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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Tuesday, September 26, 2023

Visiting Paris with Robert Bly

I visited Notre Dame Cathedral
and was taken to the Seventh Heaven,
where Saint Paul was mending tents.
He had made errors in his zeal to condemn

rattling, world-weary bones whose only sin
was to have eyes of cinder and rock.
He needed to make amends
by the sweat of his brow,

the long labors born of Eden.
A French waitress died in my arms.
It could have been from a broken heart.
No one really knew,

although the final verse
she offered as poetic prayer
to her cannon of observations
was, “The man in the beret!

The man in the beret!”
I saw a young boy with eyes
of robin’s-egg blue, pale,
launch a sailboat on the pond in the park,

sad that it sailed away to the New World.
It was there that shamans wearing beads
wondered if their lives were at an end
because a strange white cloud skimmed the horizon.

It certainly was. The moon died that day.
At an outdoor café, a comfortable cliché,
I read some poems by Robert Bly.
They were short and simple and very nice.

And so I wrote this one.
I hope you are in the Seventh Heaven, Robert,
but not stitching the sins of canvas tents
that housed a bit of soul.

You did not make the same mistakes as Paul.
Perhaps if he had visited Paris
and kissed a French waitress, sans beret,
he might have had a smoother edge.

~William Hammett


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Tuesday, September 19, 2023

The Tribe of Dreamers

“Art thou not of the dreamer tribe?”
John Keats, The Fall of Hyperion


At their best, poets can see into the heart of a beggar,
his extended hand withered and bare like a sycamore branch in fall.

They can define the wherewithal of hookers and harlequins
as they go through the motions, painted and dressed to the oblivious nines.

Seers and prophets, they build a kingdom of syllables
that cannot be toppled by the Tower of Babel’s foreign syntax.

Their words flow from Hippocrene's pure and fathomless spring,
pens poised eternally above blank parchment, ready to bleed new wine.

They know whether Schrödinger’s cat is alive or dead,
particle and wave always dancing at reality’s elusive cotillion.

How vast and ingenious is the universe that the poet dreams,
where lovers always pirouette back to promissory schemes,

to the subatomic spin that entangles trivial and lofty things.
Their lines of verse run across pages to create a newfound scripture

so holy and divine, rooted in the earth yet also knowing
the glory of rhyme and reason, of untethered feathered wings
and the nightingale that forever in the dark our collective poetry sings.

~William Hammett


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Friday, September 8, 2023

Salvation Army Band

Fifth Avenue is festooned in Yuletide oompah
and shades of unpolished brass, faded blue swaddling and epaulets.
The soldiers on the front line of heavenly peace have thinned,

and joyous exhalations, streams of vapor, were once angelic wings.
Copper coins drop into the red kettle like so many bits of hale.
Old men and women wheeze into trumpets while the bass drum

fires a friendly shot of holiday cheer on the downbeat.
There’s the rub. The street corner is always going under
because the ragtag army has little ammunition.

Once again, Good King Wenceslas, fat as Santa Claus,
dines with meager winter fuel on the feast of Stephen.
Sunshine paints the intersection with yellow satin ribbons

until the mournful gray evening sweeps the street,
pushing the babe across pavement until it is tucked away
a thousand miles from the minds of men,

from demons in wool overcoats racing by the French horn
while ripping notes from the clef of military comfort and joy.
Bright lights die in the wake of dark zephyrs, Christmas past.

Noel, noel.
The manger on display begins to sink, wise men falling from the deck
while the band plays “Nearer My God to Thee.”

~William Hammett


Thursday, August 24, 2023

All Saints' Day

In the Bowery, sweet Belinda tries to kick the harder stuff.
No one sees her sleeping beneath the paper-thin Dow Jones
scrolling behind the dumpster in the alley known as Hallows Eve.

The New York Central runs down her forearm three times a day,
but the dark gray hoodie conceals the more prominent whistlestops.
Window boxes bloom in the brown tenements of Harlem,

marigolds taking first place in color and the Darwinian will to survive.
There is stickball in the shadows as Moses goes on the nod.
An empty grocery cart is driven by a ghost.

Lovers stroll in Battery Park and kiss from sea to shining sea,
and the linden tree still sways from Jenny’s operatic wind and wave.
In 1850, everyone applauded the Swedish Nightingale’s full-throated ease.

