Tuesday, January 25, 2022

Footnotes in the Kingdom of God

Flower in the crannied wall,
I pluck you out of the crannies,
I hold you here, root and all, in my hand,
Little flower—but if I could understand
What you are, root and all, all in all,
I should know what God and man is.

                                    “Flower in the Crannied Wall”

                                    by Alfred, Lord Tennyson

 

Daylilies, lavender, and dianthus

push through sidewalk cracks

next to abandoned factories in dying towns,


reaching for the heaven above the heavens

against all odds on the craps table

that wreaks havoc with the ceaseless circadian.


Old men play chess in the park,

knowing they are checkmated

before they shuffle to the bench


like pawns moving one square or two

into an opening gambit of graves.

The commuter from New Rochelle


folds his paper and stares through the train window,

unable to recall whether he kissed his wife lately

because his memory meanders like a stream.


Rusted farm equipment from the forties

sits on foreclosed acres of bindweed and nettles.

Oh, but it was good when it was good,


with tube radios, freckled children, and fireside chats

fertilizing crops by some sleight of hand

known only to carnival barkers and God.


Lovers kiss as they stroll down the avenue,

oblivious to disapproving stares

while holy men knotted into a lotus quietly meditate


and sunlight slides across a lazy gecko

paying rent on a white Arizona rock.

And then there are the poor and lowly,


who have been diagrammed below the sentence,

yearning only for the syntax of warm beds.

All of these vignettes are short stories and poems,


no more than aspiring asterisks

fallen to the bottom of yellowed pages

in basement archives where silence


is given perpetual lease.

But all are redeemed from oblivion’s yoke,

ransomed from insult and lavender’s decay.


Raindrops quench the daylily’s thirst,

for the first shall be last

and the last shall be first.


~William Hammett


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Wednesday, January 19, 2022

A Flower in the Desert

It is a rare flower that can handle hardpan,
that sinks roots into dry, cracked earth
that only dares to dream of silver lines of rain,
fat drops to melt away the grit from unrelenting sun.

It is a miracle that yellow and violet petals,
forgiving of the genocide of its kind,
can remain open to peace and possibility,
only folding their beauty when a cold moon

perches on a jagged peak of igneous shadow,
the pale face of an emperor ruling a wasteland.
But the politics of emptiness is fickle.
The indifferent white demeanor is quickly dethroned

by a smiling yellow dictator
who welcomes only cactus, scrub, sagebrush,
and, in a moment of clemency,
a fair and lonely maiden dressed for court.

I met such a fine lady in the desert of my youth,
when promise had been beaten down
by a wanton weed, dry wedlock
pursuing a scorched earth policy

for the sake of pursuing scorched earth,
blue draining from my eyes,
green fading from my heart.
From the corner of my eye

I spied a flower in the desert,
but I did not have faith that angels would catch me
lest I hurt my foot against a stone.
I stood on the the parapet of the temple,

hesitating for a split second
as I pondered angels and the epiphany of the flower,
then slipped, hurtling towards hardpan,
and awoke, bruised and alone.

Or so the story goes.
Decades later, in moments of fertile recollection
I see yellow and violet
from the corner of my eye.

~William Hammett

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Thursday, January 13, 2022

The Mountain Beyond the Meadow

There is a mountain beyond a field of wildflowers
beyond the rail fence beyond the garden
of daisies, larkspur, evening primrose,
and others that have claimed squatter’s rights.

I can see the three-peaked snow-capped mountain—
I imagine the ridges to be a high priest
flanked by two altar servers in white surplices—
from my kitchen as I open the Chateau L’Evangile merlot

and gaze at this layered study in perspective.
It is as if I were looking into a frame
hanging in a hushed room with wooden floors
at the Metropolitan Museum of Art.

And yet the scene changes
with the moving sun and seasons,
like Monet’s Haystacks or The Houses of Parliament.
When summer heat smothers the helpless plain,

the peaks dance like ballerinas
held hostage by a heat shimmer.
In the winter, these servants of the sky
are an exercise in lapidary,

etched like cut gems glistening
against a background that is painfully blue.
Spring and fall are transitional phrases,
by turns cutting and stripping my garden stalks

or swaying the field grasses with clean zephyrs
or hazy incense offered to whatever god is served
by these dimensions whispering “Closeness, distance,
closeness, distance, but bow also to the intermediary

that keeps them righteously apart.”
I sip the merlot and look at the garden,
fence, meadow, matin-covered mountain,
and realize that the world, organic and mineral,

is circadian, evolving, rhyming with color and shadow.
“Lord, it is good to be here,” St. Peter said
as light and darkness and voices danced around him.
It is good to be in my kitchen, grounded

by pots and pans and a vintage from the valley below
even though the universe is still expanding,
stars flying in all directions like priests and ballerinas
and fireflies carrying seeds to distant worlds.

