Saturday, July 31, 2021


The first cup of coffee opens the blinds
on windows shut by a hypnagogic foray
laced with lavender hymns of jabberwocky.
You might as well have eaten mushrooms.

It cranks out warm air from the furnace of lungs
stoked by neurotransmitters run amok
and setting your brain on fire.
You’re in no hurry to call the EMTs

as long as your pulse takes its morning jog
in sinus rhythm and stays in the high double digits.
I mean, otherwise your blood would freeze
like the trickle of stream that’s the property line out back.

Why ruin a good thing like the legal buzz you have going
since waking is a zero sum game.
Somebody has to win, and if it isn’t a mug of chemicals,
then the hearse might be pulling into the driveway about now.

It opens the stops of a pipe organ,
makes life full-throated, Beethoven’s seventh
rather than a threnody on the triumph of your pajamas.
In fact, it weren’t for dark roast—lattes need not apply—

the word threnody would not have entered this poem.
Suddenly there are ideas.
Perhaps you will write a book or fall in love
or talk to pigeons in the park.

Let’s be honest: everything’s on the table
after two sips, maybe three if you overslept.
And it’s cheaper than therapy, right?
Why not give yourself a good talking to

rather than pour all of your hard-earned words
into the ears of someone with a fifty-minute attention span?
I see you’re finally taking my meaning.
The beans from South America are kicking in,

and your pupils are a bit constricted but focused.
You have had to part with your very last dream,
the racy one about Salome’s many-colored veils
now evaporating into early morning sun-steam.

~William Hammett

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Thursday, July 29, 2021

Oak Cabinet

The oak cabinet in the kitchen has been there forever,
faded from the sunlight of fifty years
pouring through the window over the sink,
over the breakfast table.
How many times has it been opened
for glasses, plates, or things that were not there?

Faded and fifty,
how many times have I been opened
and closed for everyday amenities
or things that were not there?
The grain shows more clearly around my eyes,
and I am more wary of the world these days,
but I do not withhold the little I have to give.
That is not my way.

I hang on the wall,
wood for a savior who lives within.
I offer a Band-aid for a bloody knee,
cold water for the girl with the lemonade stand.
Unhinged, I will one day find the junkyard.
When lilies, dressed like Solomon in all his regalia,
have sprouted through my wormholes,
I will fall into the dust of heaven.

~William Hammett

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Tuesday, July 27, 2021

When the World Goes Digital

You shall be in high definition, I suspect,
your beauty a Tibetan crystal,
clear and serene,
and only a thousand chanting monks
will have the saffron power
to make your soul’s third eye resonate.
Still, I hope you shall forgive me, love,

for what I, a farmer in some forgotten field, must do.
When the sun finds facets on your angled face,
I shall kiss the pixels of your eyes and cheeks
before stepping back in time
to a checkered shirt and denim jeans,
my proper time and place.

~William Hammett

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Sunday, July 25, 2021

Vignette Noir

You walked through the steam in a tight black dress
and boarded the Pullman car,

puffs of white steam from the undercarriage
shrouding the train and your last look back.

A shrill European whistle
gave the locomotive its raison d’etre

as it crept into the switching yard,
headed for tracks looping

around mountains where you would apply lipstick
before having drinks with the Romanian.

Outside the station,
a streetlamp made slanting lines of rain visible

as far as the covered newsstand.
Headlines talked of wars and rumors of wars,

no nuance of why in the broad black ink.
Tightening my trench coat, I haled a cab,

opening the back door of the ’47 Packard
before the fin-like curb-splash

washed over the gray sidewalk
and the black wingtips you claimed

made me look like a diplomat.
At the apartment, I drank scotch

and listened to Mahler’s last symphony
before sleeping in the mattress

on which we had both created
the sag not deep enough to hold you.

