Thursday, May 9, 2024

Serendipity

With a gust of wind, the bouquet of flowers
flies from the rear basket of the bicycle.

Minutes later, the man scoops it up
and continues on his way to the park,

where he sits next to a young woman on a bench.
A maple leaf falls from the overhead tree.

They turn, grab, kiss, and laugh
without thought of repercussions down the line.

Years later, they live in a three-story Victorian,
a gaggle of daughters rushing out the door

to ride bicycles in the park and collect spring flowers.
Surely it was all divinely-inspired happenstance,

this blur of joy and color spanning decades,
for there is no such thing as randomness or chance.

~William Hammett


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Tuesday, April 30, 2024

Lost Moon

It was the Year of the Dragon,
and the moon was in Gemini
when I rowed towards the silver eye

resting on the rim of dark ocean,
water dripping from the oars
in the slow cadence of a dirge.

I was out of my depth in so many ways,
fall coming on hard and cold,
youth already spent on the known and old,

on fighting Grendel’s Mother
and her bitch-heavy pathological urge.
But then there was Mozart,

A Little Night Music, spin and jitterbug
to infuse this fallen man
with a few more stuttering steps,

a few more bittersweet miles.
Was it a kiss or the mind of God
or something else entirely

that I tried to reach on that long-ago night,
an ampersand that connected cradle to grave,
the modulation of a Tibetan Buddha’s wave?

It’s all the same, you know—
the kiss, the chant, the god, the now,
and yet I loved her song and flow.

I found a shiny nickel
minted in the Year of the Dragon
on a corner paving stone.

I polish it once a year with love
before holding it at arm’s length
against the glory of the stars.

And that is enough catharsis to bury the loss.
The moon is always in my pocket,
no longer a mariner’s albatross.

~William Hammett


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Thursday, April 18, 2024

Twisted Symmetry

Tie the gentle curve into a Gordian Knot
or fold the desert highway into pretzel logic.
Waves will still break on the shore in fringe and foam.

Let M.C. Escher walk up the down staircase,
take the Bureau of Weights and Measures off speed dial.
Rain will still slant silver in the spring.

Siphon the universe into a black hole
and hammer a triangle into Picasso.
The sun will still paint the meadow gold.

Unzip the double helix of DNA into drooping flowers,
make love to the twenty-something,
and dine out with the old crone.

The actress will still deliver her soliloquy
on the proscenium either way.
Explode the order of fractals into a jigsaw puzzle

or build a shrine to Our Lady of the Hobos.
Particle and wave will still keep dancing
no matter how you diagram the sentence.

Expose the man behind the curtain or not:
only in the undoing will the doing find potential.
Order becomes decay, decay is order’s art

in a cosmos that is cooling but always running hot.
Carry the wisdom of the ages, but be forever young at heart.
You will always be free to fold everything

back into a reality you cannot understand
as long as thought travels faster than the speed of light.
Tell me I’m wrong, and then tell me I’m right.

~William Hammett


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Tuesday, April 9, 2024

Piano Bar

It sits on the corner of Steinway and Baldwin Streets,
nicely cooled against Dog Day heat.
At 2 a.m., the bartender, in stiff white shirt and black bow tie,

polishes glasses and eyes them like an astronomer
looking through telescopes fixed on three silent patrons
at corner tables light years from one another,

their candles winking like inebriated stars.
The femme fatale at the ivories sounds like Nora,
her voice floating on late-night silk

and sounding just as comely sweet.
I sit in a corner and scratch poems on a napkin
while observing this dim universe as the hours wear on.

The astronomer delivers a tumbler of scotch, neat.
Piano notes become cosmic background radiation,
a rendition in a minor key from the music of the spheres.

It is a universe that I can inhabit and wear like skin,
one in which I can create my verse on the downlow
for the next fourteen billion years or so.

~William Hammett


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Friday, March 29, 2024

War and Peace

There is much ado about guns
and cannons and then nothing.
There are troops and last-minute marriages
and lingering farewells at a train station,

fingertips touching vanishing fingertips
as the passenger car slides away
to a wave of tears and uneasy applause.
And then there is a great sigh of relief,

the return to the hometown or the farm,
afternoon naps on a sagging porch,
eyes sequestered by a floppy hat
to keep away gnats and dreams of shell shock.

And in between lies the truth, lies everything.
Everything—the day’s stock-in-trade—keeps it all going.
It’s how war begets peace, how peace gives birth to war.
Swords become plowshares, plowshares become swords.

