American Life in Poetry: Column 375

BY TED KOOSER, U.S. POET LAUREATE

Bill Holm was a Minnesota poet and essayist and a dear friend to many of us who live and write in flyover country. He is much missed. Mark Vinz has written this fine tribute to Bill.

Absences

        “Even when you are not in a room,
        you are in it, your voice everywhere.”  –Bill Holm

The message that’s recorded on the phone
is unmistakably bad news, and then
another call tells us it’s one we love—
a sudden death while traveling, somehow
appropriate for one who always
seized life too completely to stand still.

A door slams shut, a wall has dropped away,
and once again I’m driven back to
empty pages, insufficient words,
to rooms he always filled on entering—
rooms lined with books, piano music, and
good friends who raise their glasses one last time.

And now, as all the lights are blinking off
in every prairie town we’ve ever loved,
when all the toasts are made and songs are sung,
when leaving is the only certainty,
a single voice keeps echoing, along
each dark, untraveled hallway of the heart.

We do not accept unsolicited submissions. American Life in Poetry is made possible by The Poetry Foundation (www.poetryfoundation.org), publisher of Poetry magazine. It is also supported by the Department of English at the University of Nebraska-Lincoln. Poem copyright ©2010 by Mark Vinz, whose most recent book of poems is The Work Is All, Red Dragonfly Press, 2010. Poem reprinted from the South Dakota Review, Vol. 48, no. 3, Fall 2010, by permission of Mark Vinz and the publisher. Introduction copyright © 2018 by The Poetry Foundation. The introduction's author, Ted Kooser, served as United States Poet Laureate Consultant in Poetry to the Library of Congress from 2004-2006.