SOMEWHERE IN AFRICA
Must you leave, John Holmes, with the prayers and psalms
you never said, said over you? Death with no rage
to weigh you down? Praised by the mild God, his arm
over the pulpit, leaving you timid, with no real age,
whitewashed by belief, as dull as the windy preacher!
Dead of a dark thing, John Holmes, you’ve been lost
in the college chapel, mourned as father and teacher,
mourned with piety and grace under the University Cross.
Your last book unsung, your last hard words unknown,
abandoned by science, cancer blossomed in your throat,
rotted like bougainvillea into your gray backbone,
ruptured your pores until you wore it like a coat.
The thick petals, the exotic reds, the purples and whites
covered up your nakedness and bore you up with all
their blind power. I think of your last June nights
in Boston, your body swollen but light, your eyes small
as you let the nurses carry you into a strange land.
. . . If this is death and God is necessary let him be hidden
from the missionary, the well-wisher and the glad hand.
Let God be some tribal female who is known but forbidden.
Let there be this God who is a woman who will place you
upon her shallow boat, who is a woman naked to the waist,
moist with palm oil and sweat, a woman of some virtue
and wild breasts, her limbs excellent, unbruised and chaste.
Let her take you. She will put twelve strong men at the oars
for you are stronger than mahogany and your bones fill
the boat high as with fruit and bark from the interior.
She will have you now, you whom the funeral cannot kill.
John Holmes, cut from a single tree, lie heavy in her hold
and go down that river with the ivory, the copra and the gold.