Tuesday, March 21, 2023

The Man Who Carried Water

His ghost sits on the tombstone in the churchyard,
the one tilted like a crooked tooth full of decay.
He believes his trips to the river three hundred years ago,

his plodding steps to the river fifty yards away,
were miles and miles tread in vain, in obscurity.
For thirty years he carried water in wooden pails

to the great scaffolding of wood and holy bones,
his humble contribution to the cathedral’s cartilage,
to the cement mortar so that polished beatific blocks

of gray stone from the quarry could rise to the heaven
painted in yellow noonday heat or the blue matin rain.
His joints ached and sang psalms of penitential pain.

Today, tour buses glide along the boulevard,
the cumulus cloud above stitched by the contrails of a jet.
Sunbeams carom from stained glass to the pale eyes above the grave.

His face, his signature, is everywhere reflected from the great walls,
and he knows now that he was an artist, not a slave.
The ghost ascends, cleansed and joyous and saved.

~William Hammett

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Thursday, March 9, 2023


Rank amateur or undiscovered prodigy,
he jangles strings, chords bouncing off tiles
of the gritty subway station a few levels above hell.
The guitar case is open, and at the end of the day
thirty pieces of silver and a few dollar bills
land on its soft green lining like leaves from an invisible tree.
Even Judas likes to listen to a little rhythm and blues
or a rock and roll riff and the tapping of Goodwill shoes.

Sometimes he parries and thrusts his own compositions,
an undiscovered poet who thinks that if Dylan could do it,
then, well, there ya go. It ain’t no use to sit and wonder why.
Other times he rolls with the peeling set list—
Little Susie woke up in the house of the rising sun—
taped to the waist of a guitar as cheap as Mona Lisa wine.
He can pander Pure Prairie League or the Rolling Stones.
Hell, he can do it all even if thumbs have worn away the buffalo nickel shine.

Every fifteen minutes, a silver bullet with gang graffiti takes his music
uptown or downtown, where a studio exec might say,
“Ya know, I heard this guy busking out novenas today,
and maybe something lies beneath the dirty jeans and mop-top shock of hay.
The busker closes shop, climbs the steps from Purgatorio,
and shuffles through a melody in his head, notes littering the street
to the applause of sparrows in a purple twilight tree.
Somewhere during the night in the throes of an electric dream

still pulsing from the twelve-bar subway line,
an angel dressed in white lightning and downlow leather lands the jump.
“Here, write this down, you crazy son of a bitch.”
Love ain’t love until you’ve thrown it all away.
“Been there, right?
Your penance is to play for the moonstruck mix shouting for Barabbas,
for ticket holders, turnstiles, and cave paintings at New Lascaux,
to busk from dawn to dusk, to play and play and play.”

~William Hammett

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Friday, March 3, 2023

Night on the Ocean

It is night on the ocean, and the deep water is calm,
black liquid glass extending in all directions.
I sit in the back of the sloop
and wonder who wears the face of the constellations.
I am the only poem drifting on this sacred sea.
Perhaps I have written these intimate lines,
but it is more likely that a different author has written me.
His face is all around on the placid surface of the watery night,
and I think of the untold depth behind the myriad stars above.
I am only a man lost in lingering thought,
but apparently that is the theme of the poem.

~William Hammett

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Friday, February 24, 2023


He’s a session musician and part of the backup band,
always standing in the penumbra of light to the left of the mic,
never all out, never all in.
He lays down the guide track in the studio,
polishes the rhythm, kickstarts the beat
while raising the entire pulse of a song up a fourth,
fingers sliding up the fretboard of his axe
when a new verse wheels about like a cotillion line.
He’s the backbone of the band, whose epitaph
is always buried six feet under the liner notes.

The old woman pushes a broom and beats a rug
before planting turnips in a three-by-six plot of earth
that will will one day accept the humility of brittle bones
for their long journey into ashes and dust.
She’s little more than window dressing for the neighborhood,
never all out, never all in.
She’s the backbone of the universe,
and only the blackbird on her mailbox
knows how she holds everything together
for a band that plays music so loudly
that it is unheard by the ordinary shuffle and shoe,
unnoticed by the commoner’s vulgar ear
but so close to the journeyman’s soul, and so new.