~William Hammett

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Friday, July 23, 2021

A Husband Speaks to His Wife

Years from now,
when the calendar has ceased its idle gossip
and epic speeches, its trivial comments
on how you and I, alone but not alone,
caressed the days or ignored them,
stitched them together with the sinewy gut and bone
of routine and more routine,

when the sidereal procession
on the back of the kitchen door
reminds us of when we ignored the moon
and the chance to ride thigh on thigh,
or when we squandered afternoons
hanging on the hook in the hallway
by not kissing each other with the sound of streams,

when all days have grown quiet
and we do not hear the inflection of time and tide,
will you still believe that I,
like the late blossom twined on the back fence,
did all I could to open my eyes
and love you for what you were?

Will you still believe, after long winters
have tried to denigrate the soul
and mock its caring ether,
in the value of that flower on the fence?
Will you still believe in love
and the first time I saw you
clothed only in innocence?

~William Hammett

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Wednesday, July 21, 2021

Fishing by the Cutbank

I saw in the water,
not more than sun-deep,
the speckled trout

fantail against the insistent current,
mesmerized perhaps
by the silver spinner,

and removed the line
before pulling for home.
I had done no differently,

having fantailed for years
and by sheer dumb luck
avoided the hook of the universe,

mesmerized perhaps
by awakening to silver dawns
that defied the spinning of insistent routines.

~William Hammett

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Monday, July 19, 2021

Deeper Music

The train singing
in the distance
scatters miles
like seed.

The house creaks,
settles like a deal
cut with gravity
and grows old.

The calico prowling
on ivory will not remember
his delicate moon song
in the morning.

The woman speaking
in a dream turns, tosses a word
on the tip of her tongue
into the darkness and sleeps.

The knowledge
of this deeper music
is cut away
by the razor light of dawn,

and yet I remember
sitting on a levee
with a lost love
who sang lyrics that always rhymed,

which is to say
that some melodies stay the course
and echo in the long tunnel
that is the fullness of time.

~William Hammett

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Saturday, July 17, 2021

Midwest Carnival

When four years old, I was struck dumb
by the neon and tinsel fairway,
the hawker’s gravel-throated crook
pulling people into tents.
The curious were swallowed by dirty canvas flaps
and, I thought, the demonic fire eaters within.

The whirligigs threw people to the moon.
Afterwards, they stumbled two by two
from the red rocket cars,
possessed, eyes glazed,
howling with lunatic laughter.

~William Hammett

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Friday, July 16, 2021


The riptide seizes my melancholy frame of mind,
bent on a refractory gaze
and lost in waves repeating their signature
on a dotted line of shore.
I am captive of the moon’s possessive marriage
with the tides.

A wave breaks,
rolls itself into defeat,
splinters my matrix of bone
and its attendant marrow of memory.
Beads of cut-glass sun
fold into the white, rounded realm of surf
and shatter my parallax view of life.

In this dissolution,
I am a whalebone soul
spewed from Ahab’s gullet,
obsession with mundane circumstance
broken into a thousand liberties
carved by the sailor’s slipknot heart
that fashions scrimshaw with dexterity.

A thousand bones of beauty
lie on the beach, all of them pale points
and lines, shaved into this idle art of the sea:
a pipe a horn, a whale,
figures molded into eternity.

I am broken by the tides,
but in the sea’s exaltation, free.
The scrimshaw is me.

~William Hammett

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Thursday, July 15, 2021


She is digging
for potatoes
with the slight, slanting winter
sun on a brown field,
wearing her peasant dress,

and her young face is so lovely
and so quiet
in the task of gathering
not quite enough
to fill her white apron

that I think
I would like
to kiss her cheek
several times, but mostly
her plain lips,

which if they spoke
could not explain
how scarcity over many years
will expand hips and breasts
into a wide brown field.

~William Hammett

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Wednesday, July 14, 2021


It is not the same magic
as when doves line the vest pocket
or conjoined metal rings are divorced.

It is more like a cloud
finding a place to bleed beauty
on the horizon at sunset.

It is where you hold words
that I have not yet spoken
in the palm of your hand.

