Two Poems by Thomas Alan Holmes


What year was it, Dad, that you
and Johnny Horton, digging
ditches for rural water,
hit the blasting caps
with your trencher? I can see
you in your truck, with Johnny
curled in the passenger seat,
and how you still looked dazed
once you screeched into the driveway
and both climbed into the car
as you told me to tell Mom
you were driving down
to Birmingham, forty-five
miles away. Although you
got back soon, I didn’t
know for years that you had felt
the sweat pour down your face
and didn’t touch your scalp
for fear that you had burst
your skull. You’d kept us from
the car, believing we would see
your brain exposed to God knows
what. It’s been a great, long time
since then, and Johnny died
from cigarettes, and you’ve
got grit in your eyes like
from a shotgun blast, but you’ve
outlasted melanoma,
spinal surgery, and flu
a bunch of times. I know
I’ll never see you in an
ambulance, I never will,
but tomorrow I’d buy us
a trencher, load your truck
with PVC pipe, and dig
new waterlines up 31
from Hurricane Creek
to Mallard Point.


With every move we never
sort, so as we settled in
and you began to fill
the empty dresser drawers,
you stopped and held it out,
your red slip with the side split.

I smile and do not say
how we’d left a reception
in Morgan Hall, stopped to pick
some papers from my office,
and got tangled, how your
boy-cut lacy panties
weren’t the same red as your slip,
how your black hose had a hole
at the heel. I remember
the turquoise nightie you wore
only once, coming downstairs
when we’d just moved into our
Tuscaloosa townhouse,
but then, those years before kids,
you’d come to bed in my blue
faded Jackson Browne t-shirt,
“Saturate before Using”
printed across the top.

I wrote you this love poem,
the only way you’ll know
what I’ve kept secreted
in the back of my sock drawer.

Thomas Alan Holmes, a member of the East Tennessee State University English faculty, lives and writes in Johnson City, Tennessee. Some of his work has appeared in The Appalachian Journal, Seminary Ridge Review, The Florida Review, Blue Mesa Review, The Black Warrior Review, and The Southern Poetry Anthology Volume III: Contemporary Appalachia, with work forthcoming in Cape Rock Journal, Stoneboat, The Connecticut Review, and Louisiana Literature.