Wednesday, December 29, 2021

Lost and Found

I am not lost.
On the contrary, I found myself
yesterday afternoon sitting in a red cedar chair
in my backyard, staring at birds
or perhaps waiting for the first star to burn
through the dark blue wake of afternoon,

always a sure giveaway that evening
is going to roll up the day,
catalog it, and send it to the museum of days
that is as invisible as the Ark of the Covenant.
I was careful not to disturb myself
since I was listening to a cardinal

perched in a gum tree compose a sonnet
on what it was like to defy gravity
for short periods of time.
White clouds, catching the last rays of sunset,
morphed from mountains into tall ships
with three sails and bowsprit needling the ocean

to stay ahead of advancing darkness
and the undiscovered country of dreams
that could swallow the entire crew
and spices from Turkish bazaars.
I seemed to be happy,
though I had a crease in my forehead

formed by a regret that reminds me
that sometimes I am an imbecile.
I crept away so as not to disturb myself,
glad to know that I was needling the ocean
and staying ahead of the jim-jams.
There will come a time

when I will erase the regret like a Cavalier poet.
I will defy gravity and soar
through the undiscovered country
that cannot be avoided forever.
For now, I am found,
content to let the cardinal be my prophet

and tell me in verse what it is like
to be free of regret and the sloping ground.

~William Hammett

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Thursday, December 23, 2021

Christmas Eve

It is about the nativity, of course,
although it has not happened yet.
The pregnant possibility lies in the straw,
heavy with the promise of a New Jerusalem

that is far too distant
even for angels and shepherds to see.
Carols are sung about the imminence
that has not yet risen in the silent night.

It is all about what happens next.
Expectation hangs like an ornament
on the fir by the fire.
Royalty from Persia left their kingdoms years ago,

but the caravan has no arrived yet.
The magi are as curious as you or I.
Why else make the journey
on suspicions raised by a rogue comet?

Blind men and lepers are already lined up in Galilee.
For what, they do not know.
There are rumors about rumors
and a quickening of the pulse—nothing more.

The unwed mother in the Bowery knows this truth,
as does the junkie who throws away the needle
because he saw an angel in his delirium.
The rehab center was always in Bethlehem.

The alarm clock sings, and I pull myself out of bed.
Tonight, I am told, is about magic,
and I’m willing to place my bet on a mustard seed.
Why else make the journey?

~William Hammett

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Sunday, December 19, 2021

Blue Jay

Bluebird, bluebird,
tap me on the shoulder.
Oh, Johnny, I am tired.

            ~children’s nursery rhyme

Its harsh, shrill cry
scratches the dark blue evening sky,
demanding our attention,
threatening to rip open the heavens
and expose the eye of Armageddon.

Isaiah, Ezekiel, and Jeremiah
did the same with stubborn Israel,
pointing the finger,
exposing the lie,
calling men out
on the collective cerebral cortex
scrubbed clean of truth
so that lackeys might kiss the stone feet
of the idol deaf and dumb.

The D.C. metro bus carries freight
shuttled in from the Land of Nod.
Exhaust spills into the ozone
as men and women spill into a puddle of brain
while the jay shouts “Cry Havoc!
And let slip the dogs of war.”

Evening grows darker
as the jay finishes his screed.
We have been tapped on the shoulder,
roughed up in soul,
delivered to a fork in the road
by a crest of blue feathers.

I pour a tumbler of scotch.
Oh, Johnny, I am tired.

~William Hammett

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Monday, December 13, 2021

Calypso

Ah yes, there was the summer of ’78,
which I had almost forgotten in these latter days
of statins and twice around the block
in the evenings beneath the sheen of pine needles
so that my pulleys and gears will stay lubricated
and the bellows behind my ribs will keep
rush hour traffic flowing smoothly in my arteries.

The thesis and diploma were tucked away
where they could do neither harm nor good.
I had learned earlier that pulling one thread the wrong way
unravels the tapestry of blossoming love.
I painted murals in the air for no one,
an avant-garde hermit who lived in a basement apartment
and read “Dover Beach” one too many times.

The white sands of Jamaica—
well, that was a different story in the anthology,
so I puddle-jumped to Kingston Town
and bought a twenty-dollar guitar,
a beach umbrella, and too many cocoanuts
with umbrellas sprouting like new growth
from rum or tequila and the juice of the day.

At night, when small fires blazed like eyes opening,
and the beach was filled with lovers
or other refugees who had too much of nothing
and were sampling Dylan’s waters of oblivion,
I played for whitecaps and sea birds wheeling,
notes lost in the surf folding onto the beach,
songs hanging in the air for no one.

It was one evening when the full moon
sat on the rim of the world,
the atmosphere molding its shape into an ellipse,
a silver eye with a tint of orange,
that I sat up, arms folded around my knees,
and knew that, despite bikinis and calypso drums,
the spirit hovering over the deep
was watching me and always would be.

~William Hammett

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Wednesday, December 8, 2021

A Thousand Sitars

The song turned out to be prophetic.
Something was going to happen
in the black hills of Dakota,
and the building had been named
because the stones rose from a desolation
that looked like the upper Midwest in winter.

The people in the cheap seats had clapped.
Those in the box seats had rattled their jewelry.
The performers bowed,
and the curtain came down.

When it came up again,
time slipped forward,
careening past naked light bulbs
atrung like daisy chains on Coney Island
into a purple haze,
and Max Yasgur leased his farm
to his children’s children’s children
as a generation turned over in its grave.

The curtain came down again
during Monday Night Football.
Bob sang “roll on, John,”
and all cried grief for the bull.

I looked in the rearview mirror
over the long years,
the music always there,
Sometimes in dreams I hear sitars chanting
like a thousand monks on a mountain top.

I still hear them,
though I don’t have to play the vinyl backwards.
I pick up a guitar on most days
and get back to where I once belonged.

~William Hammett

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Friday, December 3, 2021

A Tree in Barcelona

Manicured cottonwood trees line the square
in Old Town, a space that looks as if Don Quixote
might amble through the space on his horse

at any moment, tilting at windmills as usual
as he sleeps and dreams his impossible dreams.
It is only a painting at a museum,

but I step into the frame and sit beneath a small elm,
bent as if it were a peasant woman or farmer
bending to pick up a potato.

It is a pleasant day, and I lean against the trunk,
legs crossed on the grass
as I survey the red tile rooves

and the brown arches of a building
that appears to be a hotel built in the Middle Ages.
I can hear the ceiling fans pushing air

through the open air and across the plaza into my face.
A plump woman walks down a cobbled street in the distance,
a baby riding her hips and bouncing

as gently as Don Quixote,
who has now checked into the hotel.
The elm tree whispers that I am welcome to stay.

I agree even though I know that in this perpetual afternoon
someone from the twenty-first century
will pull me from the picture.

Or perhaps it will be a noise,
the door to the museum closing
or a taxi horn disturbing the seventeenth century.

I close my eyes.
There is no hurry.
Like Adam, I will get kicked out of paradise

because a woman has spoken with a snake
about apples and my tenure on the canvas.
But I will return when the time is right.

I have found a mansion in my Father’s house
that, though humble, suits me fine.
A gold plaque above the frame reads

“A Tree in Barcelona.”
It knows nothing of good and evil,
nor is it a windmill.

~William Hammett

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