~William Hammett

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Do you remember that day in the barn,
light falling through slats like gold across hay,

and how your hand slipped, my fingers curling around your wrist
like rope cinched tightly around the saddle below?

You simply laughed as you dangled and twisted,
suspended above the long fingernails of the rusted baler,

laughed and arched your back like a ballerina,
your free hand extended in grace, fingers splayed with joy.

I, lips pursed, pulled you into the loft, our true home,
you settling like a scarecrow into the deep straw,

and we looked out at the many years in the distance
and promised to carve them like mountains into the waiting sky.

~William Hammett

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Tuesday, July 13, 2021

The Sacrifice of Isaac

I wonder if he struggled, strained at the cord,
stared disbelievingly at the gathered branches,
knew his father’s mind at all.
Did he see the angel through the panic in his eyes,
hear its voice above the clamor of his pulse?
And after falling from the stones,
the sacrifice stumbling and clouded with rage,
did he kneel before the burning ram?

Breathless, I bolt at the howling of a dog,
my arms straining at cord made tighter by waking.
The wings unfurled in a dream close and disappear
into shadows scratching on the wall,
branches gathered at the windowpane.
I stumble out of bed to pull the shade,
curse the howling of a dog,
and wonder if I know my Father’s mind at all?

~William Hammett

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Monday, July 12, 2021


Rusted railroad tracks
buckle beneath the water tower.

The town has been abandoned
since the factory closed in ’45

and the assembly line of gears and sprockets
stopped rolling the sun through tedious hours.

The hard yellow sun
pulls dandelions from the rotting grade,

and I recall that you left on the last train
with a salesman in a seersucker suit.

I had nothing to give you
except the nickel-bright Midwestern moon

that watched us exchange vows by the lake
and slip inside each other’s skin.

Breath is shallow, short,
arteries twisted away from ties that bind.

I stutter-step through gravel,
recalling your last journey from my heart.

~William Hammett

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Circles in the Dirt

The boy with the stick
draws a circle in the dirt,
puts a fine point on the matter,
closes creation in its circumference
and knows that it is good.

The man draws circles
in the dirt with his finger,
his mind making a quick calculation
before looking up to free the adulteress
who has come full circle to herself.

Stones are dropped by passers-by,
a fine point having been put on the matter,
and the woman, now centered
in the circumference of her soul,
knows that it is good.

~William Hammett

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The Rag Collector

The old man wheels a metal shopping basket,
squeaking, filled with fabric
cast off, split,
shapeless and shaped,
dirty rainbows rounded up,
retained for a royal robe
stitched from the back alleys
where glory is always born
since humility came to town.

~William Hammett

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Sunday, July 11, 2021

The Porch

Everything was preamble
to watching sunbeams
cut through hills in the distance,
ten-thousand days yellowed like a calendar
and sitting in the cortex gathering dust,
or what passes for dust in the blood.

How many highways did we hitch
in our imaginations?
How many streams did we silver
with the sheen of our skin,
clothes hanging on the oak branches of youth?
I do not know.
I do not know.

The porch sags.
Our footsteps have worn the grain
with anger and joy,
with the promise of love
or a longing to sleep
after the day has beaten us both
into bones that were crutches
for skin weighted with years.

They have been good,
and now we sit, not divided
like hills carved by the sun.
Crickets clamor some forgotten chorus
in a pitch our throats lost long ago,
when friends died
and blew away like sand.
We lean into each other,
bone to shoulder,
shoulder to bone,
needing no words.
We recite the ten thousand days
with a cadence of quiet inhalations.
Memories dovetail, and we smile.

We are the porch, my love.
We are the wood.
The seasons have watched us for many years,
and will watch us for many more.
It is not time yet
to surrender ourselves to sand.
Visitors will mistake us for museum pieces,
but we will simply smile.
As the air fades to blue,
the dust in our blood turns to iron.
Inside, our bones will dovetail
as I divide your hills like a sunbeam,
your hair falling across the pillow
and spreading out like a sail.