To everything there is a season.
The old man polishes the long barrel of a carbine.
The young man enters No Man’s Land
in a war, they said, that would end all wars.

~William Hammett


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Monday, March 18, 2024

Multiverse

It’s the road less traveled—
that’s the one I wonder about,
whether I’m daydreaming on dust motes
or sliding into a long shadow

when my thoughts grow dark as November.
Call me Ishmael or a son of light.
It’s the one we all wonder about,
both Adam and Adam’s rib.

My mind always circles back,
calculating vectors, a swell of waves,
the schizophrenic oak growing east and west.
Kisses sweet as pears and plums,

the novel that didn’t work,
the man digging a hole
that turns out to be his grave—
everything proceeds and yet doesn’t.

A leaf falls into the high grass,
trapped and headed for decay.
A wind from nowhere kicks up
and sends it pinwheeling to the stream,

though I couldn’t tell you why,
for I hold no patent on a destiny that breathes.
Suffice to say that the leaf finds a swell of ocean.
Call me Ishmael. I think we all find the sea.

~William Hammett


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Friday, March 8, 2024

Living in the Desert

The mountains in the distance, dancing from the heat,
are my only sentries, though it is doubtful
that the silicon fraternity of modern man
would wish to storm this hermitage, or any at all.

The sand is carpet enough, the rocks ample tables.
Cactus and sage, accents in the latest earth tones,
were here when I declared myself a holy squatter sans deed.
Everything, I learned, is solar-powered and well lit.

At night, the stars do not compete with spangled harlots
who gather round a lamppost like moths
in a town that once called me its favorite son.
The bleached bones of prophets—rats and birds—

give the space its ambience of endless eons.
Reptiles bury themselves beneath oozing stone
in the hope of noonday resurrection.
Alone but not lonely, I read books committed to memory,

but I do not recite them aloud, do not wag my tongue
like the merchants I left in Babylon.
In silence there is communion and grace,
though with whom or what I simply do not know.

~William Hammett


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Tuesday, February 27, 2024

The Silent Poem

The words are only signposts.
An image, after all, is just an image.
Poems are about what is never said
since narration only appeals to the eye and ear. 

Search between the words and lines.

Look to the open, empty desert for meaning.

To read nothingness is to become a Zen master.

Why do you suppose there are spaces between stanzas?

 

What is all this about, you ask.

I can only guide you. Jesus wept.

I shall tell you a story, but you must open your eyes.

Or perhaps close them. Take this poem, for example.


~William Hammett



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Monday, February 19, 2024

The Tryst

The young woman on the old bicycle at dawn,
her spine a testament to posture and righteousness,
pedals across the brick streets of a French village.

A navy-blue cap rides a wave of short black hair;
a white blouse hangs on shoulder blades fit for a mannequin.
The merchants are still dreaming of wine and cheese,

and no one stirs from the romance of a sagging mattress
to see her tight red sweater or black pants
paint wide brushstrokes across storefronts.

In the basket in front of rusty handlebars
is a newspaper, fresh bread, and a bottle of wine.
She is so innocent that she could be a fairy

who was born yesterday deep in the forest over the hill.
She meets her young man in a field of sunshine,
and after they drink the Bordeaux, they kiss,

but her eyes open and follow a flock of birds
scared into the air by a lurch of fur and claws.
In that moment she knows she will never marry Claude,

for her heart can only belong to the sky,
a bosom so large that only its blue curve
can contain the love of love and ardent desire.

~William Hammett


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Friday, February 9, 2024

Hours of the Day

The black coffee is a singularity giving birth to a universe,
the horizon on fire with newfound glory.
Evening and morning, the first day.
The Tower of Babel is switched off, the cloistered mind preserved.
I do not need to know the latest recipe for crepes

or why the Pilate instructor sailed around the world.
Vanity vanity—all is vanity. Silence is the message.
An army of shadow soldiers appears at ten o’clock,
but it practices formations as on a parade ground, nothing more.
A bird in the elm sings melodies with the same joy

as a woman cleaning her three-room apartment
on the fifth floor of a tenement, the window open,
because her husband is out of prison and on the way home.
I notice everyday objects around the house at noon,
a marble whale, a brass pot, and a row of twenty books

on the shelf, each holding a parallel universe of probability.
In the afternoon I do nothing but observe the passage of time,
the change of light, and the chiming of the clock on the mantel.
It seems the world is moving on and has been doing so
ever since dew flew from the grass hours ago

like geese fleeing the marsh for some high and mighty sky.
The dark soldiers who called it quits at midday
have returned, now on a mission to close the whole thing down.
Ten birds make a final stand on the telephone wire
while crickets observe vespers, chanting on cue

with the falling of the sun. It is night,
and I have scribbled a few lines of verse, written a grocery list
that will soon be out of print, and posted several reminders to myself,
The universe, I presume, will come sweeping along tomorrow.
Somewhere along the line I read the newspaper,

which kept world events at just the right distance from concern.
I even caught a glimpse of myself out the corner of my eye.
Every hour was sacred, every minute lived with grace,
though I have the feeling that a few slipped by without notice.
I don’t know what more anyone could ask for.

