and smelt the apples in the room
And somewhere they were burning leaves.
I smelt the strata that a closed room weaves
To make the fabric of the feeling this is home
Unlocked the door and stood there very still
And listened hearing the clock
And hearing footsteps overhead
And distant voices talk
Heard motors in the street and music
Heard dogs barking and the trumpeter across the way
And I was home and glad to be and home to stay.
I touched the polished table top,
Felt the rough plaster of the wall
Scraped a blue candle with a fingernail
Shook the long curtains up and let them fall To their accustomed folds,
Lifted the yellow pitcher then and felt its weight
Sat down and gripped the chair's flat arm
And leaning touched the carpet's pile
Then holding all my fingers up a while
I gazed upon the lines that line the palm,
The cunning knuckles and the branching veins
The single thumbs, considering my hands,
And I was thankful for my hands.
There was a round delicious orange
I peeled by biting at the skin
And I could taste before I tasted it
The juices swollen sweet therein.
But all this time all during this delight
I had the miracle of sight.
The furniture had stood
In patient silence all the day
I wondered how I could have gone away
From this familiar and domestic wood
That by its shape had something kind to say.
Sit down in me. Lay something on my top.
Light me and let me shine for you.
Look at me hanging on your wall.
Open and read me. Walk upon me, do.
Swing shut and lock me and be in, in, in.
We are your servants, we are here for you.
My eyes were following every line
Slowly and lightly lightly as an aeroplane
Traces a curve in some immense design
And every edge of every shape was plain
Was sharp was right as if it too rejoiced
In knowing it was right had seen original
And unforgotten patterns, or had known my stream.
For every edge was bright
And rushed with light as in a wordless dream.
And every shape speaks out Take notice
Look at me consider how I front the air.
Take notice of me think the lovely thing
I might have been is really standing there.
The way a window knows, or divans understand,
The way a wall is wall - but mark me well-
These have no mind no will no memory like men
But as themselves they have ideals to tell.
All day they wait
And their essential state
Is furniturehood, their own, and. quite unhuman.
Nevertheless at night when I come in alone
And light the lamp and draw the curtains close,
I choose one chair and choose a book to read,
And looking up I think the samovar, the couch,
The coffee table and the empty chairs
Regard me whom they do not need
Or else I light the largest candlesticks
The seven branches lifting each its flame,
The shadows falling sevenfold from everything
And every object all but cries aloud its name.
I am the trestle table. I the rug.
I am the woodcut on the wall. And I the door.
This is most right that we should be
And be the things we are and nothing more.
In pride and silence we deserve this light.
I am the carven mantle piece. I am the floor.
This was the thing to do, this hour was right.
My sight is clear because they are not mine.
I am an eager foreigner in a charming place.
So are we all come lately, gladly, where we are,
Love and surprise alight on every face.
So have we all drunk once upon a time like me
Far in the north the slowly swirling stream.
I say you understand me now. I say you do,
You know all things are more than all they seem.
You have been living west
You have been thinking south
You have been all bewitched.
Silence is in your mouth.
Think north. Speak truth. Touch wood and see
With your eyes, and hear the world's sweet sound.
You stood there once you lie if you've forgotten.
You've murdered kings and let the state go rotten
You've let the heart be bound
You've eaten heart pretending to be fed.
I swear by daylight and by body's white and red,
By touch, taste, sight, and sound and smell
That all would still be well
If you would think Why all's not lost.
Why all I once thought true and possible
Is not denied me though I've crossed
And scratched away erased blanked out
Such memories as gods would love.
Surely as once I tasted deep I may again.
Surely I'm full as tall as other men.
Once while I was not watching I grew old.
But I know best the skeleton of gold
So straight and strong within this individual flesh.
I have remembered what lam.
Lover of living, radiant free and bold.
I needed two things only, one the friend too kind
To ask me what was on my mind,
The other the surging pain that leaves me weak,
The stark necessity to speak.
The world is so full of a number of things
For God's sake come and sit upon the ground
And tell old stories of the death of kings.
