Wednesday, June 30, 2021

Prophet

Outside my window
in the February dawning
of more death and leaf meal,
the lone bird on the branch
that is more ice than wood
sings as if the world is not locked
in its struggle with mortality
and coffins and nor’easters.
A sparrow, I think,
and what a lucky fellow
who can compose concertos
so far away from his usual venue,
a concert hall now invisible
and maybe, we all think,
gone for good.
What secret does he hold?
I’m shaving with lukewarm water
at a porcelain sink installed
in the Depression,
and I don’t share his optimism.
But there’s no one else around.
Does he woo only me?
Folly indeed.
And yet maybe he is aware
of events that I and my stubble
of chin and earth are unaware of.
He sings as if he were fresh from the womb,
as if he knew of young love and kisses
and picnics with wine and cheese,
as if he’s been told
by a source unknown to me and my kind
of a three day wait
and an empty tomb.

~William Hammett

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Tuesday, June 29, 2021

Small Sparrow

small sparrow
rest with me
a while

do not hurry
to the bleeding vine

sing your broken heart
that beats with such
heavy rhyme

the Father knows
the best time
for you to fall

~William Hammett

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The Catch

Reader's Note: The following is a sonnet written after I saw my old Chevy Caprice towed away to the auto salvage yard from in front of my uptown basement apartment decades ago. I owned it less than a year, but it got me where I needed to be for a few short months. Fond memories.

They dragged it away, hooked tight, on a truck,
its pretentious grillwork snout in the air,
strung up, caught like a fish run amuck
at this angler’s taste for junk-rusted fare.
It left me, wounded, lurching in disdain,
a glassy fish eye cocked askance, a plea
for gentlemanly sportsmanship in vain:
they reeled it aft, its tail still in the sea.
I coldly watched the rainbow tarnished scales
below the gas tank shine from water beads
and oil, coughed up through dry air-gaping gils,
and said, “Behold by Triton where it bleeds.”
It is scraped by now, metal gut from bone,
axles bare and fish eyes turned to stone.

~William Hammett

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A Philosophical Elm

The shadow from the elm,
green in a midsummer contemplation
of various philosophies,

decides cogito, ergo sum
trumps Locke’s tabula rasa
and buries emptiness with its roots.

It knows that it grows,
so what more can its leaves accomplish?
The fall will come soon enough,

but beauty is truth, truth beauty.
Seizing the day seems more appropriate
than contemplating its children

scattered among death camps in the field,
brittle and broken by a regime of gravity
and ashes, sweet through the smoke.

It even touches the moon
on nights when lusty spirits
let grasp coincide with metaphysical reach.

Wise tree, you know you are God.
Why else the rope, the tire,
the children newly arrived from Eden

and swinging arcs though a shady universe.
Yes, all is right with the world.

~William Hammett

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Monday, June 28, 2021

The Violet Girl

She stands next to her wooden pushcart,
flowers woven through dirty-blonde hair
splashing uncombed across a bare shoulder
above a cotton dress with daisy chains.
She is part of the diaspora,
flower children who didn’t turn
into mortgage bankers or feminists
or soccer moms kicking the ball
and life down the road
one day at a time
until they hit the white picket fence,
until they saw that shadow beckoning,
the one who ends all music festivals
that celebrate braless abandon.
She smiles and hands violets to passersby,
and I wonder who made the better choice.
The world needs bankers and lawyers
and such, so they say.
Doctors pull us out of the mud of germs
that seem to infect daylight itself,
and a short-haired priest
told me when the time was out of joint
that surely it all must mean something.
Something.
For the violet girl, that’s the sum total.
Life is something this and something that,
a procession of days
like a ragtag second line in New Orleans
that ends up somewhere just like the jazz notes
it plays.
It all comes together somehow to make
something.
But I can’t put my finger on it,
not exactly,
unlike the violet girl who believes,
like dear Alfred,
that the grand unified theory
is a violet or a nameless flower
in a crannied wall.

~William Hammett

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Some Other Day

There is always some other day
when the dream resting at the apex of our thoughts
finally comes to pass,
when the crippled leg grows straight,
when the woman at our subway stop
scribbles her number on a napkin
and says “yes” to the imagined date.

There is always a thick blanket of snowfall
after hellish summer heat
has withered longstanding desires,
its white purity unfurled like a principality’s wing.
There is always a single leaf in spring,
frail and fresh and green,
after winter has torn flesh from bone
with fingers made of sleet.

There is always some other day,
a circadian square on the calendar page
where by inches or degrees
slim hope no longer evades our reach:
the blind man once again sees.
But even if these dreams recede
and a lottery ticket doesn’t pay,
do not drive my crippled mind
from the hope of some other day.

~William Hammett

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Birth

It is not unlike the beach
watching the sun rise slowly
in a yellow and orange blanket of clouds.
Waves break with nascent energy
onto the sand higher and higher
until they are in the streets of the city,
and I am a man about town
who knows a thing or two
about bicycles and traffic
as I nod to pedestrians
before climbing the stairs
to make love for the first time.