There are good days and bad, broken concrete above promising earth.
Sometimes Eve strolls through the Apple but doesn’t drop the sin.
A Pratt and Whitney cuts the twins off at the knees,

but Belinda wakes and decides to lose the lighter and the spoon.
A week later, while the moon washes the streets, she’s perfectly clean.
Sheep and goats, wheat and chaff—they can change late or soon,

so it’s wise to keep the scorecard close to the vest.
A wise man told me that everyone’s a saint if you read the final page.
All these years later, I think I know what he means.

~William Hammett


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Wednesday, August 16, 2023

Gestalt

In my youth, I didn’t see the coin, only heads or tails,
and I could not see the forest for the trees.
I walked the narrow path of enigma and cliché

with no room for the super-colliding electron’s decay
or a subatomic particle’s brief foray into space and time.
I had stumbling meter, but not a couplet’s rhyme.

Now I see neither the forest nor the trees,
only the ever-present likelihood of green.
The either-or is such a silly prom night theme.

It is the fool who tries to separate the river from the sea,
to divide lovers in the act of love into he or she
or to split particle and wave, erasing the ecstasy of light.

But, I hear you ask, what happens to the ocean
when the tide washes ashore and sinks into the sand?
I have been where you are standing, but now

I do not see such a beginning or an end,
for the shoreline is seamless in a cosmos on the mend.
I divine the wholeness of Earth and star and galaxy.

I feel, but do not see, that time, like love,
forever folds upon itself, forever bends.
It is said that the most memorable of kisses never ends.

~William Hammett


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Wednesday, August 9, 2023

Lovingkindness

Suppose that a dry leaf
falls into a clear brook that runs to the sea
and circles the world a full seven times
before being read by a thankful maiden,
a letter that simply says “Yes, yes, oh yes!”

It changes the world
as all leaves and lovers change the world,
as all words and poems
fold grass into stars and bend time
upon itself so that now-and-then
kiss with wine dripping from their lips.

Entanglement, quanta parsed into pairs,
summons the royal wedding to court.
Lute and harp bless the world
now married to the virgin ready to unfold
and give birth to compassionate winds
that awaken a sleeping mother’s son.

Love and jubilee pirouette
on the head of an eternal pin
while pouring forth the virtue
of dolphins keeping the mariner safe at sea.
The mystical sum lies to the right
of the equals sign, the omega fulfilled.

It is the beating heart of a robin,
the song of the humpback whale.
It is my love poured into a cup
so that I may drink with each breath.
It is the light of lovingkindness
falling across the hardwood floor.

~William Hammett


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Monday, July 31, 2023

Connections

“For every atom belonging to me as good belongs to you.”
~From “Song of Myself” by Walt Whitman

The mitochondrial needle stitches green into a leaf
that branches and blooms into a forest of plant.
In Gotham, the hooker steps off the curb

into a sea of a hundred million tailor-made sins.
I cannot sift them all or know in this flesh and flow
where one ends and another begins

any more than I can divide raindrops that fall in sheets
to cleanse the bruising sidewalks and sloping gutters
that form a single grid of a thousand streets.

The stardust of Hera’s milk spans the sky,
an entwined ribbon of nuclear fire and fusion
giving birth to chalk-white bones in your legs and mine.

Together, we walk as one,
stitching days hyphenated by the rising and falling sun
into a single stream, a book with a single theme of time.

There is the you of me and the me of you,
a bonnie lad and a more-than-fetching lass
bound as an epic poem from lasting leaves of grass.

~William Hammett


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Monday, July 24, 2023

Sacred Moment

Sitting in the kitchen, I look out the window
at the green meadow, the tree line, the mountain range beyond.
The scene is painted freshly each morning with a new color palette

by an impressionist who has a vested interest in the landscape.
The clock in the downstairs hall chimes,
a call to prayer as I sip morning coffee,

added inspiration lest my brain show up late.
In the poplar, two birds debate philosophy,
St. Thomas versus Hawking, the wind of their debate

flapping leaves like Buddhist prayer flags.
The rising sun changes angles of light by degrees,
and I am bathed in a yellow beam

for a minute or two, or perhaps eternity.
It is good to be here, transfigured for a sacred moment in time.
Did I mention that it was good to be here?

~William Hammett


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