~William Hammett

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Friday, February 17, 2023


We are all descendants from the mountain behind us,
our children the grass and wildflowers
strewn to the left and right of a path

that cuts through pastures leading to the sea.
And then it all begins again.
We are drops that merge with water over the deep

and become a mirror for the stars
until we are those distant pinpoints hovering in the night air
above the mountaintop from which we came.

~William Hammett

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Friday, February 10, 2023

What If

What if I told you that the wind writes haiku
or that the moon sweeps leaves across the grass at night?
And what if I told you that rain sings an octave higher than Monet
or that the mountain in the distance is lord of the sea?
Would you know what I mean?
What if a white crane, a Zen master standing on one leg,
looked at you and said, “You know. You certainly know”?
What if I told you that all of my poems are really one poem,
the lines mere leaves, like Whitman’s, combing the grass?
Would colors start to appear on the palette of your soul?
And what if I were a crane standing on one leg
and asked you “What if?”
A pebble falls into the pond, and ripples begin to spread.
You know the answer. You most certainly know.

~William Hammett

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Friday, February 3, 2023


Robins and sparrows perched on the evening wire
long before electric lines were strung on the maestro's clef,
freeform birds ready to sprout half note wings
to fly into notation’s migrant melodies

and, like the Aeolian breeze, shake the lilting limbs of trees
or be conducted into a tessellation of eternities.
The concertos were jive and jazz long before rambling brass
could make strings and woodwinds pregnant with shouts and screams.

Rivers and streams braided clear liquid rhapsodies
as they made long lavish love while taking the scenic route
to crescendo’d seas. Such is Mozart’s legacy,
these blackbird notes, a smooth hand across a bare shoulder

or the rhythmic, rhymed conception of fertile egg and seed.
The glory of these flights, of course, is still heard and seen,
but I’m preaching to the choir perhaps, for I think that souls
attuned to the music of the spheres know exactly what I mean.

~William Hammett

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Wednesday, January 25, 2023


Black silhouettes sit in the silver bullet carving the evening,
their clandestine mission to decode Babel over for the day.

Commuters glide into the country past trees and water towers,
mere silhouettes as well against a purple canvas

which is the dying of another day of saints and sins.
Ten miles away, the city is a bar graph silhouette,

silent since tongues have wagged enough about the latest turn of events.
The grade upon which the silver rails are laid is far above my own,

nor can I read flat midnight shadows on my bedroom wall.
A thousand miles away, the silhouette of Earth spins the elliptical,

a commuter returning home after four billion years of days,
and where it came from or where it is going is unknown.

Its home lies far beyond the switching yard at the end of the line,
where three dimensions draw the soul and no longer hide or align. 

~William Hammett

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Thursday, January 19, 2023

The Wink

It’s hard to believe how fast her sun rose and set,
the sultry wink and affirmative nod,

a flower that blooms once in a generation and dies.
Her portrait hangs on a tree in a yard that is forever autumn,

death in passion that flames so quickly and fades
because we are blind and know not what we do.

The hour of my visitation was no longer
than the space between the coming and going of a breath.

Comet West, a harbinger, winked with its cold fire
and tried to trace my path in the stars,

but I wasn’t a wise man in that year of our Lord.
Always surrender your heart for good

when the universe winks and the flirtation grows long
lest a desert of scrub cactus unroll at your feet,

the only garden that is tilled being the one
that blossoms in the memory from time to bygone time.


~William Hammett

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Tuesday, January 10, 2023

Tomorrow I Will Be in Paris

Tomorrow I will sit outside a café in Paris
and drink coffee and read the paper
and watch stick figures in their haute couture.

That is what I am expected to do.
I will wander through the mostly empty rooms
of a museum and stare at brazen brushstrokes

dead for a hundred years or more
while pretending that I have great insight into color and form.
That is what I am expected to do.

I will sleep with a mysterious stranger named Collette,
the sun pouring through the open window
to wash our bodies clean of the encounter

before we rise and take to the street
to move the clock forward an hour or two,
for that is what we are expected to do.

