Thursday, October 21, 2021

All the Songs I Never Played

I often think of all the songs I never played,
bronze-wound Martin strings silent
in the velvet-lined hard-shell case.
They exist somewhere in the quantum field,

the wave-particle duality
in the synapses of my brain that winks
every second or two between potential
and the notes I hung in a spare moment

on the tree outside my window
or the ears of someone washing dishes
in the next room or on the sunbeam
that was my companion eight days a week,

Walter Mitty playing the venue
twenty thousand strong as the lights went down
and the spot picked me up as I walked
center stage, slinging the strap across my shoulder.

There are days when I wish
I were an old black man,
sitting on a sinking porch.
There would be no regret, no looking back

as I hung notes on invisible clefs,
singing the blues and the sky
and never looking back,
working the strings with bony fingers,

tapping the boards beneath my feet,
making music sultry and sweet
or more often than not
down and out because Mabel done left me,

and that was the end of that.
The neighborhood wives and single mothers
would be my audience as they sauntered by,
brown bags and babies clutched under their arms

as they picked up twelve bars
before reaching the end of the block.
It would be a good life,
and maybe Clapton, Mick, or Keith

would discover my licks and angst.
At least the music would be out there,
drifting on a deep blue afternoon
and making love to the dying day

that had been near and dear,
though we certainly had our spats.
Sparrows on the telephone wire
would take the songs across the block

or the river, and my fame would spread
like the fire of sunset.
Yes, I wish I’d let it fly.
But that’s not what happened.

The world was too much with me,
and I dragged myself out of bed
to teach grammar or a poem,
me—the living cliff notes

standing in front of a sleepy venue
watching the clock
and hoping that my droning
would be put in a velvet-lined coffin,

my lyrics stashed in the string pocket
where they could do no harm.
And yet there were times I found the sweet spot
and played for hours, glorious missing time,

day-tripping through the catalog of a band
or the folkies for whom I was journeyman,
strumming or fingerpicking,
the left hand not knowing what the right was doing,

and yet both dancing in syncopated sync.
But still I wish I had lost more hours
to that soul within that lives on melody.
I wish I had played a thousand more songs,

the movement I needed right there on my shoulder.
I wish I had played them for you.

~William Hammett

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Saturday, October 16, 2021

Along the Meridian Nerve

I saw two lovers kiss
while sitting by the lake
before returning their gaze
to the pewter-gray water.

A fish jumped
and geese took flight.
It was overcast,
but the sun kept moving

in its arc behind the gray pall.
A crow watched the scene as well
on the bare branch of a winter tree
as crows are wont to do.

The lovers looked at each other,
blue eyes connected by unseen wires
like those once imagined
by cavalier metaphysicians,

and then held hands,
leaning shoulder to shoulder
as lovers are wont to do.
They smiled as they turned back to the lake,

silent and content for the moment.
The kiss had traveled
along the meridian nerve
that connects all lovers,

producing a marriage
that is the best that can be hoped for
between the heart and the brain,
pole to pole, body and soul.

For the record, the crows,
having observed the union,
took flight, black on gray,
in search of others plighting their troth.

~William Hammett

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Tuesday, October 12, 2021

April Mayhem

The wind whips white dresses
like sails on oceans of green grass,

and suddenly it is spring
as young ladies from the red wooden schoolhouse

dance and pass between the mountains,
between winter and fall,

and all the mayhem that sun can bring
adorns the falling curls of maidens set free.

Amen to spring that such latitude
can swing wide the door to debtors prison

and free the soul that for a spell
was etched in winter’s glass.

~William Hammett

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Thursday, October 7, 2021

Tall Pine Trees in a Hurricane

I could not tell whether the tall pine trees
were fighting against the hundred-mile-an-hour winds
or engaging in a frenzied, orgiastic dance.
Branches, like the multiple arms of Shiva,
flailed wildly as their bodies whipsawed back and forth
with each new gust, untamed zephyrs
unleashed by Byron or Shelly on a future world
they suspected would need more hedonism.

The five-story pine in the corner of the yard
spiraled like a whirling dervish, orderly by comparison,
but then abandoned its pious spinning
to join the riot of its brothers and sisters,
green needles pointing towards sky and ground,
long fingernails waiting to claw my windows or roof
when the next feeder band swept through.

Or perhaps I have it all wrong.
Maybe they were martyrs or ballerinas
or both caught up in a westerly,
swaying left and right with arms arched
above their heads and bending to the wind
in a life and death choreography of salvation.

“Take me or not,” may have been their chant,
the wild rush and rustling of their limbs
against each other as the spirits,
angelic or demonic, blew in from the Gulf.
“But we will not fight, only bend
to the will of the same Father who determines
when sparrows must eventually fall to the ground.”

Stepping back from the window,
I clicked off my flashlight and listened to their declarations.
I have seldom encountered such surrender
or been as flexible in mind, body, or spirit
as these hamadryads rooted in a deeper well
of theology and soil that had thrust them heavenwards
years before they had been put to the test.

The spinner in the corner fell hard, died,
its nymph escaping into the clouds, I suppose,
and perhaps to a blue heaven and white light
accessed by traveling upwards though the eye,
its life review showing a progression from sapling
to firewood after the chainsaws had bitten
into the rings and concentric layers of soul.

The storm tracked north,
and after the sun reclaimed its ascendancy
and the juice ran through the wires once again,
I looked out the window and thought of life and death,
of going to the grocery store to buy more water.
The remaining trees were quiet
and prayed vespers inaudibly,
which was, I now knew, their regular evening routine.

~William Hammett

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