Monday, June 27, 2022

Sanctuary

English ivy clings to the red-brick walls,
but more as a lover in sensual embrace
than a prisoner scaling mortar to the meadow beyond.

My sanctuary is painted in peonies, larkspur,
evening primrose, and daylilies for annual hire.
This garden is ample enough to hold my solitary soul

and its clothes that grow more ill-fitting
as seasons slide surreptitiously from the sundial to my brow.
I sit in a slanted wooden chair and read Wordsworth

through bifocals, a cup of tea on the table by my side.
At the end of The Prelude—oh, what irony!—I close my eyes
so that I may view the mountains and valleys of the world,

and yes, the meadow, which the ivy can now see
because awareness has risen like kundalini through its sap-filled spine.
I am as free as the robin perched atop the northwest corner.

He can survey the land or fly—it’s all the same to him.
I sip the tea and open my life again,
its pages bound each to each by natural piety.

~William Hammett

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Tuesday, June 21, 2022

Wine-Dark Seas

Odysseus sailed the wine-dark seas
as the wind pushed his aging bark—
now starboard, now port, now starboard again—
past the sultry lure of siren song
which could spin the very clouds into lust.
He was young and then old, full of piss and vinegar
and then weary of even his own tales twice told
of leveling the the once-mighty parapets of Troy.
Upon returning to Ithaca, beard falling to his waist,
his second wind caught a second wind.
There would be no caring for the household gods,
and once again he set sail upon wine-dark seas.

I mow the lawn, put the groceries away,

and arrange my books from the tallest to the shortest.

I have leveled a good many years along the way

by simply waking up and spinning the hours like a wheel,

each with a hundred spokes, a hundred tasks

that rarely called me to draw a metaphorical sword

or adorn my chest with imaginary leather breastplates.

Still, there are evenings when the sky rolls purple

and the linnet’s wings beat a clear rhythm across twilight.

Then I am full of piss and vinegar again

and hear the long-forgotten call of a siren song.

I walk to the shore without turning back

so that I may, with a beard longer and gray,

sail upon unknown wine-dark seas.


~William Hammett


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Tuesday, June 14, 2022

Apocalypse

This is how the world ends
Not with a bang but a whimper

                        from "The Hollow Men"
                        by T.S. Eliot


It will not begin with angels peeling back the sky
as if they were opening a can of sardines.
Commuter trains will still leave New Haven on time
and find an underground home at Grand Central.

Elevators in cathedrals of glass and steel
will carry souls down through Dante’s nine circles of hell
so they can crowd the deli or find the apartment
on the Upper East Side rented to a pseudonym.

The Color Guard will parade down Main Street
on the Fourth of July, and the high strutters in white boots
will serve lemonade while Charon sits idle,
waiting to ferry drunken hardware clerks

down the River Lethe nine miles past Kansas farms and fields.
The general populace will march deeper into quicksand
or find itself knee-deep in swamp sedge
until the sky is indeed gone and darkness closes like a fist.

The firmament will disappear, though by degrees,
but only as a result of disinherited angels
who turn off their alarm clocks, shave, eat breakfast,
and learn that it is nine minutes past Armageddon.

~William Hammett

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Tuesday, June 7, 2022

The Shed

It is late afternoon as I walk down the grassy lane
that leads to the brown wooden shed
where it is time to rest the jigsaw puzzle that is me

while the Earth rolls into darkness
in order to spin a new day that is even now
hiding far below the pine trees on the horizon.

I put my soul in the empty yellow coffee can on the shelf
and hang my wrinkled skin on a rusty nail
by heavy tools pegged on rough, uneven slats,

slumping like weary soldiers home from the war.
A faded circus poster advertising acrobats
hangs opposite the door and reminds me of a soulmate

that slipped through a crack in the wall
when I was young and life had been cursed by a witch.
Brushes and tubes of dried acrylic paint

are stored in a barrel next to the iron stove.
I have not painted a portrait or a landscape
since the time before there was a time

that reached into the soil and found enough rainwater
to produce a bumper crop of weeds and brown grass.
I open a cracked leather Bible and read

“This is my body. This is my body.”
I lie down on a neatly-folded brown Army blanket
and will sleep until the coming of dawn

unless darkness decides to hold down the fort
for an extended time and delay my resurrection
until some future golden morn.