You see, it’s a continuum,
this rolling into the cosmos
on timed contractions
and slipping into one’s role
and a contract to play a part.
Perhaps a leading man,
although more likely a tinker
or tailor to swell a scene.
The process never stops:
the first kiss, the last kiss.
The new job, the older wife,
the twenty-something who must find himself
for reasons unknown while hiking in Alaska.

You shake your head,
knowing it’s all birth.
I did, and I’m a man about town
waiting for the stage directions
to tell me to enter, say that the king has died,
and then exit.
Maybe I’ll return in a later scene,
a reincarnation of sorts.
And when the lights are down
the janitor pushing his wide broom
down the empty aisle,
the coffin being selected
by the wife older still,
that’s birth too onto a beach
that we seldom dream about.

~William Hammett

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Sunday, June 27, 2021

A Pebble of Bone

There’s a man walking down the road
of gravel and regret.
Old and tired,
he’s bone-weary from miles
of hoping that his next footfall
will see a blue lake
or an early grave—
either would be okay
if he could just stop measuring time
with steps that began in Eden.

I look from my cabin window,
and he is gone.
Until I look more carefully, that is,
and hear the gravel shuffled and ground
with a cadence of glaciers shaving creation down.
Like everyone before him,
he has become the road.
I go outside and pick up
a pebble of bone, a reminder
that we, too, carry the sins of the world.

~William Hammett

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Stone Canyons

The grimace flies by,
the trickle of pedestrians
tucked into overcoats and suspicion.

The subways are silent bullets,
Fifth Avenue a stampede of meaningless strut.
Speeding taxis leave yellow ribbons on the street.

Hookers pose in Times Square like mannequins.
There is no life in the museum.
Freeze frame: everything is silent.

~William Hammett

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Illusion

The world in its finery,
a kingdom of meadows
for the flowers of Solomon—

mere illusion for the wider field
where eternity tills the soil
and the soul raps its roots around God.

~William Hammett

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Mountain, Plain

The mountain peak
dreams of love on grassy plains.
The acacia dreams of heaven.

A fading face
dreams of supple lips and lines.
The child seeks pain at seven.

~William Hammett

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A Winter's Tale

The stars which fell into the lake
last November and froze
are still there, my winter love.

Come, lean forward over the ice,
and for a simple kiss
I will show you a new way
to look at the sky.

~William Hammett

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Saturday, June 26, 2021

Meeting Mr. Tennyson

Pulp museums, anachronisms—that’s what they are—
old soldiers dressed in fine leather jackets,
guarding knowledge and admitting access
to inquisitive index fingers worn a bit from life.

I don’t recall the volume number now—
I believe it was from “Teapot to Utah”—
where I met Mr. Tennyson laboring at his desk,
hunched over, old, bearded, intense.

He was writing lines for "In Memoriam,"
one-hundred-and-thirty-three poems
for his friend, Arthur Henry Hallam,
who had faded early into senseless, seamless death.

The poet no longer understood God or life,
and his midnight poems were an encyclopedia
of sadness seduced, of grief, questions,
and occasionally a mustard seed of hope.

On cold nights when bony branches tap the windowpane,
death’s raw reminder, I read Mr. Tennyson’s encyclopedia.
My index finger runs across the troubled rhyme and verse
as the furnace down below goes quietly to sleep.

I do not feel so lonely in the presence of his words.
Someone was investing ink to clarify a mind besieged,
and that is comfort enough, a distant mercy
for my winter-frozen heart to seize and keep.

~William Hammett

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Photograph

The family sits on a raised porch,
looking decidedly severe
as they gaze from the yellowed picture
curled at the edges, just as the year 1899
must have slowly curled itself from the calendar
to make way for a new century.

Dead center, the father sits in a rocker,
his wife straight and steadfastly by his side
from fear or duty—it is impossible to tell.
Her long dress stops just short
of black leather shoes laced tighter
than her speech under forbidding gables
out of frame, where the five children,
Collars pinching their throats,
must have whooped at war games
during summer truces made possible
by pie and, later, the shade of an elm
in the side yard where the iron pump handle
is base.

And yet this parallel universe
slides unobtrusively through time.
There is thought etched into the father’s brow,
unhappiness in the mother’s glare.
Obedience and dreams sit on the cheeks
of the children, too young
to contemplate childbirth and the graveyard
and all that lies between.

~William Hammett

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Friday, June 25, 2021

It Is a Fearful Thing

The evening sky is beautiful but bleak,
purple and red bruises, brutal,
blossoming on the horizon
in fatal, flayed moments of twilight.

There is nothing you or I can do
but wear heavy clothes of sackcloth and wool,
wrapping our palsied souls
in the penance of dry, broken leaves.

It is a fearful thing, I think,
to watch death painted wide
on a canvas stretched by faceless pagans
between bare branches of a failing year.