~William Hammett

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Saturday, July 10, 2021

The Need to Move On

The graduates have learned to split atoms
and whisk paint brushes over fossilized bones

or maybe analyze why Napoleon was so paranoid and short.
Careers aside, the know they must cross the stage

as if walking the plank or crossing an ocean or bridge
that may or may not be the one too far.

The girlfriend has moved out of a shared apartment
to be with the minimalist who owns a loft in Soho.

The boyfriend isn’t surprised because she was always partial
to menstrual moons and the Utne Reader.

The artist paints in squiggles and makes love tepidly,
but she feels the need to load the freight elevator with IKEA,

and after all, Mercury is in retrograde,
or so says her astrologer, who claims the sky is always moving on.

The empty nest is just straw and a limp Star Wars poster,
so parents make a sewing room, a music room, an anything room

because the kids can flop on the couch over Thanksgiving
when they visit looking like stunt doubles from a Seth Rogen film.

And who knew what a bifurcated divorce was,
or the modern hieroglyphics of custody and alimony?

But the downtown suits, the sharks with serrated diplomas
insist that the heart cannot endure entropy,

that the fifth decade is usually when these things
tend to go down and suburban lawns are rolled into rugs.

And yet the couple setting their golden anniversary on fire
with panache has decided that they must buy a yacht

and sail for the cape down south after the cabinet below decks
has been loaded with liquor and a copy of the Kama Sutra.

Have you heard that Henry’s daughter has enrolled her father
in assisted living with yoga, origami, and speed dating?

Henry was the exception to the rule, was a paperweight of sorts,
but his daughter just cut her hair short because she turned thirty.

She told the afternoon wine and bridge club that the decades
won’t tolerate the possibility of loneliness or a broken hip.

“It’s a stepping stone,” she said, “and there’s no time like the present
to get our ducks in a row before they get crazy and fly,

or worse yet, get ambushed by the reaper in the blind.”
And so it goes, and then it goes some more.

It is afternoon, and I look at my leather skin and bones
in a mirror that has never witnessed yoga or origami

in its all-seeing eye of glass above the mahogany bureau.
I’m pretty satisfied. I’ve survived the trend to find trends

but know that before too long I will have to be seated,
unbutton my skin, remove and fold it, place it in a pine box,

and make peace with the sun falling over the horizon,
a hint rendered in whispers of the need to move on.

~William Hammett

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Prose Works by William Hammett

In addition to writing poetry for most of my life, I have published a great deal of fiction under my own name (as opposed to the many works I have produced as a ghostwriter). The novels may be purchased on Amazon. Click the links below, Google, or visit Other works are unpublished or are, at present, under literary representation.


John Lennon and the Mercy Street Cafe (Booklocker, 2007) Magical Realism

Street Magic (Word Wrangler Press, 2015) Horror

The Ghost of Richard Brautigan (Word Wrangler Press, 2015) Literary Fiction

Rimsky Rises (Word Wrangler Press, 2015) Young Adult

Circling Goes the Wind (Word Wrangler Press, 2015) Middle Reader

Beautiful Bones (Word Wrangler Press, 2002) out of print

Other titles on Amazon labeled "by William Hammett" were not authored by me.

Flash Fiction

Richard Brautigan: Stories in His Style (published online)

Short Stories

Short stories I have written have not been collected, although two were published. As time permits, they may be offered online, in addiition to others I never submitted.

"Orphans," Rose and Thorn Journal
"Lily Fourshanks, in Search of God"
"The Five Dollar Apocalypse"

Books I have authored, edited, or collaborated on as a ghostwriter are generally protected by non-disclosure agreements or contractual confidentiality. Some clients have given me permission to list their books, and these may be found on my ghostwriting website, the link for which may be found in the sidebar of this site.