~William Hammett

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Tuesday, May 31, 2022

Plum-Sweet

There is nothing so succulent and sweet
as a ripe plum hanging from its branch in due season.

Standing in the green shade of such a tree,
I yield to temptation and pluck the purple fruit,

holding its moist, curved skin against my face,
juice running down parted lips.

Surely this is the kiss we tasted when the world was new
and mild days made love to cool nights.

I lie in blades of grass and close my eyes
as a leaf makes its journey to the ground,

passing lightly across my cheek like a whisper.
Such is the hand of a maiden sweet,

her heart filled with passion’s nectar,
one whose skin is soft, whose breasts are perfectly round.

~William Hammett

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Tuesday, May 24, 2022

We Write the Endings

The prologue, of course, is completely beyond our control.
Some author, upper case or lower, with a meticulous outline—
names and dates, chapter and verse—

drops us into his template for fiction,
and we begin to run, sprint, or power walk,
swinging through trees with boyhood ballyhoo

and stealing kisses that are uncommonly sweet.
After unrolling sheepskins and linen with a high thread count,
we become surgeons, bankers, tinkers, tailors

hammering three-penny nails that fix us
to mortgages and mates and babies mewling.
Life whines like thread running through a spool

or the reel of an angler who has flirted with a tarpon run amok.
Shakespeare, now professor emeritus at the university on the hill,
laughs as he thinks of the seven ages of man,

who crawls into cataracts, catacombs, and assisted living and dying.
The backstory having fallen out of the plot long ago,
life becomes a free writing exercise.

We are characters in search of a story,
freewheeling our way through leap years
while adlibbing most of the dialogue.

That’s when we come up against the denouement, isn’t it?
This is when we realize that whatever has gone down,
even hurricanes and borderline wives and chill to the bone,

it is we who write the endings published in actuarial years
but far more likely chiseled in polished granite stone.

~William Hammett

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Wednesday, May 18, 2022

Saxophone Perfume

My mistress, the evening,
lingers by Bourbon Street jazz club,
stars falling into the endless tangles
of her hazy, honeyed hair.
Her alto scent,
seven notes of pure siren song,
charms the cobblestones
heavy with cinnamon secrets.
Cognac spills amber into dusk.

Her song slides along alleys
and finds me at the café
as I scratch rhymes
on the napkin under my gin and tonic.
Small wonder I write couplets
in the key of everlasting G.

Smoke deep in her lungs
blows jasmine into twilight,
and the body electric tenses
as brass notes melt magnolia trees
loitering on the Esplanade Avenue
at the end of the sweet, tawdry midway.

Darkness is ripe with tropical orchids
and the rendezvous of shadows,
where strip clubs turn into shotgun homes.
Neon lips are sweet
as they fold over the mouthpiece of the last set.

After 2 a.m.
the air is heavy with cicadas’ rasp
and the seduction of saxophone perfume
that renders the old familiar tunes:
a cinnabar kiss on the street corner,
a waitress finishing her shift,
a whore turning in her sleep,
head-over-john and fit to be tied.

I cannot compete with the Quarter’s free verse.
Weary, I close my eyes
and count backwards from ten,
never reaching one.

~William Hammett

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Wednesday, May 11, 2022

A Far Cry from Innisfree

Weary of the coal-fired gridlock of cityscape,
my mind balks at subway token hustle and jive,
wheels on steel below obsidian ground
and the hard-shoe pavement slap of nine-to-five.
Hours of jet lag burn the brain,
and the blare of taxi horns, like a pinball,
bounces from bone to bone, pain to pain.
The surgical steal of a skyscraper pierces the sky
and bleeds the unsullied thought trying to rise.
Lumbering buses and commuter trains
rock hope and desire to an early grave
while impaling musical notes, once so pure,
hanging on the troubadour’s clef and stave.
The button-down guru chants his spreadsheet mantras,
a gong opening and closing the wailing of Wall Street,
the moneychanger’s table still not overturned.
But I too will arise and go now,
forsaking the usual metropolitan beat,
and find the wood-pure cabin in the trees,
the peace that comes dropping slow.
I shall sift the softened boughs of pine
before striking creative flint and stone,
before drinking the hamadryad’s sacred wine.
Then will I write and paint the natural colors of thought
and sing a song to the silvered lawn, the ring-neck loon,
courtesy of crickets and the mystical midnight moon.