There is redemption, to be sure,
but its implausible story is written on the pages
of a calendar not yet printed.
In the spring, it will hang on a nail driven hard.

~William Hammett

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Looking at My Bookcase

I cannot double-click my mouse
to access the contents.
Characters and plots,
pressed hard and coated with dust,
call in muffled voices
like patients at the state asylum.
“We’re alive,” they say.
“Why does no one visit us?”
Only Emily Dickinson remains silent
as she lies in her coffin yet again,
suspecting she has already died.

I sit quietly,
as in the back pew of a church
where the faithful have left for the parish fair,
for Ferris wheels and whirl-a-gigs.
The only search engine is my index finger.
There is no easy access to the cosmos before me,
the sum of all creation having been cast forth
by leaden slug-type
for older brains, older times.

“It is good to be here, Lord,” I say,
echoing Peter’s rapture.
Mystery and awe are fit companions
for a Saturday afternoon transfigured
by the textured feel of a page.

~William Hammett

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Wednesday, June 23, 2021

The Memory of You, 1976

It is from an earlier chapter
written decades ago, a page
penned before Jimmy Carter and Nixon’s ghost
briefly took the stage.

It was all real, not an idle diversion
or sabbatical from the courses I’d run.
No, young nymph, you were my dear,
and I trust you knew my love

was palm to palm and always near
wherever we took our sport:
the Quarter, the lake, some dark tavern
or theater in which our fingers were laced and lapped,

if you catch my drift.
You always knew my inner gears,
the turning of unspoken words,
some fleeting thought not yet formed by lips

otherwise engaged in moist red dances
or afternoon gin and tonic sips.
And I knew your eddies and currents as well.
Not everyone can cast such a synchronistic spell.

We could have talked in pidgin for hours
and always known the warp and woof,
known what was yours and mine,
but mostly ours.

I wrote a much longer poem,
a message in a bottle
with all the whys and wherefores
on a parchment in palimpsest,

a metaphysical conceit
that unlocked all locked doors,
but what purpose would be served?
Since you could not wait for time and tide forever,

it is fitting that all righteousness should be observed.
I occasionally sit in an abbey nave,
quite alone these days, counting saints.
St. Peter says my eye to you should not now roam.

St. Jude whispers that you, with grace,
have found a shining hearth and home.
I am glad, and tell him so,
for I could wish no less

than spinning wheels and looms
for one whose tapestry was so rich
and held the promise of gold
in each and every stitch.

My lost horizon will always have a bookmark
to hold the page, the months that passed that year,
but your couplet deserved a fitting rhyme
when my meter stumbled and lost its cadence for a time.

Just know this, my ever-cherished love and friend:
you were indeed a rainbow coming around the bend
in my once upon a time. No less.
No less.

~William Hammett

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Evenings in B Minor

I wear old shadows
and drink rainwater.
I sift through the evening news,
looking for a story on doves.

Often I stand for hours
in the window
of the Central Hotel
to provide a silhouette.

I converse with pigeons,
who know a thing or two
about retirement
and how the sun rises.

Yesterday
Jesus gave me a quilt
and a paperback novel
about the end of the world.

He said he was proud
of my service
in World War One.
He gave me a hug.

I forgot to tell you--
my neighbor died on a bench
last winter.
For many hours

he was a monument
to the color blue
and the wind
and the texture of stone.

If I have time,
I will carve twilight
from a memory or two
and think of old kisses

and wine.
I will open the door
to my apartment
before dinner

and watch
the shadows of warriors
wander silently
down the hall.

Before bed,
I will listen to Mahler
on a transistor radio
through an open window

and find a dream,
perhaps,
that will not mind
if I stumble or fall.

~William Hammett

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Turning on My Axis

The earth should be making some horrendous noise,
the rocks deep below its dirt-skin veneer
grinding with awful sidereal motion
as the planet spins its life through space,

stone cogs getting the job done
in a not-so-subtle manner
with minor deities, ugly and deformed,
throwing water on the turning stones.

But all is quiet.
The continents do not utter a sound
as they dip on a tilted axis
like a ballerina in a death spiral.

It is clockwork precision
untouched by human hands,
four billion years of alignment and symmetry,
fractals in the hands of a silent god.

I, too, turn in my everyday rounds
as I visit the post office, the drug store,
sit on the stairs and watch robins
hiding in the hedgerow.

At my best, I make no noise,
leave no footprints.
Even my sighs are caught up
by the invisible, omniscient wind.

The goal of art is to be still,
to observe and know that the clock hands are turning
as they should, or not, as the case may be.
It is the business of art to simply record the time.

~William Hammett

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The Plane

I imagine that the fuselage
is silver, a DC-3 lost in time,
as it drones above the small town
and the surrounding pastures

and, later, the cornfields
lined with telephone posts,
wires sagging with old voices
seeking answers over miles.