Copyright and Publication Information


All ideas, including any and all forms of literature, that are committed to paper or an electronic device from which data is retrievable, are automatically copyrighted with formal registration with the U.S. Copyright Office. (See U.S. Copyright website: When Is My Work Copyright Protected.)

The original dates for copyright are as follows:
Copyright, William Hammett, 1979, 1980, 1981, 1982, 1983, 1984, 1985, 1986, 1988, 1990, 1991, 1993, 1994, 1995, 1996, 1997, 1998, 1999, 2000, 2001, 2002, 2003, 2004, 2005, 2006, 2007, 2008, 2009, 2010, 2011, 2012, 2013, 2014, 2015, 2016, 2017, 2018, 2019, 2020, 2021, 2022, 2023. 2024

Copyright renewal is not necessary for works created after 1978. Since a very few poems appearing on this site were written as early as 1966, registration has been renewed. Since the poems have been reproduced here electronically, the working and applicable copyright information may be regarded as follows:

Copyright, William Hammett, 2024
No poem, or excerpt from any poem, may be used without written permission from the author.

Publication Information

Many poems on this site have been published in hardcopy literary journals (and a few in online poetry journals or ezines). The following is a list of journals in which my poetry has appeared.

American Poets & Poetry, Poem, Pegasus, Parnassus Literary Review, Black Buzzard Review, Lynx, The Rockford Review, Angelflesh, Twilight Ending, Offerings, Bouillabaisse, The Raintown Review, Poets at Work, The Lyric, Mojo Risin', Ship of Fools, Tight, Rose and Thorn, Gumbo, Blue Water Review, Meanderings, Patchwork Poems, Mantras, Over the Moon, Tidewater, Tidal Poems, Lilting Lyrics, Poetics in the 21st Century, Modern Slam, Page Breaks, Papers Etc., Musings on a Muse, Metered Express, Birds in Flight, Sandtown Review, Bojo, Classic Forms, Riptide, Something for Nothing, Literary Caress, Such and Such, Creations, Coffeehouse Rules, The Changeling, Experimental Forms, Bayside, Louisiana Expressions, The Flipside, Painted Words, Free Verse Mutineer, Catch and Release, Slide, River City Review, Lexicon, Ascending Verse, Between the Lines, Weathervane, TKO Magazine, Riding the Fault, Stanzas, Something to Write Home About, Tall Pines, Ampersand, Lodestar Review, Happenstance, Serendipity's Child, Verse Free and Clear, Whale Songs, More than Meets the Eye, Just Write, Pot Liquor, The Best of Beat, Poems from the Desert, Typed, Tibetan Hymns, Morninglory, Tea and Verse, Shared Visions, Estuary, Copper Nickel, Ellipsis, Hanging Loose, Word Salad, Slide, Just Lines, Write and Then Some, Your Perfect Write, and Listening.

Friday, July 9, 2021

Waiting for the Mandala to Move

The elevator doesn’t come,
the plane remains at the gate,
the doctor is double-booked,
and the customer representative hides behind Muzak.

Every moment is Chinese water torture,
an incessant drip of seconds into a past
that runs downhill into soil
growing ulcerous weeds and regret.

The great mandala is stuck.
the server down at
Taking the stairs, Wordsworth mumbles
“Getting and spending—I told you so.”

Gridlocked, I take an exit ramp to nowhere.
Trees eye me with curiosity
as four lanes taper to two.
Miles later, a farmer’s tractor slices hay.

The pistons shut down on a dusty road,
talk radio reduced to static.
The mandala creaks as creation finally resumes.
A large eye opens, watching,
waiting to see what I will do next.

~William Hammett

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Thursday, July 8, 2021

The Audacity of Ripples

They spread forever, don’t they?
Like me and you.
We riff on our smiles,
silent jazz in the café
at the end of the block
where we come and go
every day
like wavelets,
forever disturbing
the smooth surface
of the morning
with a music
only we can understand.