~William Hammett

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Wednesday, May 4, 2022

Paleolithic

The acacia is two-dimensional and
pasted against the orange sun,
bloated as it falls by degrees below
the bleached savannah grass.
An entourage of stars follows in its wake,
diamonds displayed on black velvet.
Cricket philosophers discuss the circadian loss of light
and the inevitable folding of day into night.
The earth, now cured of fever, begins to breathe again,
and wanton seeds are free to indulge in lust.
A spark of fire in the distance,
a white pinprick in the evolution of darkness,
reveals that it is man who has grown from the clay.
He raises his head, jaw open and set,
already the ostentatious fool,
and issues a howl that will echo for millennia
in the valleys of war and peace
and up through the fragile taproots of life.
A lion roars, and myths are hammered into bronze
as invincible gods rule prophetic constellations
that pinwheel across uncomprehending minds.
In the morning, sunlight strikes steel and glass
jutting audaciously above the horizon,
the subway beneath Manhattan roaring.
Philosophers and shamans are quiet for now
as a secretary strides across the savannah.
Her forehead and brow grow to enormous proportions
as she begins to chisel letters
into the bark of the acacia tree.

~William Hammett

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Thursday, April 28, 2022

Tales Told to the Water

A stone’s throw from the Café Du Monde,
I sit on a wooden bench
facing the jeweled lights of the Crescent City
reflected in the swirling midnight currents
of the Ojibwa’s ribbon of big river.
A cargo-carrying behemoth,

dark except for red running lights,
rounds Algiers Point, searching for the Gulf.
I hypothesize that its belly is heavy with tractors
destined for rich farmland in Ethiopia
and that the engineer does splendid card tricks
and even made his girlfriend disappear into thin air.

The captain, a bigamist with wives
in St. Louis and Liverpool, smokes a Calabash pipe
while thinking of his grand charade.
One of the deckhands cries himself to sleep
because his daughter is a cloistered nun
who knows that his soul is laden like Ulysses’,

his memories a wartime landscape
littered with alcohol and broken promises
to a little girl and a now-forgotten god.
The freighter glides silently under the bridge
until it is obscured by dark miles of night.
I christen it the Acropolis

because I, the omniscient narrator,
have decided that its registry is Greek
and that Zeus has once again been unkind
to sailors trying escape the view from Olympus.
I will not submit these stories for publication.
They are only tales told to the water,

which may, by providence too deep to fathom,
wash against the hull of a freighter
and be read by men who, seeing their lives
exposed and written on a slate-gray sea,
will find safe harbor, love, and redemption.

~William Hammett

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Thursday, April 21, 2022

Film at Eleven

The young lovers plan their life together
with an algorithm of the heart
running on calendar pages not yet printed.

The stodgy professor solves the Collatz conjecture,
looks at the chalk ciphers on his blackboard,
and wonders whether the elegance of his proof

will be understood by a world twisted into pretzel logic.
Our silver moonchild inches from the Earth
at the rate of one foot per year.

In a billion years, will it careen
through interstellar space, the big blue marble
having to weather the empty nest?

Will the flowers in my garden bloom
or remain unpublished because of the need
for further editorial comment by a rake?

Will carousels around the world die from entropy
or speed up and become blurry time machines,
hurling children into the twenty-fifth century?

Perhaps the young lovers will ride a carousel,
stare at the rebellious moon,
and solve all variables in the equation of love.

Perhaps the evening blossoms into a psychedelic flower,
unfolding in unpredictable ways.
There was a time when my third eye

could predict the coming of days,
but age is a cataract that folds my brain into haze.
I take three steps and get a little older before I sleep,

before I watch the prophetic newsreel of my dreams.
Its headlines will surely tell me how everything goes down
beyond the horizon and all temporal seams.

~William Hammett

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Thursday, April 14, 2022

Wide River

The river is wide enough
to carry creation to the sea—
forest, stone, poems written on fern,
obits and records of birth

and all that lies in between,
fury of the furnace and the jealousy of ice—
all are flowing in this liquid time
to a nonrepeating decimal place

lost in the infinity of pi.
Nothing is forgotten
in this rush to the genesis of resurrection.
I see my grandfather’s rocking chair.