But the plane passes over all
with humility despite its altitude
and prescient view of the questions
that burden the shoulders and minds

of factory men, khaki-covered,
and their wives, mopping linoleum floors
on a day that will never be remembered
on the grainy pulp that becomes history.

The passenger in the last seat
is thinking of an aria he heard in Italy
and whether he will tell his wife
about the woman in Milan,

a slender stalk with black hair
and songs on her breasts.
He does not think he will.
She was a silver dress lost in time.

His wife will have questions
because of his troubled brow,
will call her neighbors and sigh,
saying, “I do not know him anymore.”

Her voice will drone
and the plane’s engine will sweep it away.
Late afternoon, holding the hours,
listens for whispers in endless fields of wheat.

~William Hammett

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The Hallway

Dust motes swim in the light,
a shaft angled perfectly
from the high window above the pegs
in the hallway where coats gathered in winter
for solace when Orion ruled the sky.

It is July,
and this space of cedar and oak,
of children conquering steps
on the staircase two,
even three at a time,
is empty, quiet.
Even the ghosts have left.

I will sweep, but not now,
not while I sit in a straight-back chair
and wait for the sun to fall,
for light to touch my forehead
in this chapel of grace.
It is good to be here,
for loneliness is precursor
to the perfection of God.

One day, Gabriel’s wing
will sweep me away with the sun.

~William Hammett

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Tuesday, June 22, 2021

Stories

I like them, perhaps,
because they are the world
and everything found within,
the narrator always some omniscient being

I must trust if I wish to be admitted
to the fireside seat and listen
to the stories of epic wars or the tryst
on the Upper East Side.

“It all started over a woman,”
or “The sky was an ominous gray
when the meteor found
the head of an insignificant clerk.”

The only thing better is
“See Jane run.  Run Jane.
Run to Spot and then wail in the night
for your demon lover.”

Every sentence is a fork in the road,
a new path that will make me feel
as if my own life might be the subject of a novel
even though the author is unaware of my presence.

We all wish to have our tales told,
If only in an obituary that says,
“He loved his dog and survived his wife.”
Yes, we must all survive our spouses,

for that is how every story begins,
with flesh mounting flesh
before the cleaning is to be done
and the checkbook is balanced

and matters of great or little import
are settled with frowns and long sighs.
I am fairly certain that Helen of Troy
displeased someone in a profound way.

I look out my kitchen window
and see a story.  A mountain rises.
Hawks wheel overhead looking for field mice.
A breeze blows and takes my story to the world.

~William Hammett

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African Dream

There is rain on the mountain
rising like an apocalypse.

The sun’s last hour is blue,
the color of wetness, the color of trees.

The herd grazes on a rainbow,
silent in the curves of geometry.

Some forgotten hymn hides in the tall grass,
fireflies praising the electric savannah

rolling into sunset.
Crickets always know the secret first.

Angels in the acacia scatter—
principalities begin their work at night.

The farmer, the oxen, the yoke—
they will carry the sun while the hours sleep.

Stars rise, only to fall on water
under the mountain.

There is a path that wanders from nowhere,
leads nowhere.

At night, the mountain lies with the earth.
Life is once again conceived

in the mind of God
from a lowly African dream.

~William Hammett

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Monday, June 21, 2021

Emily Dickinson, I Love You

Under the cover
of heavy odor—
Spring—
I would sit
long nights
with the Queen
of Calvary—

the White Gown—
Bride of Eternity—
the silence
which sang
in such a loud Whisper
of the calyx—
the bloom—
the logarithms
of a Star—
the Geometry
of Death—

should all
of Amherst
look away—
no Kiss
would I tender—
merely wait
at the window—
hoping
the hummingbird’s
surcease of Sorrow—

though—perhaps—
that is not
entirely true—

if the Moon
could find
her Cheek—
and I could be
he Moon—
I would brave
such discreet
and silent Ecstasy.

~William Hammett

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Doppelganger

I think that somewhere, perhaps,
against all odds, as astronomical
as a metallic man in Vegas
giving me pocket change,

that my double, a ghost
in a three-piece suit,
follows me as fastidiously as a butler.
I glimpse him from the corner of my eye,

and he is briefly there,
picking up paper I dropped
or making excuses for a clumsy run-in
I had with a pedestrian.

In short, he is picking up my mess,
the inevitable dregs fallen from my life
like scales fallen from the skin of Adam.
If I turn my head sharply,

looking long and hard,
he disappears.  But that is the way it is, I suppose
when one tries hard to glimpse
the minions of God.

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Sunday, June 20, 2021

Marginalia

It’s where the words that matter fall.
Cursive enigmas and incomplete thoughts
simply will not wait,
will not be consigned to a slush pile
of unsolicited thought.
They demand hearing.
Notations about doctors’ appointments
and phone numbers attached to no one
lie on top of the perfect response
to your wife as to why you do indeed “get it.”