I am content to raise a toast to humility
and be an infinitesimal part of this kaleidoscopic show.

~William Hammett

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Friday, January 7, 2022

Gardening in the Upper Case

I planted a book of Poems
by Emily Dickinson in my loam —
and it wasn’t long before Vowels
and Consonants — brides and grooms
alphabetical — Behold! —

married and blossomed
into sentences — Verse
that was violet and yellow
and scanned like some Epic —
fit for a Garden — a kingdom

perhaps — though who knows
but the Sower of seeds —
of men and words and deeds
that bear thirty, sixty, a hundredfold—
before the bell of Evening tolls?

I suspect this harvest
contained Nouns in the Upper Case —
since Love has been known
to reveal itself — an Incarnation of sorts —
in bells, colors, and caps

swaying on stalks —
a Choir not forgettable
in the humblest clods of Earth
that seem to know chapter —
and yes — Verse— about Rebirth.

~William Hammett

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Monday, January 3, 2022

The Importance of Buttered Toast

I have never written a poem about a Buddhist monk
because the one I knew would not open the window of his soul.

He was in the business of unconcern and renunciation,
trying to get the hell out of Dodge for good

so that the the great mandala
would not hook his saffron-colored robe

and spin his karma through another lifetime.
He told me that we didn’t really exist,

which to me is like buttering toast
only to find that breakfast is a scam.

I put a period on a blank page and then erased it.
“Now you’re getting the hang of it,” he said.

I didn’t think it was much of a poem
even though he said it was my best work to date

before assuming the lotus position,
as if he were posing for a Moody Blues album cover.

That’s when I put the period back on the page,
a Zen act of pure whoop-dee-doo,

but I still maintain that it wasn’t a poem.
It was merely a bit of untethered punctuation

taught to me by a gaggle of Catholic nuns
who relished living every day in Dodge.

They were sometimes a mean bunch of black and whites,
but we agreed that buttered toast was buttered toast.

~William Hammett

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Wednesday, December 29, 2021

Lost and Found

I am not lost.
On the contrary, I found myself
yesterday afternoon sitting in a red cedar chair
in my backyard, staring at birds
or perhaps waiting for the first star to burn
through the dark blue wake of afternoon,

always a sure giveaway that evening
is going to roll up the day,
catalog it, and send it to the museum of days
that is as invisible as the Ark of the Covenant.
I was careful not to disturb myself
since I was listening to a cardinal

perched in a gum tree compose a sonnet
on what it was like to defy gravity
for short periods of time.
White clouds, catching the last rays of sunset,
morphed from mountains into tall ships
with three sails and bowsprit needling the ocean

to stay ahead of advancing darkness
and the undiscovered country of dreams
that could swallow the entire crew
and spices from Turkish bazaars.
I seemed to be happy,
though I had a crease in my forehead

formed by a regret that reminds me
that sometimes I am an imbecile.
I crept away so as not to disturb myself,
glad to know that I was needling the ocean
and staying ahead of the jim-jams.
There will come a time

when I will erase the regret like a Cavalier poet.
I will defy gravity and soar
through the undiscovered country
that cannot be avoided forever.
For now, I am found,
content to let the cardinal be my prophet

and tell me in verse what it is like
to be free of regret and the sloping ground.

~William Hammett

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Thursday, December 23, 2021

Christmas Eve

It is about the nativity, of course,
although it has not happened yet.
The pregnant possibility lies in the straw,
heavy with the promise of a New Jerusalem

that is far too distant
even for angels and shepherds to see.
Carols are sung about the imminence
that has not yet risen in the silent night.

It is all about what happens next.
Expectation hangs like an ornament
on the fir by the fire.
Royalty from Persia left their kingdoms years ago,

but the caravan has no arrived yet.
The magi are as curious as you or I.
Why else make the journey
on suspicions raised by a rogue comet?