It was his cradle and throne,
its spindles and curved runners
riding a blue quantum wave.
His spirit is surely swimming in the current,

half in and half out of the grave.
I climb the steps to his wooden porch
and sit in an antique chair,
wondering at what point in the afternoon

I will see myself gliding by,
smiling and none the worse for wear.

~William Hammett

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Thursday, April 7, 2022

The Luncheon on the Grass

I am fascinated, though perhaps I shouldn’t be,
with Edouard Manet’s The Luncheon on the Grass,
known as Le Déjeuner sur l’herbe
if one smokes French cigarettes with gold satin filters.

A nude woman sits in the grassy shade,
and two young male dandies, a slight leer
on their bearded, aristocratic faces,
are dressed in black frock coats and frippery.

Another woman has pared down
to her birthday suit to skinny dip in the background.
Hmm. Let me emphasize that: hmm.
Did the foursome set off to have a picnic,

with the men casually remarking
once the wine and cheese were unpacked,
“Hey, you ladies should take off your clothes”?
Were the women suddenly overcome with the vapors,

too hot to keep their ample bosoms under wraps?
I sometimes wonder if, a few acres to the left,
Max Yasgur is watching Richie Havens
take the stage to sing “Handsome Johnny”

to a crowd of hippies half a million strong.
These are mere stragglers who didn’t heed the warning
not to take the brown acid.
Speaking of . . .

It seems plausible that bad mushrooms
are hiding behind the basket of food,
the men thinking they’re looking at pumpkins,
the women tripping on ergot cheese.

I just can’t find a narrative to go with such bucolic hijinks.
I have one theory roundly rebuffed:
The flying saucer left minutes earlier.
The men are dazed because of missing time,

and the plump ladies will give birth to alien babies.
Jackson Pollack will be hired years later
by the infamous Men in Black
to squirt away the large gray heads

with water guns filled with paint,
the portrait having been commissioned
by people wearing tin foil hats in Roswell.

~William Hammett

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Friday, April 1, 2022

Moon-Driven

It is warm, and I throw off
the white sheet that floats
like a sail on a dark ocean.

I push back the curtain
and open the window
on this moon-driven night

and float onto a branch.
The neighborhood is quiet,
and I fly to the top rail

of an iron fence
and then to a telephone line
before perching on the edge

of a tilted concrete birdbath
where I drink a few warm drops of dew.
I realize that I am dreaming of being a man,

one of those two-legged creatures
who drags himself along the sidewalk
and has no real connection

to the sky or the rain or the grass,
but lumbers into one of the large wooden nests

that have windows that sometimes open like eyes
on warm moon-driven nights.

~William Hammett

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Friday, March 25, 2022

Like a Wheel Rolling

The unrelenting rain falls on rooftops
and poems and stories and gray gutters,
where it flows to the street and washes

the concrete clean of miles traveled
by lifetimes that were hung juries,
housewives and hobos and the ellipsis

that is mankind’s journey,
millions of steps made by thousands
unless one is a believer in stories

out of print and preserved by memory
against the falling of the rain.
It is a tale as old as cave paintings

and fire and a wheel rolling,
this snatching of narrative from the void,
the road that was grassy and wanted wear.

There are so many stories
I wished to write when the blood
was quicker in the vein,

and one that I did, two fingers typing
a plot arc fashioned from the steps
of my life and gaining momentum,

like a wheel rolling in my heart,
a short story that is out of print
but archived against the falling of the rain.

~William Hammett

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Saturday, March 19, 2022

Playing the Guitar

I caress the smooth neck over and over
and wrap my arm around the contours of the body,

the curves cradled as in a passionate scene from a movie.
My fingers sensuously dance up and down the wires—

press, hold, release, spread, reach.
My right hand strums or picks—

thumb, then index and middle fingers
doing a slow waltz or a spicy tarantella.

Occasionally my left moves to the twelfth fret
to chime the high steel into cathedral bells

on the far side of a distant mountain
or a single note from the music of the spheres,

the touch lighter than the beat of a butterfly’s wing.
Do not worry, m’lady.

