Collected Poems of John Holmes
Holmes, John A., Jr.
The extent of his acres
The extent of his acres
If you will be quiet, and poke your head up a pine tree,
Up where it smells green, from where you can see out-ocean,
Or fling belly-flat in blueberry bushes, some notion
Of being Myron Files might come to you, what it might be
To have a head full of Emerson, classrooms, Hemingway,
Of puns, pungent definitions, tractors, the State of Maine,
The state of the world and literature, the value of rain,
Reason, and rot. But wholly it would be hard to say.
Not this sprout as a one-man honorable old institution.
His thousands of alumni prevent. They are all his elders.
He grows younger, contrariwise to his degree-holders.
They disperse. He is the map-maker of what nation?
Files, the sender-off of search-parties. Master-explorer.
Lender of and loser of books that come the long way back.
His children's children return. Files with all the luck
Worked for and wished him: definition of the career.
Myron Jennison Files, Goldthwaite Professor of Rhetoric,
A. & S., 1914, the blue, blue catalog catalogs,
One among gogs, the scenery of say-so's, and t e magogs.
Who is Goldthwaite, what is he? And rhetoric's thick.
The Good Book says, and of course I mean a dictionary,
That seven are the ways of describing what a professor is:
One who deeply believes. One who claims. One who practises.
But none of these nor other possibles catch us the merry,
The moody, the wise man willing and able to walk two miles
Though one is asked. "Come again!" he calls, "be a neighbor."
Mister Merriam might have saved Mister Webster lore and labor
By defining simply a good professor as simply Neighbor Files.
Of course, that means a lot of people leaning over fences.
This man Piles respects fences, being a great leaner-over.
But how barriers might or might not fall, he'd discover,
And. to the people across there, be first to make advances:
A pun. He'd advance them, advancing ideas, and help himself.
But common sense rears its ugly head. He is an unraveler,
A sceptical idealist, cherishing anecdote. A traveler.
He rages, he ranges, moving to and from his bulged bookshelf.
There is much love in all this, both given and taken,
Long given, and now to be taken away, or map-stretched.
I'd like thinking our topography and his so matched
That on a Maine ridge-top morning of many, he'd waken,
He'd put foot outdoors, walk, set elbows on a memorial
Sort of rail fence, and consider the extent of his acres:
What grew overnight and what didn't, and why. World-shakers,
Makers and movers. Always why, from what root and animal.
He'll have pulled our boundaries edge to edge to his:
There we'll be: wild deer and full professors, colleagues
And sea-gulls commingled, deans, crows, and hedgehogs,
Janitors and writers and writers, and he our Saint Francis.
This quizzical saint in a wool-warm, big-checked shirt,
With a tame angel indoors, getting his breakfast ready,
Chuckles and seems to interrupt what seems a brown study,
But as usual at nature trying as usual to imitate art.
We're there, and the fence and fields, and a chipping
And shining that might be students, or pages or words
On pages we printed or they wrote, or might be birds
In a longer calendar of flight than there's time for mapping.
What a haunting we wish him, beasts, books, and sparrows!
He might not be much dismayed, and then again he might.
Yet the ring round him bounding him would be ghosted light,
Brushed in so lightly for such a gallery of heroes,
He'd think perhaps it was all something in a long letter
He'd go back up to the house to write us, and he would,
Or he had already written it, hoping it had come out good,
But that maybe if he rewrote it, it would come out better.
The Concord and Hanover sparrows, and Henry, would peer
Round our shoulders and Whitman's beard, and know it meant
They were about to be in a picture Andy Wyeth could paint,
Here the fence, so, here Emerson smiling, and Myron here.
Of course, he would say, "Yes, but what I can't make out
Is why they go to all this trouble for me. I never
Did anything." I try to tell him. I could try forever.
But it's a picture I like, and like to think about.