Poems by Meredith Holmes



That night we all talked at once

as usual, until Barbara said,
“I saw Shubad's crown.”
Barbara lifted her hands
to her face and made it rain
with her fingers, saying,
“Gold leaves and blue flowers
in a circlet of leaves.”
Twenty-five years later
here is Shubad’s crown
just as Barbara described it.
Simpler and more beautiful
than the shawl of lapis beads
or the golden-horned lyre.
Always a knot of people around
the case that holds the crown.
Girls in sneakers leaning
against their mothers (forgetting
for the moment they are sworn
enemies) consider the tilt
of the royal head.
It is coming back to them
what a queen is: at her feet
the whitest pebbles are laid.
Into her lap, the bluest beads are poured.
This is Shubad, whose fingers
swept from bowl to alabaster
bowl, whose toes pressed
the pink marble floor.
Shubad, whose crown of golden
Eucalyptus leaves and blue star flowers
caught light, made music
fixed memory.


He drifts into the bedroom, neat

whiskey in one hand
pack of cigarettes in the other.
He looks out the window
that frames the sparkling, frantic city.
Then the man lies down with the light on.
He doesn’t know how to sleep well.
First, he must suffer and lose sleep.
But, because pain is boring
he will take up great books
bonsai, and breakfast.
As morning and evening
fall into place, he closes
the drapes over the window
dropping the city
with its all-night talk
like an old friend who can’t
tolerate his new life.
He turns out the light by the bed.
Next, he must meet the love of his life.
She is waiting for a prescription
or a pay phone.
Their courtship is simple –
like a Japanese flower arrangement –
a few twigs and a white narcissus.
They make it look easy
like Ginger Rogers dancing backward.
After a while, they settle
into a routine: every night
they take off their shoes
wrap their arms around each other
jump off a cliff and sleep.


Someone drops what's left of Barbara's books

on my porch. Four shopping bags
of anthologies and dusty chapbooks.
I pick the Arrow Book of Poetry
off the top, and a folded note falls out:
“Dear Mama (they called her Mama
toward the end): I want you
to read this pamphlet about marriage.
I'm sending one to Daddy, too.

I leaf along, looking for one of her poems
but find none. Here is Axis, a chapbook
with an arty black cover and a memo
marking a passage about wolves.
“January 22, 1986. To: Barb.
From: Jo. Re: Return Kozol collection.
Also need month-end report ASAP.”
I put Axis back and browse
publication dates: 1956:
very young, an art student
noting the slant of afternoon light
in Philadelphia. 1972: black turtleneck,
old raincoat era; beginning
to write poems in her sketchbook.
1974: learning to drive. 1980: teaching
and painting with color, going to church.
1987: three more years.
1988: two more.

I want to discover something new
with her name on it, but find only
“Disembodied Love,” by Martin Maxwell
dedicated to “Barbara, Barbara, always Barbara.”
According to the book flap
he lives in Michigan
with his wife and two daughters.

I close the last book, and only then
do I see her small square hands
flatten the pages.
She's perched on the sofa
wearing a silk wrap
with a pattern of peacock feathers.
A tide of books, papers, and magazines
washes around her feet, which are bare.
Once or twice she lifts her eyes
from the page to consider something
either very close or very
far away – the rattle of milk bottles
the music of the spheres --
and you have never seen
in anyone's eyes, such a blue,
such opacity, such transparency.


At last I can be with you!

The grinding hours

since I left your side!

The labor of being fully human,

working my opposable thumb,

talking, and walking upright.

Now I have unclasped

unzipped, stepped out of.

Husked, soft, a be-er only,

I do nothing, but point

my bare feet into your

clean smoothness

feel your quiet strength

the whole length of my body.

I close my eyes, hear myself

moan, so grateful to be held this way.