A story idea—
a mad Russian falls in love
with a nun whose mother practices Wicca—
lurks beneath your latest poem:
I was waiting
for your hair
and your shadow
to fall
across my chest
like a sunset
at the base
of Kilimanjaro.

And then there are the lost moments,
the random phrases that were apparently your life
last year or the year before,
all rendered in blue and black ink
pressed into the yellowed page:

lily of the valley
            Jane S.
            sunflower thankfulness
            Roosevelt
            paraffin wax
            Seinfeld tonight
            say nothing


You take out a library book by Kafka.
That night, insomnia turns the pages
until you see there’s always hope
scrawled near a paragraph indentation.
You close the book and sleep,
dreaming that life is a long, empty column
waiting to be filled.


~William Hammett

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Eight Threads From the Morning Paper

 (This is a found poem, one in which snippets from others sources, in this case a newspaper, are juxtaposed to create a poem. The best-known examples are by Annie Dillard.)

This column is dedicated to the professional hairstylists of the world.
The sad tale begins.
I wasn’t concerned.

On New Year’s Day, Debbie discovered a lump in her breast.
On Saturday, the woman was walking, talking, laughing.

More than 300 Baptist students wore 50s style clothes
and ate root beer floats delivered to them
by parents on roller skates.

What’s going on?
It’s your call.
Dark sunglasses are good.

A standing-room-only crowd responded to the symphony.
Basically Beethoven.
“This is what we work for,” he said.
“To have an overflow crowd, and I think we have it.”

Then, contemplating the box of hair color,
I remembered I’d been damaging my hair.
The moral of this story:
when it comes to your roots,
trust only the experts.

Signs have been posted
encouraging area residents
who witness littering
to report the incident.

Personalities are cloaked in closets.
I think about tales I hear from a co-worker.
I think of my daughter’s closet.

~William Hammett

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Eternity in the Key of C

I tap the yellowed piano key with a bony index finger,
a C major that stirs the marble-top bureau,

family pictures, wine glasses in the oak cabinet.
A French tapestry captures the one-note melody,

an orphan tone already dying.
I examine the faded oriental rug,

a thousand silent notes woven into fractals,
indigo snowflakes from an opium dream.

I hit the C again, the wire an old man’s vocal cord.
It is a feeble “yes” in a quiet room,

a museum where even the sunrise has been archived.
I glance at my body in the armchair

by the open window, summer breeze blowing
a white lace shroud over my face.

A heart attack, I think.
Yes.

~William Hammett

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Once More by the Lake

 (tanka series)

endless shades of green--
a twig tells of your sure step
softly behind me--
this sound once more by the lake
and your petals unfolding

a whirl of sheer skirt
follows your proposition
through the torn screen door--
heavy-scented spring twilight
rolls down the nape of your neck

sure knowledge of change--
fish break the silver surface
with liquid desire--
sparrows call as young stars rise
through quietly tossed dark hair

moon on still water--
blossoms floats on the white pond
becoming nipples--
my head rests in your warm lap--
crickets speak of this moment

a single wet kiss--
lips have no meaningful words
for their fierce mating--
ripe love under the heavens
speaks only in ancient tongues

two arcs of sapling--
the silent lake uncaring
if they are tangled--
wet glory of coming days
that cannot hide nakedness

~William Hammett

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Saturday, June 19, 2021

The Turning of the Stars

Out in the field after midnight.
No streetlights to renovate the sky
with cheap white paint.
Things are fine the way they are.
The Milky Way pinwheels with the hours,
and I am content to breathe cold air,
anchored in the dry blades of winter
while Orion chases the bear.

It is good to be alone in the night.
The faraway diamonds, though precise as lasers,
cannot throw your shadow to the ground
so that any question remains as to who you really are.
The only black shape in human form is you.
You are the life of the field,
the whisper of winter
forming whatever constellation of syllables you wish.
The other selves known to the man or woman
in the cabin by the tall pines
do not exist.
Things are fine the way they are:
grass,
diamonds,
the sharp air carving your midnight life.

I come here often.
Life is, after all, standing in the darkness
and whispering who we are.
It is the confidence to gaze in winter
at the turning of the stars.

~William Hammett

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Friday, June 18, 2021

Peaches

There are peaches, perfect,
in the porcelain bowl
under a moon
of ripe unspoken desire.
I can see the high color
of cheeks above the dark red curve
of your lip waiting with sweetness
beneath the tree,
and I know that your juice
hiding in the shadows
is not hesitation, but rather
come hither to the bowl.

~William Hammett

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Old Sky

It is an old sky I see
when my work is done
and I’m walking home
under purple and orange.

It has done its work,
supporting the sun
and, for a brief time,
a shower of no consequence

except to green summer lawns
and a pair of lovers
who kiss in the twilight
that will become their lives

three or four decades from now.
The sky is rolling over, retired,
an old man in bed
who is hoping that his next dream

is not wrapped in sleep, but reality
raised to a higher pitch,
an exponent of the world
and the bargain he upheld since dawn.

