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Janet Holmes

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Janet Holmes is author of The Green Tuxedo, winner of the Sandeen Prize) and The Physicist at the Mall (Anhinga Press, 1994).

In 1997, Holmes was chosen by W.S. Merwin to receive the Pablo Neruda Prize for poetry for 'Humanophone' and other poems published in Nimrod Magazine.

Her work has appeared in the 1994 and 1995 editions ofThe Best American Poetry, and in journals including Antaeus, Poetry, The Georgia Review, Prairie Schooner, AGNI, Seneca Review, and Michigan Quarterly Review. She is recipient of a Bush Individual Artist's Fellowship, the McKnight Fellowship-Loft Award in Poetry, and two Minnesota State Arts Board grants.

She is currently Director of Ahsahta Press and Director of the MFA Program in Creative Writing at Boise State University in Boise, Idaho.

The Pattern

Imperfect memory: snowflakes
creating themselves in their own image
never get it exactly right.
So what you end up with are all these
pleasant approximations: this many points,
that much filigree betwixt,
but no matched pairs. The same
with leaves, their veins and serrate edges.
The same with smoke: the wisps
from twenty identical
votive candles at the shrine
are not identical; they remember
a general way of rising, curling,
fading. What do you want?
Patterns that make you utter
plots, fractal
repetitions, Mandelbrot sets,
a template
in the chaotic
penetralia. A winter-white
landscape, its perfect
peace. Woodfires
coiling smoke up the chimney
this year, as in all the others.
In the spring, the leaves coming out
fleshy and soft on the branches
as if on cue, no two alike. You want
a miracle that knows its place: when to be
explicable, and when (your daughter
first stretching her mouth into a grin
you recognize as yours)
an utter surprise.

Other Longevities

If, like snakes or reptiles, we grew with years,
then imagine the huge elderly, slowed
with age and bulk, frequenting
delicatessens, libraries; crowding
laundromats; taking whole booths to themselves
in family restaurants. The ample bodies
of the long-married, ambling their constitutionals.
The memories, all of smaller times.
Regardless of our wisdom or kindness, faith
or virtue, regardless of our capacity
for loneliness or independence, we would each grow
larger and more splendid,
and, lying down, would dream again and again
of childhood--the narrow long road back
to the vanishing point--each new dream
permitting another to be forgotten.

Seven Lyrics of Autumn

Chamisa, daisies, and turning cottonwoods
are the three golds of the road-border;
asters, sky, and my bicycle the three blues;
and as for sound,
          which in this chorus of chirp and whirr
is insect, and which the freewheel
spinning its singing chain?


Open windows.
Naked leg outside the quilt.

Cricket under the bureau
four nights.
And dogs, barking
to each other.
The loose screen
whistles, admitting

a sudden cold gust.


It's the sound of nature winding down,
of trees releasing one swift tock after another
toward the winterlong rest.


A tourist town, with its commerce of inn and bar,
grandeur of landscape surrounding.
Dependable (shrinking) wilderness,
boutiques for each nuance
in the zeitgeist . . .

and now, its sigh
heaving the last guests out.
Swept streets in brilliant slanted light.
The locals, walking,
to whom the town seems almost empty--
but familiar that way, and somehow
older, and softened.


Chorus of chirp and whirr:
a crowd of locusts; crickets;
                              or else
the magnified rush of blood through the body,
audible: a monstrous human purr of pleasure.
Or the mesh of gears through, more than distane,
     riding in hills
under the aspened mountains, gold as of just this week.
If this racket's my doing, it's true, then,
I'm happiest as I am now:
                         alone, on a road
in a rugged landscape, headed away from home.


Equinox-night orchard:
apples crushed on the roadway--
delicious cool rot!


One ladder with a leg gone bad; one brown bag apple-filled.
Balanced half against bough, half against three sturdy legs,
all morning I am the picture of industry, picking.
Neighbors offer me their trees, too,
their large peaches, their Golden Delicious,
their small, yellow plums sweet as honey--each tree
carrying more than it wants to hold
and spilling windfalls into the grass, carrying
more than even the birds will eat
and still full of fruit,
bearing, bearing.

Copyright, © Janet Holmes, 1997

All poems from The Physicist at the Mall. Reprinted with permission of the author.

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