Blind men and lepers are already lined up in Galilee.
For what, they do not know.
There are rumors about rumors
and a quickening of the pulse—nothing more.

The unwed mother in the Bowery knows this truth,
as does the junkie who throws away the needle
because he saw an angel in his delirium.
The rehab center was always in Bethlehem.

The alarm clock sings, and I pull myself out of bed.
Tonight, I am told, is about magic,
and I’m willing to place my bet on a mustard seed.
Why else make the journey?

~William Hammett

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Sunday, December 19, 2021

Blue Jay

Bluebird, bluebird,
tap me on the shoulder.
Oh, Johnny, I am tired.

            ~children’s nursery rhyme

Its harsh, shrill cry
scratches the dark blue evening sky,
demanding our attention,
threatening to rip open the heavens
and expose the eye of Armageddon.

Isaiah, Ezekiel, and Jeremiah
did the same with stubborn Israel,
pointing the finger,
exposing the lie,
calling men out
on the collective cerebral cortex
scrubbed clean of truth
so that lackeys might kiss the stone feet
of the idol deaf and dumb.

The D.C. metro bus carries freight
shuttled in from the Land of Nod.
Exhaust spills into the ozone
as men and women spill into a puddle of brain
while the jay shouts “Cry Havoc!
And let slip the dogs of war.”

Evening grows darker
as the jay finishes his screed.
We have been tapped on the shoulder,
roughed up in soul,
delivered to a fork in the road
by a crest of blue feathers.

I pour a tumbler of scotch.
Oh, Johnny, I am tired.

~William Hammett

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Monday, December 13, 2021

Calypso

Ah yes, there was the summer of ’78,
which I had almost forgotten in these latter days
of statins and twice around the block
in the evenings beneath the sheen of pine needles
so that my pulleys and gears will stay lubricated
and the bellows behind my ribs will keep
rush hour traffic flowing smoothly in my arteries.

The thesis and diploma were tucked away
where they could do neither harm nor good.
I had learned earlier that pulling one thread the wrong way
unravels the tapestry of blossoming love.
I painted murals in the air for no one,
an avant-garde hermit who lived in a basement apartment
and read “Dover Beach” one too many times.

The white sands of Jamaica—
well, that was a different story in the anthology,
so I puddle-jumped to Kingston Town
and bought a twenty-dollar guitar,
a beach umbrella, and too many cocoanuts
with umbrellas sprouting like new growth
from rum or tequila and the juice of the day.

At night, when small fires blazed like eyes opening,
and the beach was filled with lovers
or other refugees who had too much of nothing
and were sampling Dylan’s waters of oblivion,
I played for whitecaps and sea birds wheeling,
notes lost in the surf folding onto the beach,
songs hanging in the air for no one.

It was one evening when the full moon
sat on the rim of the world,
the atmosphere molding its shape into an ellipse,
a silver eye with a tint of orange,
that I sat up, arms folded around my knees,
and knew that, despite bikinis and calypso drums,
the spirit hovering over the deep
was watching me and always would be.

~William Hammett

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Wednesday, December 8, 2021

A Thousand Sitars

The song turned out to be prophetic.
Something was going to happen
in the black hills of Dakota,
and the building had been named
because the stones rose from a desolation
that looked like the upper Midwest in winter.

The people in the cheap seats had clapped.
Those in the box seats had rattled their jewelry.
The performers bowed,
and the curtain came down.

When it came up again,
time slipped forward,
careening past naked light bulbs
atrung like daisy chains on Coney Island
into a purple haze,
and Max Yasgur leased his farm
to his children’s children’s children
as a generation turned over in its grave.

The curtain came down again
during Monday Night Football.
Bob sang “roll on, John,”
and all cried grief for the bull.

I looked in the rearview mirror
over the long years,
the music always there,
Sometimes in dreams I hear sitars chanting
like a thousand monks on a mountain top.

I still hear them,
though I don’t have to play the vinyl backwards.
I pick up a guitar on most days
and get back to where I once belonged.

~William Hammett

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Friday, December 3, 2021

A Tree in Barcelona

Manicured cottonwood trees line the square
in Old Town, a space that looks as if Don Quixote
might amble through the space on his horse

at any moment, tilting at windmills as usual
as he sleeps and dreams his impossible dreams.
It is only a painting at a museum,

but I step into the frame and sit beneath a small elm,
bent as if it were a peasant woman or farmer
bending to pick up a potato.