~William Hammett

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The Poet at Minimum Wage

I meet with a close inner circle of words,
a caucus of syllables.
We decide that the poet must embrace moments
that never gain promotion.
He must always work for minimum wage.

There is the phone call
informing him that someone has died.
He remembers a fly
buzzing grief through the wire.
He recalls rain sliding down the window,
the leafless tree in the side yard.

He makes love
and awakens several hours later,
remembering that the umbrella
is still open in the downstairs hall.
He thinks of a day years before
when he passed an old woman on a porch,
and her bones seemed to be made of papier-mache.

Moments of no consequence.
Once, a breeze stirred branches
that scratched the house and woke the cat.
There was a night when a cloud split in two
just as it passed the moon.

There is no greater moment
than the second hand on a watch
waiting for the next tick.
That is when the spider contemplates
spinning its web.
That is when the poet,
his eye trained on a falcon
hanging at apogee,
envisions his next poem.

~William Hammett

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Thursday, June 17, 2021

On Any Given Day

Column after column,
it’s all there: life partitioned into rectangles
that tell with a journalist’s imprecision
the warp and woof of who and where

but never the why, that tight-lipped witness
who plays it close to the vest.
A boy went missing south of Coney Island.
In Manhattan, the temperature was rising in July.

Wars and rumors of wars hid below the fold.
In France, a man was turning a hundred and six years old.
Corn and turnips, he said, held the secrets to life and health.
He ate them daily and drank whiskey before bed.

A racehorse died under mysterious circumstances,
and the stock market, jagged like the Alps
outlined in black ink, told me that my mattress
was a comfortable savings and loan.

Thunder shakes the sky,
and I think of Noah and his family.
I pour myself a glass of wine and, like the patriarch,
I fold the pages and climb the stairs alone.

~William Hammett

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The Picasso in My Bedroom

The cotton tee shirt was pulled over her head
by isosceles triangles hanging on a plane of shoulder blade.
With the spire covered in cloud,
my eye fell suddenly south
to a flying buttress supporting a nave
and two rose windows in the full bloom of love.
But mostly it was intersecting lines of vestibule,
that brought me moaning back to church
and the brown Spanish grotto
where it was hip to be so square.

~William Hammett

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Birds on the Wire

The birds on the wire
on this late fall evening
of orange and purple
know a thing or two

about musical composition,
with their constant liftoffs
and returns to the black clef of wires
against the dark blue vellum of sky.

Half notes and quarters
jump and trade places
and leave forever
or swoop back for encores,

black notes of a symphony
dictated by some ancient cadence,
some thrumming rhythm
in a brain the size of a pea.

And who conducts their wings,
their brushes with the muse
as the day dies with such lovely melody?
High above, dressed in a black tux,

he leans down and gives the air
one final swipe with his baton
and then bows, cloaked by the air.
It’s how the world will end one day,

a final movement with apocalyptic flair.
The sparrows know this of course.
They were sworn to a secrecy
of feathered brotherhood

long before the trumpets
were scheduled to judge and blare.

~William Hammett

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Remington

The keys were round, black,
easy to find and hard to press.
That was okay.
the words had weight

on the white vellum
after lightning struck black ribbon.
A sentence was well thought out
in the manner of empires.

The books in my library
listened to the steady clack
and click of syllables proclaiming
love and birth and death

and sometimes the words of a character
stuck in the rain after midnight,
his lover lost to him because a man from the west coast
had found her telephone number.

He paused under a streetlamp, thinking.
According to my Remington, all he said was this:
“That’s the way it goes.”
All stories have such a summary I suppose.

~William Hammett

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The Essence of a Poem

It should be a woman
opening her eyes
after long hours of sleep,

the silhouette of a taut muscle
after it has hammered
a threepenny nail into yellow pine.

It should be the sound
of rain rushing through a gutter spout
to fertilize the ground with sky,

the music heard by a deaf girl
at her first symphony
as half notes fall from the staff.

~William Hammett

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The Dead Are Forever Writing Letters

The dead are forever writing letters,
their bodies mulching into leaves.

Maple parchment tells me a young bride
was killed by the undertaker's son.

Snow and dirt and time
archive the words we choose in death.

Free verse or rhyme,
we are all published in the end.

~William Hammett

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Multiply the Answer by Pigeons

You can’t possibly tell me what’s on the fire escape
or why the old Italian woman is playing the concertina
so soon after her husband shot himself full of needles.
You can’t tell me why the Buddha hovers over the intersection
and nobody notices the quiet karma in the traffic lights.

Take any given siren.
The emergency is only speculative
from five floors up.
Maybe Macbeth has murdered Duncan in lower Manhattan.
It’s all too much.

Divide the city by two
and multiply the answer by pigeons.
All you get are repeating decimals in Central Park.

Sometimes pedestrians freeze to death
when their feet get stuck to the sidewalk.
Who can blame them in subzero?
Their color is gone by lunchtime.

