Minnesota Poetry: Bill Holm’s “Gait”

With the arrival of a new year comes the beginning of a new project. I have dubbed 2010 "Year of the Minnesota Poet" on State of the Arts, and each Monday, plan to print here (with permission of the publisher and/or the poet), a work by a local author.

The project (to give credit where credit is due) is inspired by PBS' blog "Artbeat" which also posts a weekly poem. However Arbeat draws from the entire nation's poetry archive; I find Minnesota has more than enough on offer to satisfy my needs. In fact 52 poems hardly do justice to the amount of great work that has sprung from our cold but fertile midwestern soil... so if this project takes root, you may see it continue on into the future.

Our series begins with a poem from Bill Holm, of Minneota, Minnesota. He died ten months ago, before his book of new and selected poems "The Chain Letter of the Soul" was published. Here's his poem "Gait," courtesy of Milkweed Editions.


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As a boy, I remember seeing the old

clumping their slow way along Minneota streets,

shuffling, wobbling, cane taps, hunched backs,

as if each step triggered a shooting pain.

Repulsive, I thought, why can't they move

not like an insect, but like something still alive.

I scurried around them, peeved at their dawdling.

But I forgot them, continued my adventures.

Now they are all dead. A half century after,

I've been practicing my personal shuffle,

tempo shrunk from allegro to largo,

tapping the cane to find dry places on the ice,

O Gunnar, Steingrimur, Avy, Abo,

forgive the ignorant and idiotic boy

who did not notice the intricate steps

of the last dance until he practiced himself.

"Gait" in The Chain Letter of the Soul, by Bill Holm (Minneapolis: Milkweed Editions, 2009). Copyright © 2009 by Bill Holm. Reprinted with permission from Milkweed Editions.