Editor's note: Most Minnesota writers knew Bill Holm, but not all of them had been to his house in Minneota, Minn., for a sleepover. Barton Sutter's reminiscence, below, was included in a booklet published last year by the McKnight Foundation, which named Holm its Distinguished Artist for 2008. It also appears in Sutton's most recent book of poems, "Farewell to the Starlight in Whiskey."Not Sleeping at Bill Holm's House
In the corner of my narrow room,
There's a double-barreled shotgun,
Which will not go off in this poem.
Reclining on the bedclothes:
A small stuffed bear and pink flamingo,
Which I set aside. Turning back the spread,
I am greeted by red flannel sheets
Bearing a Frosty the Snowman motif.
This bed is too loud to sleep on, and I am
Too wired with coffee and wild ideas to dream
But settle in, anyhow, with a volume by Sandburg,
A poet far better than I had remembered,
Who talks of the tombs and the grass
And passengers rocketing into the dark
Toward strange destinations, like Omaha.
What could be stranger than Omaha?
I'm a passenger, myself, in this crooked old house
Full of books and the ghosts of hot arguments.
Where are we going? The clock says two,
And, out in the yard, a barred owl asks, Who?
Who are you? I answer that I am
A passenger on the Minnesota Express,
Bound for points west -- Canby and Mars.
I can hear, in the next compartment, my comrade,
My host, the polar bear of American literature,
Cough and hack and growl in his sleep,
Which I envy. I can't count sheep
Or the number of books in this house.
In the outer room, a harpsichord waits
As patiently as a horse-drawn cab
In a story of Sherlock Holmes.
Who done it? Who knocked me out?
And how did it get to be daylight
And Bill banging out hymns
On the downstairs piano, just now
That sweet Shaker tune
"Tis a Gift to be Simple"? Tis! Tis!
Tis also a gift to be complex and ornery,
With a house full of music,
Cigar smoke and whiskey,
And Icelandic sagas
Preserved by farmers
For nearly a thousand years.
Barton Sutter, a writer of poems, essays and stories, lives in Duluth and teaches English and creative writing at the University of Wisconsin-Superior.