It is a pleasant day, and I lean against the trunk,
legs crossed on the grass
as I survey the red tile rooves

and the brown arches of a building
that appears to be a hotel built in the Middle Ages.
I can hear the ceiling fans pushing air

through the open air and across the plaza into my face.
A plump woman walks down a cobbled street in the distance,
a baby riding her hips and bouncing

as gently as Don Quixote,
who has now checked into the hotel.
The elm tree whispers that I am welcome to stay.

I agree even though I know that in this perpetual afternoon
someone from the twenty-first century
will pull me from the picture.

Or perhaps it will be a noise,
the door to the museum closing
or a taxi horn disturbing the seventeenth century.

I close my eyes.
There is no hurry.
Like Adam, I will get kicked out of paradise

because a woman has spoken with a snake
about apples and my tenure on the canvas.
But I will return when the time is right.

I have found a mansion in my Father’s house
that, though humble, suits me fine.
A gold plaque above the frame reads

“A Tree in Barcelona.”
It knows nothing of good and evil,
nor is it a windmill.

~William Hammett

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Sunday, November 28, 2021

Visiting St. Joseph Abbey

It is a place where I retreat for a day or two
when the world is too much with me,
when I am the bull pinned at the edge of the ring
with four banderillas tearing shoulder blade from soul.

It is quiet except for when the five bells
tumble wildly through the bell tower—
high, low, loud, soft—
marking the hours of the day

and the passing of the Bogue Falaya
that catches petitions like Buddhist prayer flags,
running them into the lake
and whatever lies beyond the scope of water.

I walk down dirt roads and fire lanes,
thinking of the morning shadows I cast
when I was seventeen
and full of fire and heavenly hope,

unconcerned with roads not taken.
Life was, after all, low-hanging fruit.
The pines still whisper lauds and vigils,
vespers and compline, praying in tongues

according to the consecration of their tap roots,
never impaling so much as a white cloud
with their green satin needles.
They have their vocation as I have mine.

I shall return years from now
to the dirt and bells and the stream.
In the back is an acre of land
where crosses cast long shadows before sundown.

~William Hammett

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Monday, November 22, 2021

Sunset over Lake Pontchartrain

The waves are florentined with gold,
small crests catching yellow fire
miles into the horizon
where the world rolls into the unknown.

But this death is not yet complete,
not established beyond hope, though thin,
that still expects time to stretch,
to elongate the crimson and orange
and whatever ministrations comprised the day.

All is not lost of the heroic,
of digging in gardens or dusting the bookcase
and all acts falling far short of the siege of Troy
since our battles are with the circadian clock
that sets itself according to the holiness of the ordinary.

Twilight has no real definition.
The day is clearly not over,
and yet death, by all accounts,
is close at hand.
What to believe?

I watch the sun roll into Pontchartrain
in my state of mystical suspension.
For a few beats of the heart
I can have it both ways,
and so I choose to breathe in deeply
and savor the primordial palette
while balancing resignation
in that lobe of the brain rooted in reality.
The left hand knows what the right is doing.

The tall pine trees behind me are silent,
and a few waves wash against the seawall.
My home towns are before me and behind me.
Red beans and a cold beer await.

This small ocean contains so much of my life,
and I realize I could live nowhere else
as I melt and become particle and wave,
darkness and light, cerulean blue and dying crimson.

I can see heaven,
though the water speaks clearly:
it is not my time to set sail
into those deeper colors
that roll the soul into a glorified copy of itself.

~William Hammett

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Thursday, November 18, 2021

Upon Awaking

I do not wish my eyelids to be rolled up
like an old window shade pulled hard,
to be jarred by red numerals
and a digital buzz or reports of congested morning traffic.
It is asking for trouble.

Better to have the angel in my final dream,
or perhaps nymphs who were dancing through dew,
whisper that I should swing my legs over the bow
and slide into the ocean and its gentle current.

And please, no television,
no high-energy talking heads
reading words from teleprompters,
no pitches about aluminum siding,
gutters, or a bathtub that fits over a bathtub.