The light turns green,
the siren fades,
pigeons start pecking decimals
left on the ground by school children.

I don’t especially want answers—
I want to know what causes the questions.

For example:
a fat Buddha on a silkscreen
is holding an orange.
Is he going to throw it at the Italian woman?
Does he hate the concertina?

Did you hear  the one about the little old lady
looking for a book on Zen?
She goes into a bookstore,
stares at the clerk,
but doesn’t say much.

~William Hammett

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Wednesday, June 16, 2021

Home

Welcome to The Poetry of William Hammett. I hope you enjoy browsing the pages on this site and reading a small sampling of my poetry. You may find the poems most easily by using the Poem Index or the site map on this or any page.

The poems on The Poetry of William Hammett were written over the span of many decades, although a majority of them were written during the last twenty-five years. Some were published in literary journals, while some are presented here for the first time.

I have spent a lifetime teaching writing and literature and have also written many poems, short stories, and novels. Many books have been published under my own name, although most were written in my capacity as a ghostwriter. You may find my professional ghostwriting site in a link in the sidebar. You may also learn more about me below at About William Hammett

Thanks for stopping by. Feel free to contact me using the addresses provided on the Contact page.

~William Hammett

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Tuesday, June 15, 2021

The Evening Is Full of Toads

The man sits on the porch that is dying.
The screens cannot be mended,
and the wood sags deeper than the dog.
The man tells stories, old stories
about a swing and a rock and a jar of toads.
Children listen while the sun
slides from a leaf at the edge of the woods.
A fox, because he is in the habit of stopping, listens.
“I married young,” the man says,
“but my wife died for no apparent reason.
She was buried under a new moon
by a preacher who was pale
and spoke water and stones and nonsense.
I also came to many conclusions about the seasons,
which often trade places with each other.”
The fox knows this to be true and moves on.
The dog, however, has heard this before and sleeps.
“I have given back everything I stole,” the man says.
“Nearly.”  He unscrews a jar,
and the children feel more alive and hopeful,
though they do not understand why.
They are almost certain the man has died.
They walk home with old stories,
thinking of water and stones and nonsense.
The light is gone from the leaf,
but the evening is full of toads.

~William Hammett

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Sounding

Outside, the moon floats through a leafless tree,
riding peaceably the road well-taken
through Orion with his boots in the snow.
A mongrel underneath the tree
paws the ground at carp in the stream,
settles composedly in a mongrel's dream.
Within, the woman turns, unawakened,
leaving the trace of a dream in a sigh,
and draws the patchwork tighter over shoulders, hips
weighted in the furnace hiss that serves as lullaby.
There is no reading to be done,
no study of poets, of Coleridge
contemplating frost at midnight.
Rather, the plumb for stillness wrapped in ice,
the maple sprig glazed in the stream,
is the night itself, dark and frozen,
hanging from the silver throne of Betelgeuse
by a rarefied thread that issues
the sounding of a sleeping world:
life, like the north gate,
is held fast in winter skin,
and yet there is the fire of a cold star,
sap-filled roots, a moon riding the sky.
There is a pulse in the stream, somewhere.
There is the trace of a dream in a sigh.

~William Hammett

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Whitewater Bend

Down by the creek, under trees,
where foam washes a green sound
over gray stones
in the undiscovered country,
I cannot stop thinking
of wheel ruts up the road--
always the same road--
of concrete cracked with dark veins
threaded through years
in front of the feed store--
always the same store--
where I swing sweet oats
over a sour shoulder
that turns towards sunset
and a wagonload that rocks my bones
farther down the ruts to death.

But the rushing water--this water--
never sings the same note twice.
The finch catching fire
in the poplar above the canopy
tells me that all rivers marry the sea.
I have been single and sour too long.
No life should know the imprint of a road
well enough to travel by Braille.

I taste the whitewater.
Vines threaded through woods
are alive and supple,
veins connected to some underground heart
that is now my own heart--
not the same heart.

With the sweet smell of a bride in the air,
there is no turning back.
I will marry the sea.
I am a green sound
washing over gray stones.

~William Hammett

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Day and Night

The silver rings pass through each other,
the magician pulling them east and west
with a double-hitch of his hands
to show they are locked fast, like lovers.

And then they are divorced,
circles no longer sharing the quotidian mystery
of day and night sliding into each other
as they trace infinity along the equator.

The magician returns home
after the sun has fallen over the rim.
He says nothing to his wife as they eat
on opposite sides of the round kitchen table.

~William Hammett

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Black Satin Dress

Cosmic background radiation
hisses from the phonograph
as you dance

in a long satin dress, black,
holding scotch neat,
inviting me with your hips

to feel the irresistible pull
of dark matter
collapsing into a kiss.

A diamond needle spirals
inward to the groove.
The only sound is a hiss.