After a glass of wine and a baguette,
I shall take a long nap in the sagging bed
in the top room of the house of yellow stucco

while bicycles in the street below ring their bells.
That is what I am expected to do.
In the evening I will rise from my body

and float down streets into the bouquet of lights
that is Paris when romance and leisure summon the night,
for that is what I am expected to do.

When I awaken in the morning from this cockeyed dream,
I will call you Collette and buy two tickets to France,
for I am certain that this is what you expect me to do.

~William Hammett

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Friday, December 30, 2022


The bishop slaps my cheek and moves two squares
to stand beneath the queen of copious tears
before asking the other pawns their saintly names.

He lays a leprous hand upon their heads,
his gambit a diagonal move to capture them all.
I walk down the aisle past the stained light

and a man, arm outstretched, sinking beneath the waves.
They say that gravity and darkness claimed his brain.
The arches of the castle open to the wide and wicked world.

Years later I return to the stone rookery
to see if the apostolic font is still the old Roman twelve
or, better yet, Corinthians thirteen.

The stained-glass windows are broken,
and a pigeon occasionally lands on the marble head of the king.
The silence is confirmed: I sit and stare and wait,

but there is no tintinnabulation or waft of holy smoke.
For now there is a stalemate, though perhaps on some distant day
the bells, now rusted and still, may have awoken.

~William Hammett

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Monday, December 19, 2022


I pass through the silver moon and a woman’s heart,
through the narrow waist of the hourglass
and along the knife’s edge of syntax separating subject from verb,
between thought and action, through the eye of the needle
that stitches reality from Eden to omega
and binds the pages of the epic poem of then and now.
I slip through the parted lips of a lover
and the panting contractions of long labor
that issues the milk of Hera at galaxy’s core
and the commerce of dimes at the dying corner grocery store.
It is all woven into the tapestry on my wall,
fabric on loan from the owner of a gallery
who, it is rumored, only exhibits his own work.

~William Hammett

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Tuesday, December 6, 2022


Most of the stations are no longer marked,
their faded wooden signs hanging at an angle by a single nail.
The tracks cross meadows and run a narrow course

through dense green forests before disappearing
into transient time itself, the earth spinning backwards
while the sun retraces its sidereal steps.

I am young again when the train stops
next to a silver-tipped stream,
its waters again flowing to the sea, not away from it.

Calendar pages disappear in accordance with rule,
and you are sitting, as always, on the edge of a dream
that always ends abruptly for this crazy old fool.

~William Hammett

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Tuesday, November 29, 2022

Wine Country

Row after row of green vines cling to wooden posts,
spiraling through twisted wire, left and right, left and right
so they may become drunk with the sun and fat with child.

The purple fruit, heads lolling like revelers after a bacchanal,
cannot resist the gravity of soil and the inevitability of rain.
Their liquid dreams are soon pressed and stored in dark cellars,

illusion and pleasure aging before being transfused
into a palate yearning for the purpose of paradise.
But to taste a vintage with the perfect swell of sweetness,

beatifically pure and beyond the pale of inebriation
is perhaps to taste the wine at Cana, water free-flowing,
the cellar never empty, the vine always growing.

~William Hammett

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Monday, November 21, 2022


Magnetic lines of force arc from pole to equator,
equator to pole so that the calendar sticks to the fridge.
In the junkyard, a giant crane lifts iron

with the ease of a white-gloved magician.
The salmon and the whale fantail the ocean’s foam
so as to mate where the metal dart hits the map

with impossible precision, like finding the pearl
of great price in the chaos of a Byzantine bazaar.
Such is the magic and mystery of the meant-to-be

I do not know the substrate of why or the collusion of when,
only that a woman in a white lace gown serves tea.
The ritual simply exists, and the teacups are Zen.

The tea was harvested in a far-off land by two lovers
who were drawn together by the simple song of a wren,
by magnetic lines of force where destiny always hovers.

