Tuesday, January 25, 2022

Footnotes in the Kingdom of God

Flower in the crannied wall,
I pluck you out of the crannies,
I hold you here, root and all, in my hand,
Little flower—but if I could understand
What you are, root and all, all in all,
I should know what God and man is.

                                    “Flower in the Crannied Wall”

                                    by Alfred, Lord Tennyson

 

Daylilies, lavender, and dianthus

push through sidewalk cracks

next to abandoned factories in dying towns,


reaching for the heaven above the heavens

against all odds on the craps table

that wreaks havoc with the ceaseless circadian.


Old men play chess in the park,

knowing they are checkmated

before they shuffle to the bench


like pawns moving one square or two

into an opening gambit of graves.

The commuter from New Rochelle


folds his paper and stares through the train window,

unable to recall whether he kissed his wife lately

because his memory meanders like a stream.


Rusted farm equipment from the forties

sits on foreclosed acres of bindweed and nettles.

Oh, but it was good when it was good,


with tube radios, freckled children, and fireside chats

fertilizing crops by some sleight of hand

known only to carnival barkers and God.


Lovers kiss as they stroll down the avenue,

oblivious to disapproving stares

while holy men knotted into a lotus quietly meditate


and sunlight slides across a lazy gecko

paying rent on a white Arizona rock.

And then there are the poor and lowly,


who have been diagrammed below the sentence,

yearning only for the syntax of warm beds.

All of these vignettes are short stories and poems,


no more than aspiring asterisks

fallen to the bottom of yellowed pages

in basement archives where silence


is given perpetual lease.

But all are redeemed from oblivion’s yoke,

ransomed from insult and lavender’s decay.


Raindrops quench the daylily’s thirst,

for the first shall be last

and the last shall be first.


~William Hammett


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Wednesday, January 19, 2022

A Flower in the Desert

It is a rare flower that can handle hardpan,
that sinks roots into dry, cracked earth
that only dares to dream of silver lines of rain,
fat drops to melt away the grit from unrelenting sun.

It is a miracle that yellow and violet petals,
forgiving of the genocide of its kind,
can remain open to peace and possibility,
only folding their beauty when a cold moon

perches on a jagged peak of igneous shadow,
the pale face of an emperor ruling a wasteland.
But the politics of emptiness is fickle.
The indifferent white demeanor is quickly dethroned

by a smiling yellow dictator
who welcomes only cactus, scrub, sagebrush,
and, in a moment of clemency,
a fair and lonely maiden dressed for court.

I met such a fine lady in the desert of my youth,
when promise had been beaten down
by a wanton weed, dry wedlock
pursuing a scorched earth policy

for the sake of pursuing scorched earth,
blue draining from my eyes,
green fading from my heart.
From the corner of my eye

I spied a flower in the desert,
but I did not have faith that angels would catch me
lest I hurt my foot against a stone.
I stood on the the parapet of the temple,

hesitating for a split second
as I pondered angels and the epiphany of the flower,
then slipped, hurtling towards hardpan,
and awoke, bruised and alone.

Or so the story goes.
Decades later, in moments of fertile recollection
I see yellow and violet
from the corner of my eye.

~William Hammett

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Thursday, January 13, 2022

The Mountain Beyond the Meadow

There is a mountain beyond a field of wildflowers
beyond the rail fence beyond the garden
of daisies, larkspur, evening primrose,
and others that have claimed squatter’s rights.

I can see the three-peaked snow-capped mountain—
I imagine the ridges to be a high priest
flanked by two altar servers in white surplices—
from my kitchen as I open the Chateau L’Evangile merlot

and gaze at this layered study in perspective.
It is as if I were looking into a frame
hanging in a hushed room with wooden floors
at the Metropolitan Museum of Art.

And yet the scene changes
with the moving sun and seasons,
like Monet’s Haystacks or The Houses of Parliament.
When summer heat smothers the helpless plain,

the peaks dance like ballerinas
held hostage by a heat shimmer.
In the winter, these servants of the sky
are an exercise in lapidary,

etched like cut gems glistening
against a background that is painfully blue.
Spring and fall are transitional phrases,
by turns cutting and stripping my garden stalks

or swaying the field grasses with clean zephyrs
or hazy incense offered to whatever god is served
by these dimensions whispering “Closeness, distance,
closeness, distance, but bow also to the intermediary

that keeps them righteously apart.”
I sip the merlot and look at the garden,
fence, meadow, matin-covered mountain,
and realize that the world, organic and mineral,

is circadian, evolving, rhyming with color and shadow.
“Lord, it is good to be here,” St. Peter said
as light and darkness and voices danced around him.
It is good to be in my kitchen, grounded

by pots and pans and a vintage from the valley below
even though the universe is still expanding,
stars flying in all directions like priests and ballerinas
and fireflies carrying seeds to distant worlds.

I am content to raise a toast to humility
and be an infinitesimal part of this kaleidoscopic show.

~William Hammett

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Friday, January 7, 2022

Gardening in the Upper Case

I planted a book of Poems
by Emily Dickinson in my loam —
and it wasn’t long before Vowels
and Consonants — brides and grooms
alphabetical — Behold! —

married and blossomed
into sentences — Verse
that was violet and yellow
and scanned like some Epic —
fit for a Garden — a kingdom

perhaps — though who knows
but the Sower of seeds —
of men and words and deeds
that bear thirty, sixty, a hundredfold—
before the bell of Evening tolls?

I suspect this harvest
contained Nouns in the Upper Case —
since Love has been known
to reveal itself — an Incarnation of sorts —
in bells, colors, and caps

swaying on stalks —
a Choir not forgettable
in the humblest clods of Earth
that seem to know chapter —
and yes — Verse— about Rebirth.

~William Hammett

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Monday, January 3, 2022

The Importance of Buttered Toast

I have never written a poem about a Buddhist monk
because the one I knew would not open the window of his soul.

He was in the business of unconcern and renunciation,
trying to get the hell out of Dodge for good

so that the the great mandala
would not hook his saffron-colored robe

and spin his karma through another lifetime.
He told me that we didn’t really exist,

which to me is like buttering toast
only to find that breakfast is a scam.

I put a period on a blank page and then erased it.
“Now you’re getting the hang of it,” he said.

I didn’t think it was much of a poem
even though he said it was my best work to date

before assuming the lotus position,
as if he were posing for a Moody Blues album cover.

That’s when I put the period back on the page,
a Zen act of pure whoop-dee-doo,

but I still maintain that it wasn’t a poem.
It was merely a bit of untethered punctuation

taught to me by a gaggle of Catholic nuns
who relished living every day in Dodge.

They were sometimes a mean bunch of black and whites,
but we agreed that buttered toast was buttered toast.

~William Hammett

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