In the silence is infinite participial potential,
the glory of the garden outside my window
which has my brain, pulse, and visions
of lilies, daisies, creeping jenny, and knock-out roses
taking over the continent,
wildflowers run amok but that do not toil or spin.

There is a day to be lived,
but let it begin with a few simple words
brooding over the abyss that was sleep,
syllables that call forth the is and shall be.

Let each morning begin
with the kiss of Carrickfergus and waters wide.
Let each begin with hope against hope
and the quiet explosion of creation.

~William Hammett

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Sunday, November 14, 2021

Herons

I have never considered writing about herons
or egrets or long-legged fowl
that philosophize and ponder shallows

while standing on one leg or two,
poised, quiet, alert, or maybe dreaming
of sedge and daybreak and a variety of sun-slants

on the calm waters pricked by reeds,
small islands of grass rising like the back
of a sleeping sea serpent above the bayou.

I did not feel the need to investigate
the life of herons, who are still lifes
hanging in doctors’ offices,

muted birds who have little to say
and are content to blend in with the nature of things,
characters to swell a scene

but who have no dialogue
and are listed in the dramatis personae
as “birds” and nothing more.

No one sees them. Not really.
Perhaps the wildlife photographer
or theater-goes with season tickets.

The homeless woman sits motionless
next to the concrete bridge pilings
or leans against the dumpster in the alley.

The veteran sits in the front seat
of his ’92 Dodge and stares straight ahead.
It is his bedroom, kitchen, and den.

They are as invisible as the colorful graffiti
that people have passed multiple times
and does not seem to have a them

because the colors are tangled,
the words foreign, the faces distorted
on a brick backdrop that is as mute as a bayou.

I shall write of herons more,
the backwaters of the invisible,
the still life that once breathed

and was so in love with the sky
that it dared to turn its head
and say, “I am here.”

~William Hammett

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Tuesday, November 9, 2021

Scorpio

I have never consulted the Zodiac
or had Madame Zostra read my tea leaves,
never stayed home because the moon
was in the fourth house of seven.

I do not care if Mercury is in retrograde.
We rule the stars.
They do not rule us
unless we hopscotch across sidewalk cracks

or throw thyme across our left shoulder
to avoid the Melocchio. Tosh.
But I believe in the unseen hand,
detached from constellations,

that beckons, guides, cajoles:
a deeper heart, a better mind,
the Spiritus Mundi that stitches atoms
to mountain rivers and the mind of God,

the loaded dice of synchronicity,
the quantum flip of a silver coin,
the outcome of which
is determined by observers

seen and unseen.
I am forced to make concessions,
for there is Providence in the fall of a sparrow,
and who am I to debate that sacred wind

that blows where it will though I cannot divine
where it comes from or where it goes?
Once upon a time,
a man lived in the deep woods

and could not escape,
could not see the scorpion’s tail
in the glorious star-speckled sky
that pointed to a clearing off the beaten path

though he briefly glimpsed
the constellation rise in splendor
when the branches parted,
when he surfed a quantum wave.

A brother grim, a lost tale
that had not a jot to do with the astrologer’s chart
but with the hour of his visitation and the spirit’s art.
The jewels of the night

are meant to guide, not predict,
and so they do
when a wise man gazes into the sky
so that his pupils may dilate,

so that wonder may enter his eye.
In November, when Scorpius rises,
is it not, set by the Jeweler’s hand,
as beautiful as any sign shining above the land?

~William Hammett

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Friday, November 5, 2021

A Simple Poem

These lines do not seek to elucidate great truths,
nor do they speak of empires or a paradise lost.

To my great surprise, they have appeared,
letter by letter, to speak of water and leaves

that write history anonymously
as they fall or flow into a sunrise or sunset

that may or may not be noticed
by a camera shutter or the persistent scratch

of a pencil in a journal.
Commentary is in short supply these days.

These lines exist to speak of the moment,
a placeholder so that people fallen in time

might catch up to the elusive present,
though it is probable that only a few will arrive.

The words are as quiet as an epitaph,
as unpretentious as a suit off the rack.

They watch but are not seen
except by those who ask, seek, knock.

They are as elusive as a shadow
slipping into the death of high noon,

and yet they could hold the sun falling into the sea
if anyone demanded such a feat of humility.

In silence is power.
In a word there is always epiphany.

In the beginning was a word,
and these are the children of God.

~William Hammett

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