~William Hammett


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Tuesday, January 30, 2024

Still Life with Flowers

The spring bouquet is arranged in a clear glass vase
filled to within an inch of the top with water,

but the white daisy petals with yellow hearts
are the ones that steal the show.

For reasons unknown, the artist posed these nude models
on a plain but polished wooden table in front of a window,

sash down, with only a few saplings,
a green lawn, and a humble garden as the backstory

for this silent poem in raised oil strokes.
The picture hangs on a wall opposite another window, tall,

where the sun is free to nurture this born-again cliché.
What no one notices is that the painted flowers, all as one,

sway left to right as they follow the path of the sun,
swallowing each ray as their daily bread,

and whether they follow the sun that the painter has implied
or the one that brushes the tall window with yellow strokes

is unknown to all but the mystery of art that is reality squared.
Outshining Solomon, the lilies of the field follow the rhythm of prayer.

One can only wonder at the cataracts of the mind, of eyes
that pass this still life every day, blind to its soul and secret hope.

~William Hammett


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Monday, January 15, 2024

Empty Chairs

They’re plain and padded, others richly appointed,
their backs high, proud, and embroidered,
arms polished, curved, and ending in scrollwork

like limbs that have decided to close their hands.
They are placed on the sides of sofas and long tables
as if guarding them from the wrong type of occupant.

The more monastic are placed in corners or next to doors
to keep a watchful eye on matters of state.
Sometimes they are twins poised on either side of a marble table

with a bright lamp of bronze illuminating dark, cold veins.
They are quiet citizens of wide halls and palaces where,
despite the traffic, heavy or light, no one ever sits.

All of these four-legged guards, invisible to most,
are always empty, lovers waiting to spoon or, more likely,
are civil servants waiting to provide comfort

to the weary and downtrodden, those who find the journey
too oppressive on any given day.
They embody patience, for they wait and wait,

always empty as they wait.
It is likely that once a year, almost certainly after midnight,
they gather in a great metaphysical hall

that has no beginning and no end.
It is a conclave of silence during which they meditate
on the comings and goings of the world,

hoping and praying that people, no one in particular,
will pause for a while and think of nothing but chairs,
will stop moving from here to there,

for if they did, the masses would lay down their arms,
would cry cathartic rivers and find balm
for the soul’s deep wounds and its lifetime of wear.

~William Hammett


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Friday, January 5, 2024

The Lake House

I kiss you, and then I kiss you again
as the moon rises over the lake
and crickets sing some long-forgotten hymn.
We lie together, motionless, in the cabin,
our legs tangled in the silver shine
pouring through the open window.
Your breathing is a deep spring from which I drink.
I close my eyes, sleep, dream.
dreaming of the loon landing on midnight water,
its feathers brushing softly the surface sheen.
I am a feather, and you are the lake.
Smoother moon-colored skin I have never seen.
I kiss you, and then I kiss you again.

~William Hammett


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Thursday, December 28, 2023

The Kite

It is a ghost on a string, paper skin or plastic
sewn onto the most brittle of bones
that perhaps were never born or have already died.

The frail body dips and screams.
It cannot believe that it has been surrendered
to an uncertain fate in an arena where it is rumored

that angels conspire to synchronize the affairs of men.
And yet, when its sails are in full furl,
it dances like a child who has finally learned to walk

without the gravity of knowing, the philosophy of when.
Or so it seems. There is a doubletake,
and one sees that it is a solitary prayer

that must be released to have any chance
of being found let alone returned with interest.
It moves skyward, and yet beyond the sky,

into the depths of a larger beating heart
than that of swift rivers or rising seas.
It must find the eternal rhythms, the many mantras,

that govern the expanding whole and the infinitesimal part.
I saw it sail over a golden meadow and a grove of trees,
its tail swinging like the rosary beads of a noonday nun.

And then, before it disappeared, it was whipping wild,
like a Buddhist prayer flag torn by ecstasy,
its holy tongue-wagging just begun.