~William Hammett

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Collateral Damage

Let if be when,
and let when be whenever
the carrier churns its wake
into a frothy Arabian dream.
The children on the roof,
the old men talking coffee and kief,
will be born again
when the afterburners scream.
And then we shall all wake
and thank mighty Zeus
that the wooden horse could lock and load
on the peasant's curtain door.
We will be grateful
that adulterous Ilium burns once more,
that Cassandra's tales of collateral misery|
were the first casualties of war.

~William Hammett

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About William Hammett

I have been a ghostwriter and editor for twenty-two years, and the link to my professional website may be found in the sidebar of this site. I have also written novels, poetry, and short fiction under my own name. I received Masters degrees in English and Education from the University of New Orleans and taught writing and literature at the University of New Orleans, St. Mary's Dominican College, Delgado Community College, and Archbishop Chapelle High School.

I published short fiction and poetry in numerous literary journals around the country, including American Poets & Poetry, Poem, The Rockford Review, Pegasus, Twilight Ending, Parnassus Literary Journal, Black Buzzard Review, Lynx, Rose and Thorn, Poetry, The Lyric, Tight, Mojo Risin', Ship of Fools, and dozens of others. (See Copyright and Publishing Information in the Toolbar or on the Site Map for a complete listing.) I edited the Gold Newsletter (now Blanchard and Co.,) and wrote color pieces for weekly New Orleans newspapers such as Figaro.

I wrote the novel John Lennon and the Mercy Street Cafe, which was read by former members of the Beatles' inner circle. It was taught in courses on magical realism at several universities around the United States. My latest collaboration is American Coup with U.S. Congressman Emmanuel Cleaver. The mass market paperback edition was released on June 29, 2021. Some of my literary and philosophical influences are Tom Robbins, Kurt Vonnegut, Teilhard de Chardin, Billy Collins, Alfred, Lord Tennyson, and novelist and family friend Walked Percy.

I am the cousin of legendary mystery novelist Dashiell Hammett. Our common ancestor is Mckelvie Hammett. Mckelvie had several children. One of his sons gave birth to my father's line, and another gave birth to Dashiell's. Both lines originated in Maryland. I began reading detective fiction as a child, and was encouraged by Perry Mason author Erle Stanley Gardner to pursue writing when I was older.

I'm proud to be a patron of St. Joseph Abbey (Covington, LA) and Second Harvest Food Bank of Greater New Orleans. I advocate for mental health, the elderly, environmental responsibility, political accountability, and the fight against world hunger. I have written extensively about (and for) people who have survived and extricated themselves from extremely abusive and dysfunctional relationships. My brother is a Benedictine priest who has, for fifty years, created ministries for the needy and marginalized in southeastern Louisiana.

My son (and the joy of my life), is Patrick Hammett, who majored in classical guitar at SLU (not for the faint of heart). He then received a Masters degree and state licensing and certification in marriage and family therapy and is currently clinical director at Longbranch Wellness in Abita, Louisiana, and Covington, Louisiana, where his areas of expertise include drug rehab and suicide prevention. Like me, he is a musician and plays classical, folk, rock, blues, and jazz. (He's much better than I am thanks to his classical training.)

I have ghostwritten for Hollywood celebrities both in front and behind the camera (e.g., "Everyone Loves Raymond," "The Simpsons," and The Wolf of Wall Street), politicians (U.S. senators and congressmen and White House staffers), CEOs, professional athletes, and published authors of fiction and nonfiction.

I am especially proud of the contribution that my family has made to the culture of New Orleans. My uncle, Louis Nicholas Hammett, was chief architect for the Louisiana State Capital in Baton Rouge, Charity Hospital of New Orleans, and New Orleans Lakefront Airport. My Uncle Harry (Henry Hammett) started the law firm of Hammett, Leake, and Hammett.

My grandparents, Joseph and Bernadine Hammett, made significant contributions to the funding for construction of Loyola University and Holy Name of Jesus Church on St. Charles Avenue in New Orleans. Their names may be seen on two stain glass windows in the church. Joseph owned a grocery store and lumber yard on St. Andrew Street, and his wife Bernadine was a principal shareholder in Faubacher Brewery.

I recently signed on to help promote the song and website Revolution 1X1 (Revolution 1X1), a song by musician and singer Noel Paul Stookey (the "Paul" of Peter, Paul and Mary). The song seeks to create a world that is ruled by simple tolerance, kindness, and friendliness achieved one person at a time. The track is featured on Stookey's latest album/CD/streaming services (Just Causes), a compilation of fifteen songs. Each song, based on its theme, is linked to a different nonprofit charity associated with Stookey's political and social activism over the years.

My interests are pretty diverse and include classic literature, astronomy, music, the LPO, the guitar, lucid dreaming, theology, Ken Burns documentaries, swimming, philanthropy, film, politics, vinyl albums, and the many cultural influences of New Orleans, Louisiana. My goal is to live to 105.

I live near the waters of Lake Pontchartrain with my cat Munkastrap. Life is quiet but good.

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