The American Journal of Poetry
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Tom Holmes

The First Line of Prayer


The first line, as it is told,
extended from me to you,
from her to him. It zigzagged
and twisted through town.
It touched everyone,
including the ungulates and cows.
It rooted trails and roads to houses.

The line rose slowly and thickened
into a wall. The Great Wall
of China formed this way.
You can still walk atop its road
in two discrete directions.
You can see it from space,
if you’re a god.

And in this way, houses rose
into churches. The loftier
the church, the more prevailing view.
If you sang from here,
the ungulates perked their tails.
With the lower church songs,
the cows laid down on all fours.

If you don’t know today where you are,
you won’t know how to sing
Your god – your mediation
to your place in the world –
is the origin point, if you plot it,
to your yet extended line.
May it stay grounded, tangled, flat.



Tom Holmes

Guide to Medieval Reading

      for Maryam Ala Amjadi


A book in buckled clasps will need a key.
Save those for last. If bound in thongs or wrapped
in belts, then you may open those. But first,
lower your head. With your left hand, hold the spine
and lift it lightly from the shelf. Then turn
the pages with your right. Skim before you read.
If the book is new, you’ll smell the printer’s hands
and spits of ink, especially the reds.
Don’t read it here. Find a quiet corner,
to better sense the tricks of tongue and teeth.
The words might jettison quick, and you’ll lose
their meanings. Read slow. Listen with intent.
But first convince the Curator to have you.
Be blessed before you touch the books.




TOM HOLMES is the founding editor of Redactions: Poetry & Poetics, and author of three full-length collections of poetry, most recently The Cave, which won The Bitter Oleander Press Library of Poetry Book Award for 2013, as well as four chapbooks. His writings about wine, poetry book reviews, and poetry can be found at his blog, The Line Break: Follow him on Twitter: @TheLineBreak.



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