At outdoor tables,
conversation leaks
into the street,
gets carried away
by cabs or spread
by the dapper man
with the cane
who taps a ripple
every few feet or so.
It never settles
into entropy
or a single sip
or Chardonnay,
at least from I can see.

Two lovers kiss,
and the meeting of lips
becomes children
and pain and years
of calendar pages
from the pantry door,
the brood taking
their parents’ momentary bliss
down ruts and roads
and highways
past New Years Eve
and a new millennium,
the kiss far behind.
Frankly, such staying power
boggles the mind.

A stone falls
or is tossed,
and the fluid moves
in circles, concentric,
like God,
a petal in the pond
rising like the heave
of a white bosom
that does not want
to end a dream
or the act of love.
I’m not sure
who dropped it
or how the motion
These ripples,
kinetic prophets
of things to come,
like ever-branching
fractals in snow,
find the ocean,
or so it is written,
where his kingdom,
it is said,
goes on and on.

~William Hammett

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Wednesday, July 7, 2021

The Woman on the Subway

Surely the saucy little number
with short brunette hair
was looking at me every few seconds
as passengers jostled when the train braked.

She stared at me—yes, she did—
and then the lights went out
for a nanosecond as the car
lurched to another track, a minor course correction,

and electrons jumped into the railway circuits
and the young woman’s brain
and then mine, filled with images
of kissing her in a dark leather booth over lunch.

She smiled ever so slightly.
Oh my goodness, she must have
unless I am mad as a loon on a winter lake,
hoping for a mate while the snow thickens the air.

Her lips formed “Call me” before she turned away,
but not before dropping her card, which I retrieved
while groping past commuters who’d never tasted love.
She was Brenda, an account manager,

but the card was torn
in a line of jagged white feathers.
Was she Brenda Smith or Jones or Totenburg?
Did she work for a conglomerate

or a florist on a side street,
her body sitting in a back room dwarfed by gray giants,
monoliths in the center of Manhattan?
Her lips were red and her eyes were blue,

and now I will not know what to call our children
or what schools they shall attend.
Who will I kiss on New Year’s Eve
since the old calendar has taken away my chance for love?

~William Hammett

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Tuesday, July 6, 2021

Commuter Train

Horizontal lights glide through the dark.
commuters mere silhouettes in yellow rectangles

speeding on moonlit rails,
rocking in repetitive recumbent rhythms,

parsing the night with recollections
of the desultory nine to five

and all of its downtown asymmetry,
an urban life, towers and gridlock

unknown to the primeval forest
that opens narrowly for the diesel

hauling freight and fatigue,
the heft of bodies and suits

trying to unlearn the taxi horns,
the stoplights and pedestrian betrayals,

trying to forget the riddles posed
by the sun’s odd shadows on intersections,

the time of day always a mystery
since it moves like a glacier

just beyond sight of the gray monoliths
standing like Nazi guards.

But the train sweeps all the detritus away
by sheer force, its plowing

through White Plains, New Rochelle, Rye,
Mamaroneck, stations with Doppler bells

rising and falling, church bells calling
people back to their homes,

to scotch, anesthesia, the lethargy
of losing another day to God-knows-what.

The silver skin pulls into the train yard,
empty, emotions trickling into vapor,

its passengers having once more
commuted to and from their lives.

~William Hammett

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she called him by name
as his breath
slipped into another sky.

The clock stopped
to mark the final movement
of the bellows,
the fire out,
though their love remains.

~William Hammett

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Monday, July 5, 2021


You reach for a can on the top shelf,
and the muscle in your thigh resonates
with tendons bulging like wires in your wrist,
a single line of purpose, momentary perfection
on a linoleum stage.

You drop, spin, sigh,
heels once again granting gravity
its systematic symmetry,
a rationale for balance on limbs and toes,
heaven’s loss, earth’s gain.
You slide to a counter of onions,
simultaneously opening a faucet
and the pupil of my eye
that watches from under the stairs.