I will explore the full range of your melodies,
though I must cajole and charm since you are mute

when you take to your soft, casket-like bed.
I finish with a downstroke—an arpeggio, a flourish—

and listen to the choir fade
or simply mute the strings with my left hand,

my right floating away with silent reverence.
The guitar has yielded all it had to give,

and so have I.
I turn out the light and then sleep,

dreaming of the music in a voice,
the curves of a body folded into mine.

Playing is very much like making love,
or so a distant memory tells me.

~William Hammett

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Monday, March 14, 2022

Paradise Lost

There was a time when I saw myself
washing over you
and you washing over me

like a stream polishing smooth stones
in a bed of silt
beneath a latticework of leaves,

and the rain only swelled
the process of our two rivers
flowing into a common sea

until an apple fell from a tree,
and the hiss of a fat snake

collapsed paradise into a black sleep
without any dreams.

~William Hammett

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Tuesday, March 8, 2022

The Corner Bar

It is an island universe for astronomers
at the end of their sidereal shifts
and possibly the end of their wits
when they cannot comprehend
the beatitude of rising constellations

and the quiet, empty serenity
hanging between the stars.
They seek the comfort of coordinates,
the declination and right ascension
onto bar stools lining the mahogany altar.

The background noise of the universe
is “Stand by Your Man” or “Free Ride”
and emanates from the cluster
of neon beer signs, red giants and white dwarfs
and Harold Melvin and the Blue Notes.

These night watchmen drink what’s on tap
and wonder why their wives, at light speed,
gave them an unheavenly heave.
No stand by your man. No free ride.
Dark matter indeed.

After last call they will develop
glass photographic plates in their dreams
to better understand the mystery
of the coming dawn’s wide canvas
that is kissed by a leafy tree, a shock of hair,

brushes that dab the spectrum
oozing on the painter’s palette
and thereby create the future perfect tense
that is the rising of the cities
and savannahs of the world.

~William Hammett

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Wednesday, March 2, 2022

Perspective

Just the right amount is poured
into the long-stemmed glass
so that the cabernet sauvignon

can breathe, the bouquet preserved.
My mind is on the palate
after the first sip of black cherry,

the green pepper and vanilla spice.
The grape has fulfilled its promise
from vineyard vine to custodial cask.

After the second sip my eye wanders
to the Degas mounted on the wall,
and I decide that it represents clarity and truth

despite the dizzy white brushstrokes
that created the spinning ballet class.
It is after the third sip that the arteries dilate

and my heart begins to reliably relax
into a philosopher’s quest for whatever
philosophers seek to extrapolate

from postulates about chickens and eggs
and angels jitterbugging on a pin.
I decide to investigate.

In another painting, lovers kissing
in the foreground are almost an afterthought.
Telephone lines 
and streets

converge to a vanishing point,
a focal slide of perspective,
a vintage vortex and invitation

minus the cursive and vellum.
But my mind, try as it might,
cannot penetrate the infinitude

of this black hole hanging
on the far side of the oak-paneled room.
So I tilt my head back

and think of this one unalterable truth
that cannot be deduced from theorems
or dialectics or even the rattle

of a shaman’s beads around a midnight fire:
some kisses are indeed sweeter than wine.

~William Hammett

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Thursday, February 24, 2022

So Much Depends upon a Windowsill

My apologies from the outset.
I have not managed to tame this poem,
these scattershot words masquerading as art.
It started as a brief description

of an Italian man who carves a doll
for his granddaughter, freckled and five,
from a pine log found in the Apennines.
I grew distracted with that rhyme—

pine and Apennine—
and my mind wandered like an untethered balloon.
Suddenly I was in St. Peter’s Square
listening to the Pope, who I think is the cat’s pajamas,

as he spoke from the balcony to a gaggle of nuns
and pilgrims who had come to find solace
in papal blessings and a carafe of chianti.
I was already in Italy,

so I went with the flow and kept writing.
My Spanish is ramshackle roughshod,
and my Italian never materialized
from the quantum field of linguistic potential,

so my free verse ended in a poetic cul-de-sac.
I entered a Vatican museum but stumbled
into Dan Brown, who positively insisted
that I hold up a mirror so he could decipher

a seventeenth century manuscript on pigeons,
naturally written backwards in Portuguese,
and thereby save his latest girlfriend
from being blown up by the Illuminati.