~William Hammett

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Friday, November 11, 2022


He works with weathered hand, spins a mandala
to fashion wet clay into a vase, a teacup,
a mountain molded by the pure artistic matter
of sinew and muscle and manifest mind.
His work is miniscule yet vauntingly vast,
glazed with caramel coats of conscience
pondering the reality of the true maker of memes.
He wears jeans or robes or nothing at all
if it suits his craft to remove what clouds the eye.
He is a xylophone of beneficent bones
or the inspiration of Promethean fire.
He is the claims adjuster who sets things right
with a bit of leather strap or a length of copper wire.

~William Hammett

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Friday, November 4, 2022


When I was four, ten thousand birds would fly
over uptown New Orleans on variegated fall afternoons,
the sky closing down faster in its pantomime of purple.

Cool October evenings know when it is time to surrender.
I wanted only to float into this chevron migration
and beat my wings in iambic pentameter to swell a scene or two.

Wise in the ways of equinox, they knew that Ecclesiastes
had nothing to say about this time between times.
A different October canopy spreads above me now,

but I do not seek the escape of a childhood sparrow rhyme.
I sit on a bench and roll into brush strokes on the horizon,
marveling at the broad parameters of dusk.

And yet it is not time to surrender to the cool change
tapping on my bones or seeking closure for my brain.
There are many skies to travel yet, many hills to climb.

~William Hammett

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Friday, October 28, 2022


The future astronomers gesticulate and talk
about supernovas and questions swallowed by black holes
while lit majors try to unravel the Gordian Knot

that is the streaming prose of Joyce and Proust.
Two lovers speak of biology, their arms encircled
around each other’s waists like a double helix

as they silently rehearse the spiraling pleasure
they will take when the clock tower chimes two.
The dusty chalkboard behind me is littered

with numbers and Greek letters I do not understand.
I move to the sash window, paint flakes on the floor,
and look again at the brilliant white sidewalks

crisscrossing the quad as if it were a Union Jack.
Everyone below is an equation trying to solve an equation.
I study the branches of a salacious sycamore

a few feet from the pane of glass, the veins
of each green leaf a roadmap to creation’s cause.
In an old wooden desk, I sit and break the spine

of an analog textbook to read a line from Wordsworth.
There is really no pressing mystery to be solved
on this day dyed in deep shades of spring.

My mind wanders lonely as a cloud
in a room where idleness, no longer quadratic, is allowed.
For me, the world is a sum that has been reconciled—

the numbers and Greek letters now align—
to the right of some cosmic equals sign.

~William Hammett

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Friday, October 21, 2022

The Old Man and the Cart

He pulls his wooden cart through the alleys of a city.
He is old and gray, and yet his arms are long and limber,
rotating like bicycle pedals as he gleans treasure
from lives cast off helter-skelter on backwater stone:

a pair of shoes, a crooked table, pulleys and chain,
a self-portrait by an artist who had little self-esteem.
There is no such thing as junk to this connoisseur of nuts and bolts,
of chicken wire or wooden spindles that clattered in looms

and machines that hummed and turned into inventors’ dreams,
bric-a-brac becoming threads that weave the tapestry of a king
on a castle wall or a hovel where the embroidered feathers
of a peacock may spread wide in diversity and sing.

The man brings the day’s bounty to a barn at the edge of town.
Come sundown, the people of the city will, like mice
running in the dark, pick clean this multiplicative museum
in order to add to their own collections of the world reborn:

a toy, a milking stool, or a tattered virgin’s gown.
Such are the acts of God as he collects chapter and verse
when piecing together star stuff into nickel-iron orbs,
when every now and then he tidies up, or invents, a universe.

~William Hammett

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Tuesday, October 11, 2022

The Flower Girl

She wears a yellow sun dress and white apron
as she catalogues spring in Solomon’s speckled field.
A straw bonnet shades her cheek, surely not for modesty,
and she carries a basket of white evangelical daisies

praising heaven though their wings have been clipped for now.
Who would question this golden-haired mistress of the morn?
Unexpectedly, she turns and steps from the painting
onto the gallery floor—no one perceives the three-dimensional sin—

and threads the stem of a lazy lilting daffodil
through a buttonhole over the quickening of my heart.
She kisses me with lips as red and ripe as strawberries
before walking to the museum door and the street beyond.