And then all is chaos.
Vegetables tumble into a pot,
its lid slammed as fire is stolen
from a stainless steel Prometheus.
You pour a glass of wine,
looking at the field beyond
and the wildflowers that mock morning’s routine.
Tears drift up from the chopping board,
then fall from the precipice of a dream.
You are happily lost.

I rise from the shadows,
step lightly, touch your shoulder.
I take too much for granted in the spring.
I do not reach enough, do not revel
in the wantonness of wildflowers
or leave enough to chance.
Spinning you around,
I pour a glass of chardonnay,
and then we dance.

~William Hammett

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Riding updrafts,
looking sharply
at the mouse below,
with its telescopic eye--
no drone with pixels,
this marriage
of function and form--
the hawk spirals down
in a gyre,
Yeats watching
its mystical inclination,
wings open,
slanted with purpose,
speed, energy,
clarity married
to the end result.
He believes
in his calling,
the outcome
already achieved
in its perning feathers,
in the fate bequeathed
to him in the fullness
of nonlinear time
by a hand he cannot see,
and so he succeeds
since there is no division
between purpose and flight,
flight and purpose.
The soul within his brain
simply knows
like a mustard seed
what is right.

~William Hammett

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Sunday, July 4, 2021

The New York Times Crossword Puzzle

You read the paper,
scratching number two lead
across a skyscraper
of empty windows while sinking deeper
into a word for the cumulonimbus fluff
floating at the head of our bed.
Eyebrows arched, you mumble,
praying silent riddles
as you search for “an eccentric blaze”
igniting seventeen across
that will close out the deal
and pay the afternoon’s mortgage
in syllables.

I drift in and out of reruns.
The afternoon is full of dreams
about people I have never met.
The mattress sags, and I roll towards
something that rhymes with “seams.”
The sun touches my cheek,
or maybe it’s you
as you contemplate Aztec pyramids
that must cross paths with the “meek”
as they inherit the earth.

The television dies of boredom.
An arm tunnels under my back.
There is no “seems” as I awake
and hear you whisper seventeen across:
Sunlight speckles your skin,
folded paper falling from grace
as you turn to seal the deal
in the now-forgotten alphabet.
You roll me onto my back,
kiss me down and across,
the eccentric blaze of your hair
sweeping my chest like a sunset
dusting Kilimanjaro.

~William Hammett

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Film Archive

Who are they,
these men and women, accelerated by camera speed
and walking feverishly in grainy black and white footage
with celluloid dots appearing and disappearing,
with jagged horizontal lines and sharp edits
as they dodge trolleys, horses, and mules,
play stick ball, tag, lean on chummy shoulders
in anachronistic New York?

They wear long skirts and dress shoes,
suits and ties and hats,
knickers tucked into high boots,
aprons of cloth, denim, or leather
as they cross the street,
mug for a camera on a tripod,
sell newspapers and vegetables at the Italian market, 
buy penny whistles at the open-air five and dime
or hurry to work uptown
in brick buildings and skyscrapers
on a concrete island floating on film.

What are their concerns,
their occupations, loves, or debaucheries?
What are their passions now silenced by headstones
and tamped down by dates of birth and death,
bookends to the frenzy of their pilgrimage,
double-time marching to careers and ledgers
or rotund wives making soup for lunch,
pounding pavement on stuttering reels
caught on sprockets, gears, metal teeth
and their turn-of-the-century
black and white ways?

A man with a bushy white mustache
holds forth, standing square before the lens,
expounding some arcane explanation,
some answer to these downtown riddles
as he adjusts his coat and natty bow tie.
He tilts his head left to right,
puffs on a pipe and gives the smoke away,
then smiles, a newspaper tucked under his arm,
folded thin pulp holding no clues.
A tip of his cap, and he’s gone.
His message, I believe, was this:
We’re all here, but move fast.
The film may break at any time.
Carpe diem. Chop chop.
The master comes at an hour you least expect.
We all end up on the cutting room floor.

~William Hammett

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