And did you once see Shelley plain
Or any things that seared the brain
With pity O the pity of it or with tenderness
Or feel the heart within you press
Its rapture hard upon your ribs?
Then speak. O speak. Unlock the tongue
As once you did when you were young.
Surely the sods are sharp like this,
Sharpened by grief so great
It feels the same as joy
And love that feels the same as hate.
If you go far enough in grief
If you go deep enough in love
There is no longer either good bad
No longer in or out, below, above,
But only awareness like the gods'
Through some earth-spurning power
Then back to our mortality
After the sweet immortal hour.
But I remember and I am not old
The apple trees the singing and the gold.
So in the common light of day
Sometimes I am dizzy, sick and shaken
With ironic salt comparisons.
That men can live and not awaken!
They endure the fools they do
Who say the things they listen to.
That in their eyes I'm one of them,
Citizen of the dust, and loyal, too,
Though in this irony I taste
Again excitement and the sting
Of recognizing absolute perfection
In the absolutely futile thing,
Perfectly useless, empty, dull
And thought important by the fools
Who think I think with them and so
Are crystal-clearly double fools.
For I have heard the chimes at midnight
Eaten the fruit of Eden Tree
And it is a marvelous thing
That fools can be.
The spirits of earth came out
And danced around a record in a phonograph.
The ceiling light was out and in the glow
Of a floor lamp sat four men who heard and so
The spirits disappeared back in the earth.
Bolero whips the blood
I mean after all
Things that have no feet
Will stand up tall.
Sometime I will try to show Ravel
Began the piece at normal heartbeat slow
And just before the end of record one
Faster and faster the heart begins to go.
These four had drunk a brandy of the peach
Uniquely this beguiled the blood of each,
New Englanders should drink, said one
Being a native there himself, but in the end
Thought better of this and would amend
The axiom to include All Southerners,
And south and middle westerners, too.
Drinking is something everyone should do.
It makes us gods if there's a spark
Of clean divinity in the temperamental dark.
Then stepped this diverse f our
Becoming diverse more and more
Through the Victor's double door
Into the austere world of Bach
Where armies drill precisely on a narrow field,
Advance and execute their turns
In satisfaction hard and born of skill
Where companies come on and. will not yield
Until the final foreknown footstep has been done
And all the army back where this
Sheer pitiless and. drillwork was begun.
But string quartettes are understood by hearts
That follow deep into the quarter parts.
Now Caesar Franck at the Academy
Transposed at sight key and. a half below
The music placed before him as a test
Saying he thought it sounded better so.
He wrote one violin sonata and the French
And German critics likewise call him great
And Lee said Franck was hurt and. died
By a horsecar back in 1888,
And Ted says Saginaw in Michigan
Produced its biggest lumber crop that year
And therefore Saginaw is also great.
Nevertheless says Lee not he himself
But French and German critics call
The final movement the greatest canon done
The modern music - nor is that all -
For Clement asks to make the picture whole,
But has he a beautiful soul?
Yes Caesar Franck has a beautiful soul,
If you must look at it that way
But when you face St. Peter and hear him say
How did you like the world? You must begin
By saying I liked the Franck Sonata
And Peter will let you in.
And. so we heard the password into heaven
All four movements over far too soon
And Ted insisted. German motherhood
Was Cesar Franck's, emphatically not Walloon.
Still full of distillation of the peach
And certain our grasp would not exceed our reach
Back to the club we went we three
Clement in search of beautiful souls
Already gone and. left us free,
To drink more brandy and to bay the moon
Proclaiming greatness not Walloon,
But born of the peach and greatness in the heart
And music's lesser and its greater part.
The lesser now, but of its kind. superlative,
Caused. us to make these ballads live
A little while in voices variously lyric
I Love Louisa manfully Teutonic
Little White Lies, St. Louis Blues,
And here it was I called on wisdom of the kind.
That when the song of songs is played
I never want to hear, wisely sings it through
So that in song the ghost of song is laid..
Marvelling at the skill
Swift-handed. on the keys
That played despite the wound.
And could. as ever please
I did not see at first
That the bandage on the hand.
Was moon a strip of moonlight
A narrow silver band.