Collected Poems of John Holmes
Holmes, John A., Jr.
The train's newsboy had one paper, so I read it all,
Even about the half-wit asylum-inmate killed
On the tracks yesterday near Palmer; and looking out,
I saw we were near there now; and the train slowed.
Close to the car-window I saw a young state-trooper,
And men standing in overcoats, their faces odd,
And a place in the snow: something had been lying there.
The conductor told me a man from the state asylum
Had been killed by the train ahead-and a funny thing,
His friend had been killed right near here yesterday.
I knew him. I knew then how he couldn't keep away,
And how, without knowing why, and lonely, and dumb,
He had come back again, again to the tracks in the snow,
How he hadn't really known that he meant to do it.
And something more that I couldn't quite-the train
Was faster-why, he hadn't even found the right place!
A small boy had rolled up a big February snowball,
Dirty, but round, and very big, and a snowball,
A labor of clumsy hope through two back yards,
Rolling it everywhere to get the best snow,
Which, with "You can have this snowball, if you want it,"
He was presenting (and that was when I passed)
To a lady of six, in furs and ladylike rubbers.
A more gallant, generous gesture, sirs, I have never
In all my travels seen, that this gentleman,
This hot, proud young artist with sopping mittens,
Of his morning's labor should offer a lady in furs,
A lady of six, with a muff moreover, and rubbers,
His dirty, his beautiful, his big lopsided snowball.
This gift she rejected (and that was when I passed)
Saying, "No, thank you. My mother wouldn't want me to."
The well-barbered, the well-tailored, the well-fed man
Talked across the aisle to the old tired ruddy priest
In the bright smoking-car of the Boston train at night.
When the priest answered, the sleek man read his paper.
He did it three times, asking the father some question,
Not listening to the answer. I could not hear. I watched.
Then the man shrugged on his coat, took the priest's hand,
Holding it tightly and longer than he needed to.
Well, father, I've enjoyed talking with you very much."
I heard that. Then, louder, for everyone to hear,
I'm getting off now. This is where I live.
Good night, father. I've got to wash my hands."