Wednesday, August 10, 2022

Black Holes and Poetry

Words and syllables leech into the universe
through the event horizon spinning in my brain,
a point with no location or mass, no Newtonian coordinates.

The lines come from a muse hiding in an alternate reality,
a poet squared uttering images into a wormhole,
ideas to be translated by a tongue wagging in the Milky Way.

A man and a woman walk along a shaded path
before making love in a sun-dappled green field.
A steady rain washes them like quicksilver into the next stanza,

where they exchange letters, each writing on a different continent
because of infidelity, duty, war, or an uncommon plague.
A man eating a vendor’s pretzel stands on a New York street corner.

He once owned a sunny field where he found two lovers,
naked and alone and kissing after walking along a shaded path.
He has just left his employ—stamping postmarks on letters

written by a man in New York and a woman in Rome.
The content of these missives from the heart remains a mystery,
for in that other world, where the higher poet lives,

the quantum bard has taken a break to eat tea and toast and jam.
I am a humble scribe fencing pictures from the pregnant void,
but today I dare to disturb a universe poised on the edge of a daffodil.

The man and the woman reunite and once again make love,
and it is their child who has taken the time to write this poem.

~William Hammett


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Tuesday, August 2, 2022

In the Wings

The pretender stands between two black curtains,
ropes and pulleys running to the ceiling
like the rigging of a ship delivering far-fetched tales

to a land hungry for narrative escape.
Parapets and drawbridges float above his head,
scenery constructed by the author of all things below.

He listens to lines of dialogue recited on castle ramparts,
counting the beats, measuring each iambic strobe of life
before inhaling and stepping across wooden boards

into the terrible and glorious lights of the proscenium.
“The troops have arrived, m’lord!”
And then he is gone, sequestered in a dressing room

before being turned loose at the stage door.
A bus lumbers by, and he waves away exhaust
with a hand that moments earlier wore a white glove

and gestured to a prince of some dire warning of invasion.
At home, he sits on a couch in front of the TV
and surveys white cartons from a Chinese takeout

arranged like a small fortress waiting for a siege.
Tomorrow he will get a call from the author of all things below
as do we all before stepping into a world hungry for narrative,

having waited in the wings for our cue to swell a scene
and tend to matters most mundane but necessary to the show.

~William Hammett


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Tuesday, July 26, 2022

Carny

The carny pulls moon-eyed gawkers into his weathered canvas tent,
his gravel voice scraped raw by a million cigarettes,
his lusty call the shepherd’s crook of a midway devil combing sawdust

for meandering curiosity that would lose its soul for a nickel,
people looking for salvation in a bearded, fire-breathing fiend
or Siamese twins sitting in a double double-breasted suit,

hair slicked back with snake oil and glossolalia born of hell.
The hawker’s skin is brown leather born of merciless summer sun,
camouflaged by calliope notes wheezing sharp and flat

and a smile poured from the pint of liquor in his purple vest.
At night he sleeps on the raw mattress ticking in a bunk
sagging in a trailer park of muscle men and whores.

The tattoos on his arms and chest come alive—“Marvels one and all!”
and slide across his body like slippery serpents with an eye on Eden,
freaks and geeks already rehearsing tomorrow’s deadly show.

~William Hammett


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Tuesday, July 19, 2022

The Comet

Dancing with the Oort Cloud on the edge of reality,
frozen ballerinas in white dresses of snow
flirting with the stranger from so many miles below,

the comet turns slowly to behold the belly of fire
that eons ago created its nickel-iron soul.
He has been a nomad with a heart of stone

for seventy years and change, a prodigal
who leans inward to a half-forgotten love.
His elliptical dive spins memories in retrograde

as solar winds sweep dust and ice like a valet
into tails of a white tuxedo billowing in the void.
Transformed from old man to dancer come late to the ball,

he sheds skin like a snake, his youthful brain on fire
with hope that gravity will gyre and break his fall.
Surely Lazarus felt this magnetic pull of life

as he stuttered from the cold, dark tomb,
white burial shrouds trailing in the wind
as bright yellow light streamed across his born again face.

~William Hammett


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Tuesday, July 12, 2022

Deposition

The robin clings tenaciously to his branch
and his testimony in the shaded witness dock
to verify that the man stopped
on the darkest evening of the year

and that the horse did indeed
give his harness bells a shake.
There was a moment deeper than silence
as the man inhaled the breath of solstice,

as he watched the woods fill with winter snow
in the absence of a farmhouse or human eye
that could penetrate the haze of downy flake
and watch temptation form an ugly shape.

“Yes,” the robin states, sole witness to the scene.
“The woods were lovely and seemed to speak,
but the man chose to live, not die.
There were too many loose ends

hanging like autumn leaves
still in love with their tree,
too many promises in the snow, ankle deep.”
I put the transcript on the nightstand,

the sound of easy wind outside the door.
Too many have fallen in winters of discontent.
I close my eyes, but still they see. They see
the miles that I must tread before I sleep.

~William Hammett


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Tuesday, July 5, 2022

Shotgun House

It’s five in the afternoon, and the old black man
plays his twenty-seven-dollar guitar on the front porch
that sags a little deeper as he makes the lyrics ache.

The shotgun house is loaded with memories
of a gravel voice, majors and sharps and flat-out Cs.
As axemen are fond of saying, he can really bend the strings.

The air smells like the muddy Mississippi five blocks away,
and the calliope on the steamboat pipes circus music
to a cirrus cloud that looks like a bow tie floating

above a Mardi Gras ball where Comus and Rex swap wives.
Mudfoot, as he is known, has a recording contract
with his neighbors, who wear wifebeaters and fix their own cars.

He played backup for Chuck Berry in nineteen-fifty-six
and cut a demo at Sun records called “Two Below in Tupelo.”
The sky grows a deeper blue as a buxom black woman

balancing fruit on her head like Carmen Miranda calls out
“Blackberries! Watermelons! Fruit on the vine!”
The old man goes inside to eat a plate of red beans and rice.

On Saturday it will be crawfish and a bottle of beer.
He shares a bed with the ghost of his wife Mabel,
who still whispers sweet nothings in his ear

as he turns in his sagging hall of fame
and dreams of how he and Chuck set the crowd on fire
with a little mojo and a taste of the twelve bar blues.

He grins and says, “I’m the happiest man this side of Sunday,
and when I die, I ain’t even gonna make the six o’clock news.”

~William Hammett

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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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