~William Hammett


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Tuesday, December 19, 2023

The Woods at Yuletide

It is indeed the darkest evening of the year,
the sun’s brief arc hiding behind clouds, a thicket, and snow.
I exhale archangels and seraphim into the gray air,
my boots planted deep in white winter frost.

There is stillness in all directions, the coming silent night
already bearing down with noiseless labor pain
that calculates what is gained and what is lost,
astrology having served its final purpose for the kings.

The wagon ruts of a poet who paused to think of miles
runs to the veiled village east of here and the woods,
an incarnation of the should that in the snowfall sings.
There will be the usual death despite the sap beneath

already contemplating its impossible rise.
A sudden keen wind causes my mind to sift memories
of what has transpired since I was a sapling dreaming of years,
of a long road that has led me to this evening prime.

In the village, a single bell tolls Christmas time,
Such is love.
Such is the meaning of a gift, many decades old,
that is again unwrapped by the fire when the day is cold.

It is time to move on from this cathedral of dusk,
for a new dusting has filled the sky with the heavenly host.
The evening has been my scripture, chapter and verse.
At home I will light a candle in this dark but expanding universe.

~William Hammett


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Tuesday, December 12, 2023

Bird on a Post

I saw a sparrow sitting on a post,
a bit of fence dividing green from green,
here from there, field from solitary road.

He was quiet and serene,
composed as a monk who has finished
his evening prayer, his final circadian vow.

At last he spoke.
He did not have a home, did not own a nest.
His lone vocation was traveling,

for this, he said, was the only true calling
for any creature with a heart that beats,
with lungs that fill with air, with chi.

When I asked him if his life ever grew tedious,
this lacking of hearth and home,
he spread his wings and for a time flew circles

over pastures before returning to his temporary wood.
“We are always leaving and arriving,” he explained.
“Rivers do not stop flowing,

grass does not stop growing
though the ocean and the land may pause for a while.
You see, the Earth is Noah’s Ark.”

Bowing his head, he took to the skies again,
heading south to a land where consciousness was king.
I continued walking down my lonely road.

I had a destination once, or so I thought,
but now my steps themselves are home,
which is what my feathered guru taught.

~William Hammett


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Tuesday, November 28, 2023

The Outcast

The young man is skinny and crooked,
his teeth angled like a broken fence
and as yellow as piano keys unconnected to wire.
One ear sticks out, the other folded flat
against his head like the broken wing of a plane,
his buck teeth curving his mouth into a perpetual smile.
Released from the carnival, he walks through a field
in late afternoon until he stumbles because of a lazy eye,
his gait drifting ever left, ever left.
On the fresh spring earth, he inhales the new grass,
marvels at its bright green color, its odor of birth
and the promise of a day when salvation will sing.


The world turns by a few degrees of arc
so that starlight from diamonds strikes his retina,
illuminating his brain and teaching his body,
crumpled like yesterday’s newspaper,
the ways of God, the humility born of pain.
He looks at the precious gifts of sky and earth
that so few others are ever able to attain.
Slowly he kneels, then stands on the untroubled sod.
He knows that the next stutter, inevitable as the sun and the rain,
will bring him even closer to the mind of God.

~William Hammett


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Friday, November 17, 2023

Jazz

Down along the avenue of jazz, of jam and jive
cooking in Paris, the Bohemian Montmartre,
the manage-a-trois finds its rhythm by fits and starts,

a piano, stand-up bass, and drums taking turns in the sack,
the strings, wires, and skins lurching forward, hanging back.
The melody, wearing a disguise for tempo’s espionage,

swings Kepler’s planetary orbs into elliptical downbeats,
syncopated sighs, the wail of a comet’s tail
cutting a nebula of cigarette smoke

above a sea of berets, turtlenecks, and beards.
It is all harmony and vibration, string theory,
dimension folded into dreaming dimension,

half notes riding a collapsing stave of jazz stutter,
angels ascending and descending Jacob’s ladder.
Such glorious confusion. Jove dances the jitterbug.

It is all an electron in a grander scheme,
and below it falls the forever of collaborating seams.
So many universes, and I have yet to take the Grand Tour.

The high-hat and snare kiss the bass line and keys
while Sartre and Camus are taken to the woodshed.
One day I shall dance the harmonics,

strip away what seems, shall bend time and space
in a loft where the trio flickers like a neon sign
and get to the bottom, or perhaps the top, of the neverending shine.

~William Hammett


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Tuesday, November 7, 2023

The Multiplication of Verbs and Fishes

The moon writes poetry across twilight.
It has no meter or rhyme, only the scansion of its rising.