On the canvas, a brunette invites me to a picnic on the grass.
I accept, for who am I to resist the call of lascivious love.
How long I have tasted the vintage of come hither
from the wineskin of this country-bred lass—

a day, a year, or a century’s slow waltz—
is not a matter of importance to patrons and guests.
No matter, for she has blue poppy eyes above peony cheeks
and, under her rough cotton dress, wild roses for breasts.

~William Hammett

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Monday, October 3, 2022

A Sliver of Moon

It is a comma on a page of night sky
separating all that was from all that will be,
a pause in the event horizon that is today,
the slender moment that is the here and now.
It shines on tall silver grass marking a path
through the peeling parchment of birch trees
and winding ever east through sacred clearings
so that a pilgrim may stop, worship, and bow.
He takes a step, and then another and another
into a cosmos that he writes with syntax
borrowed from a grammar of possibility.
He is author, scholar, and avatar from a new world,
lines from a work in progress lyrically unfurled.

~William Hammett

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Tuesday, September 20, 2022

Falling Into You

I fall like the sun onto yellow straw
and then, in the abandoned loft, into you.

In the morning we walk through green grass
to the stream that flows into a tributary of rivers

and the clear liquid gravity that you spin anew.
On the wide ocean under the nude sky

I lie upon the swell that is your breast.
Seven times seventy times around the globe

the current bears me wide and warm,
and I only wish to drink in more,

the tidal pull of your eyes bringing me rest
as I fall into you, fall into you.

~William Hammett

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Wednesday, September 7, 2022

Black Lady Mountain

The black stone of Nui Ba Den rises above rice paddies
and thin farmers toiling beneath cone-shaped straw hats
as they herd oxen over dirt and bone dust
surrounding green rectangles and reflecting pools.

At night the full moon sits atop the peak,
staring at grass and water like the silver eye of a carp.
Underneath the muddy Mekong is a broken helicopter blade,
a sword beaten into a ploughshare a few miles

from the tattered threads of the Ho Chi Minh Trail.
A gentle wind combs the water and the rice weed,
summoning forth the moaning of long-forgotten ghosts.
It is unclear whether they are crying or finally making love.

~William Hammett

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Wednesday, August 31, 2022

Leaving Las Vegas

It is like leaving Las Vegas, this renunciation
of neon and the megawatt blink of electric sex,

as I drive across The Painted Desert into the high mountains
of hemlock, streams, and firs, a snow-capped peak

reflecting the sun like a cold mirror.
It is freedom to leave the tawdry, tanned hookers

and their slots, dinner shows feathered with fan dancers
and live nude girls, stripping the strip of Seguro cactus,

the totems that made the brown land into a sacred scroll.
I will drink the clear mountain lake to the dregs

and inhale the invisible periphery of stratosphere,
rarified and pure and all-knowing,

the lens of God’s eye beholding that which is meant to be.
The eagle and the hawk ride the glory of updrafts,

spinning the sky into a soul that lives in a thousand layers of land.
It is good to be here, good to be where no footprint
has sullied the rocks, the grass, or the riverbed of sand.

~William Hammett

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Wednesday, August 24, 2022

The Boat

We will go down to the sea in a ship, my love and I,
and we shall listen to whale songs in the night
and observe the treaty of dolphins and doves.

We shall lie together on the blue calm of the Pacific,
our legs entwined, our lips as moist as plums.
Together we shall man the mainsail, jib, and spinnaker

white nylon rope singing through the winch
as we leverage the boom from starboard to port
depending on where the winds of our heaving spirits merge

to send us careening across the equator’s neverending vow.
The bow will divide the waves symmetrically
as when a woman yields to desire, warm and accepting

of a male plow making fertile the rich land
while creating new waves of paroxysm and ever-cresting joy.
We will pull down sails and ride gray swells

when the tempest angles our sloop to the sky,
clouds racing like zephyrs in obedience to Olympian commands.
And when becalmed, we shall behold a thousand midnight stars

while sitting in the stern, her arm a slipknot around my waist.
How glorious to sail on an ocean seven fathoms deep,
lost with the love of my love, soul of my soul.

Such is my longing and such is my heart
when Eros touches the mariner’s art.

~William Hammett

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