Collected Poems of John Holmes
Holmes, John A., Jr.
Villains as fat, local rascals small,
Dirty, and definite down to the smell,
And the citizen saints, he has still.
Too young for that, too old for this war,
The right age for the next is what we are.
The one thing we have to fear is fear.
Salt-white unheard sand-changing seafold.
Road ribboning through a car's wheel held
To noon, toward a sungreen mountain field.
Night in a hospital. Inheritance tax.
My son spells, while my gold watch ticks
That was my father's, and in the books
Round and round and round a yellow room
The thousand voices, one mine, seem
All almost the best one to become.
What was Shelley? Lyric political.
Coleridge a scientist, Burns erotic,
Blake, Marvell, Thompson, mystic
Or lyric religious or part Herrick.
Housman and Frost are Latinists.
Vaughan, Donne, are metaphysical
Or lyric erotic or mystical,
Eliot and Crane two classicists.
Skelton and Hardy, think, and Yeats,
Mix in heaven with Milton and John Keats.
And I'd be there.
They sang the state,
The world, the bed, the man in the street,
And left no doubt about their doubt.
Amateur vestryman and psychiatrist,
Known scholar of some native past,
A competent hater, voter, guest,
The modern poet is jack of all trades,
Master in one, partisan of all sides
For the sake of one, strider on many roads.
So were they all jacks, a good word.
So did they each plane a new board
To nail to a house they worked toward,
Of God, Nature, Plato, on a spire
Huge in the centuries' endless air,
As the modern poet builds his here,
Poet-surgeon, engineer-poet, part
Flier, internationalist, ready in court,
A painter Sundays, but poetry the art
He studies wherever he measures men.
Man is the study where his poems begin,
His care man, as modern poetry can
Probe, chart, sing, portray or curse
What a man makes of life, a farce,
A new world, a headline, or worse.
The laurels, the laurels all are cut,
And we'll to the woods no more, but
That was another country. It is late.
The twentieth century is at the turn
And much to fear, and much to learn.
Infinitely combustible, we'll burn
Our times to pure gold or final ash,
A lifetime's light, an instants flash.
The formula made flesh, or unmade flesh.
And what if it all went on, a dull
Long long ripening of new poets, until
Books littered the streets, and no bomb fell?
But green is green again, and full.
Leonardo's ceiling is our heaven still.
What a man wills, a man makes real.
We'll to fresh woods, and cut and bring
Home boughs, bell-branches such as rang
Ashore for Columbus coming, sung
As hymns first, vows, and then as laws.
We'll break them where they break, always,
But never a root that might be rose.
Poet: first kill your own language, rose,
Green, laurel. Unword it, and devise
Images poets after you could not use.
Speak a great grammar as you learned it,
Wording it yours, and teach us that.
Your style is your face, an open secret.
Say copy and die, say seek new images
And live the poet all poetry owes.
Live in the justice of written praise.
And for now, ride the world's lunge
Standing up, all new and nothing strange,
Into the change that is never change.