The eagle, quills riding an updraft, clears the mountain
while the fish reads the bottom of the sea,

pages marked by the epic bones of Ulysses.
Taoists work this carnival of wandering words,

the pregnant void, the cloud of unknowing, the Akashic record.
Five loaves and two fish multiply into a grand story

from a blank page, an empty basket, a rolled-up scroll.
The readers are amazed and well-fed and walk away with hope.

I do not know where syllables come from
or the sentient syntax of the soul.

We are vehicles for the long novel that never was but always is.
I tend my garden, a consonant seeking to be part of the whole.

~William Hammett


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Monday, October 30, 2023

Tibetan Slow Dance

Golden wheat and the heavy harvest moon—
an October calendar page from any given year.

Plentiful crops—the barley brew and feast—are always good,
the fullness of a breast, the ripe earth waiting to be kissed

before the long, long sleep as the sun dips low.
Let the good times roll with crawfish and beer,

the Zydeco swing, the accordion bellowing the Cajun two-step.
Let laughter linger for a night of measured misrule.

It is pirogue heaven to eat and drink,
but as night rolls into inevitable dawn,

let there be the reaping of cloistered silence.
The time for carnival under incandescent bulbs

passes with the whisper of a broom—vows taken—
sweeping away the carnal chaff.

Let the pebble drop into the pond but leave no ripples.
Let sparrows at dawn observe the monastic rule,

the heart beating with a rhythm heard only by the mute.
If there is a time for everything under heaven,

let silence hold lease as the mind withdraws.
Have we forgotten that the moon and wheat made no noise

as they spun gold on the canvas of deepening dusk
in order to become wise and, in the fullness of time, grow old?

~William Hammett


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Tuesday, October 17, 2023

Riding the Saint Charles Streetcar

I climb aboard the steel and wooden crate
and rock my way into Shiva’s slow serenity,
into the easy sway of warp and woof, of yin and yang,

of the particle-wave ticket to ride.
Mansions and three-hundred-year-old oaks drift by,
streaks of color in the increasing time dilation

compressing my life into the present moment
of mindful meditation. I have been here before,
riding silver tracks in a tesseract of then and now,

tracing the crescent moon that is New Orleans.
Every swing and spiral shake is another mantra,
another turn of the prayer wheel, another rosary bead.

I am a schoolboy hobo riding the rails—
I am an old man with a wooden cross and iron nails.
It doesn’t really matter. It’s all good.

I left crucifixion and the empty tomb so many years ago.
trading pain for a gin fizz, slow.
I arrive at my stop and disembark,

stepping into Andromeda, for I have traveled light years.
I do not live in time and space, but they in me.
Let the Red Sea part, for I am walking across the universe.

~William Hammett


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Thursday, October 5, 2023

Lapidary

The lapidary polishes his gemstones,
smooth, all-seeing eyes worn on fingers or around the neck,
as if in a Picasso portrait where features are angled and odd.

He frowns, disturbed by the way perfection is crudely displayed.
He holds the facets and curves—a plane, a circle, an ellipse—
to the grinding wheel, looking for the flaws of nature’s compression.

Removing his jeweler’s loupe, a surgeon putting down his ten blade,
he steps back from the magic on his bench
and proclaims on the seventh day that it’s good—all good.

I wake in the morning and drag titanium across my cheek
until there is no stubble left on the long, angular field.
I bathe to wash away the grit from fevered dreams and misfires,

bruises where I stumbled despite the well-worn path of the known.
I wipe steam from the mirror before I leave—polish, and polish again—
obsessively overruling evaporation’s natural law.

I move with the sun, wash the car and mow the lawn,
put on a white shirt and tie until my life is manicured and clipped
and hemmed in on all sides by a zoning ordinance of the mind.

Later, when the sun has burnt the freshness of flowers
and pulled down the inevitable shade of night,
I throw my suit into a humbled heap in the corner.

I look through old books, the spines cracked,
pages yellow, dogeared, torn,
and read poems I haven’t seen since Milton was my greatest care.

It is there I discover the rough edges of my youth,
when I studied the art of studying for the sake of nothing but art.
Life overflowed from Arthur’s chalice in uneven silver streams

that needed no order, no riverbank to contain spontaneous joy.
I have polished my life only to uncover flawed facets
that were the vainglorious order of a day that was angled and odd.

I step back from the desk and behold my salad days,
intuition guiding me into overgrown, untrodden ways,
and know at this eleventh hour that it was all so very wild and good.

~William Hammett


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