At this point, my legerdemain with words failed,
and I decided that this poem
should be about a cat sunning himself in a window.
He’s content to leave well enough alone.

I mean, William Carlos Williams wrote
that so much depends upon a red wheelbarrow and chickens,
so why not a cat, sans pajamas, who believes
that so much depends upon a warm windowsill?

~William Hammett

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Friday, February 18, 2022

Big Sky Country

The name is no mere hyperbole.
The sky is unbounded blue, impossibly vast,
extending from the horizon before me
to the razor thin line to the south.

All is quiet except for the occasional murmur
of wind combing grass and tugging on my sleeve.

Two arcs on either side connect them both
without a seam, hitch, or geometric vowel.

In the far distance. low mountain peaks
have the audacity to break the smoothness
of the world’s rim, but that is okay.

It is merely a bit of filigree work
carved by earth or sky—I do not know which.

And though the land is majestic in its monotony
as it flies off in all directions without permission,
painted in broad strokes by a brush

held by the hand of a lingering Lakota spirit,
every point of latitude and longitude
is the center of this loping cowboy universe.

Blue and brown grasses mix like a Monet,
gloriously uneven since the seasons are changing
and the last cold front has signaled surcease
by rolling like white carpet into Canada.

My feet make contact with the ground,
not that gravity weighs me down
since I am lightheaded as I stand surrounded
by so much of everything and nothing.

I do not recall how I got here,
though I suppose I must have walked
unless I was placed here as an advanced scout
by the Lakota hand that takes nothing for granted.

Or perhaps I was snagged by a diurnal dreamcatcher.

I love my Creole home—it’s music and food
and delightful jumble of vernacular pidgin.

But sometimes I need the absence
of streets and brick and telephone wires.

Mr. Taylor flies gingerly to Carolina,
but I occasionally I go to Wyoming in my mind.

~William Hammett

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Sunday, February 13, 2022

Rue Montclair

Beauty is truth, truth beauty,—that is all
        Ye know on earth, and all ye need to know.

                                    from “Ode on a Grecian Urn”

                                    by John Keats

 

 

Let us assume for no apparent reason

that the name of the street is Rue Montclair,

an ordinary lane miles from the electric frenzy of Paris.

And let us further assume that it is a spring day—

any day in April will do.

It is two in the afternoon.


There is time to look forward with a modicum of anticipation

as well as look back with a minimum of regret.

And there is time to sweep and polish

the gloriously mundane that hangs invisibly

from rooftops of curved tiles and gray slate.

Such is our stage, for we are going to observe


the lazy, mosquito-like activity of this offshoot.

Call us peeping toms or sociologists

or painters looking for a suitable subject

to put on canvas—it makes no difference.

A slim man with thin hair pedals a bicycle

with petunias in a basket hung on handlebars.


He works for the flower shop on the left,

the one with the weathered red awning

above a window with the unremarkable name

of Fleur Montclair, but it is all that it needs to be.

He passes a rotund balding man

carrying a brown paper sack of baguettes


from the bakery called Patisserie Celine.

A triangle of sunlight has shifted

ever-so-slightly since we’ve been watching,

perhaps by a degree of arc, no more,

so that it tilts more sharply against the masonry

of the stationer’s shop that carries exotic inks,


vellum, parchment, heavy linen paper.

It is said that even in the digital age

the French are absorbed by matters of the heart.

A handsome man buys note paper and writes,

“Dearest Anna, I love you more than a field

of white daisies and lilting daffodils. Love, Charles.”


Two lovers, arms around each other’s waists,

step absentmindedly over cobblestones

to cross our small work-in-progress.

They kiss, moist lip against moist lip,

which is exactly what two o’clock demands.

There is, of course, the mandatory café,


where someone drinks a small cup of coffee

while another anticipates evening with a glass of wine.

They stare at a point beyond our ken,

absorbed in reveries of things to come or moments lost.

It is time to leave now,

and whether we have witnessed stereotypes


or a street that somehow got caught

in a web of bygone days,

it is nevertheless serene as the sun grows brighter in its falling,

Would you not agree that it is almost too much to bear

to behold beauty that would fit

in a shadow box hung on wall in need of paint?


~William Hammett


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