Monday, November 21, 2022

Magnetism

Magnetic lines of force arc from pole to equator,
equator to pole so that the calendar sticks to the fridge.
In the junkyard, a giant crane lifts iron

with the ease of a white-gloved magician.
The salmon and the whale fantail the ocean’s foam
so as to mate where the metal dart hits the map

with impossible precision, like finding the pearl
of great price in the chaos of a Byzantine bazaar.
Such is the magic and mystery of the meant-to-be

I do not know the substrate of why or the collusion of when,
only that a woman in a white lace gown serves tea.
The ritual simply exists, and the teacups are Zen.

The tea was harvested in a far-off land by two lovers
who were drawn together by the simple song of a wren,
by magnetic lines of force where destiny always hovers.

~William Hammett


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Friday, November 11, 2022

Artisan

He works with weathered hand, spins a mandala
to fashion wet clay into a vase, a teacup,
a mountain molded by the pure artistic matter
of sinew and muscle and manifest mind.
His work is miniscule yet vauntingly vast,
glazed with caramel coats of conscience
pondering the reality of the true maker of memes.
He wears jeans or robes or nothing at all
if it suits his craft to remove what clouds the eye.
He is a xylophone of beneficent bones
or the inspiration of Promethean fire.
He is the claims adjuster who sets things right
with a bit of leather strap or a length of copper wire.

~William Hammett


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Friday, November 4, 2022

Migrations

When I was four, ten thousand birds would fly
over uptown New Orleans on variegated fall afternoons,
the sky closing down faster in its pantomime of purple.

Cool October evenings know when it is time to surrender.
I wanted only to float into this chevron migration
and beat my wings in iambic pentameter to swell a scene or two.

Wise in the ways of equinox, they knew that Ecclesiastes
had nothing to say about this time between times.
A different October canopy spreads above me now,

but I do not seek the escape of a childhood sparrow rhyme.
I sit on a bench and roll into brush strokes on the horizon,
marveling at the broad parameters of dusk.

And yet it is not time to surrender to the cool change
tapping on my bones or seeking closure for my brain.
There are many skies to travel yet, many hills to climb.

~William Hammett


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Friday, October 28, 2022

Equations

The future astronomers gesticulate and talk
about supernovas and questions swallowed by black holes
while lit majors try to unravel the Gordian Knot

that is the streaming prose of Joyce and Proust.
Two lovers speak of biology, their arms encircled
around each other’s waists like a double helix

as they silently rehearse the spiraling pleasure
they will take when the clock tower chimes two.
The dusty chalkboard behind me is littered

with numbers and Greek letters I do not understand.
I move to the sash window, paint flakes on the floor,
and look again at the brilliant white sidewalks

crisscrossing the quad as if it were a Union Jack.
Everyone below is an equation trying to solve an equation.
I study the branches of a salacious sycamore

a few feet from the pane of glass, the veins
of each green leaf a roadmap to creation’s cause.
In an old wooden desk, I sit and break the spine

of an analog textbook to read a line from Wordsworth.
There is really no pressing mystery to be solved
on this day dyed in deep shades of spring.

My mind wanders lonely as a cloud
in a room where idleness, no longer quadratic, is allowed.
For me, the world is a sum that has been reconciled—

the numbers and Greek letters now align—
to the right of some cosmic equals sign.

~William Hammett


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Friday, October 21, 2022

The Old Man and the Cart

He pulls his wooden cart through the alleys of a city.
He is old and gray, and yet his arms are long and limber,
rotating like bicycle pedals as he gleans treasure
from lives cast off helter-skelter on backwater stone:

a pair of shoes, a crooked table, pulleys and chain,
a self-portrait by an artist who had little self-esteem.
There is no such thing as junk to this connoisseur of nuts and bolts,
of chicken wire or wooden spindles that clattered in looms

and machines that hummed and turned into inventors’ dreams,
bric-a-brac becoming threads that weave the tapestry of a king
on a castle wall or a hovel where the embroidered feathers
of a peacock may spread wide in diversity and sing.

The man brings the day’s bounty to a barn at the edge of town.
Come sundown, the people of the city will, like mice
running in the dark, pick clean this multiplicative museum
in order to add to their own collections of the world reborn:

a toy, a milking stool, or a tattered virgin’s gown.
Such are the acts of God as he collects chapter and verse
when piecing together star stuff into nickel-iron orbs,
when every now and then he tidies up, or invents, a universe.

~William Hammett


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Tuesday, October 11, 2022

The Flower Girl

She wears a yellow sun dress and white apron
as she catalogues spring in Solomon’s speckled field.
A straw bonnet shades her cheek, surely not for modesty,
and she carries a basket of white evangelical daisies

praising heaven though their wings have been clipped for now.
Who would question this golden-haired mistress of the morn?
Unexpectedly, she turns and steps from the painting
onto the gallery floor—no one perceives the three-dimensional sin—

and threads the stem of a lazy lilting daffodil
through a buttonhole over the quickening of my heart.
She kisses me with lips as red and ripe as strawberries
before walking to the museum door and the street beyond.

On the canvas, a brunette invites me to a picnic on the grass.
I accept, for who am I to resist the call of lascivious love.
How long I have tasted the vintage of come hither
from the wineskin of this country-bred lass—

a day, a year, or a century’s slow waltz—
is not a matter of importance to patrons and guests.
No matter, for she has blue poppy eyes above peony cheeks
and, under her rough cotton dress, wild roses for breasts.

~William Hammett


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Monday, October 3, 2022

A Sliver of Moon

It is a comma on a page of night sky
separating all that was from all that will be,
a pause in the event horizon that is today,
the slender moment that is the here and now.
It shines on tall silver grass marking a path
through the peeling parchment of birch trees
and winding ever east through sacred clearings
so that a pilgrim may stop, worship, and bow.
He takes a step, and then another and another
into a cosmos that he writes with syntax
borrowed from a grammar of possibility.
He is author, scholar, and avatar from a new world,
lines from a work in progress lyrically unfurled.

~William Hammett


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Tuesday, September 20, 2022

Falling Into You

I fall like the sun onto yellow straw
and then, in the abandoned loft, into you.

In the morning we walk through green grass
to the stream that flows into a tributary of rivers

and the clear liquid gravity that you spin anew.
On the wide ocean under the nude sky

I lie upon the swell that is your breast.
Seven times seventy times around the globe

the current bears me wide and warm,
and I only wish to drink in more,

the tidal pull of your eyes bringing me rest
as I fall into you, fall into you.

~William Hammett


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Wednesday, September 7, 2022

Black Lady Mountain

The black stone of Nui Ba Den rises above rice paddies
and thin farmers toiling beneath cone-shaped straw hats
as they herd oxen over dirt and bone dust
surrounding green rectangles and reflecting pools.

At night the full moon sits atop the peak,
staring at grass and water like the silver eye of a carp.
Underneath the muddy Mekong is a broken helicopter blade,
a sword beaten into a ploughshare a few miles

from the tattered threads of the Ho Chi Minh Trail.
A gentle wind combs the water and the rice weed,
summoning forth the moaning of long-forgotten ghosts.
It is unclear whether they are crying or finally making love.

~William Hammett

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Wednesday, August 31, 2022

Leaving Las Vegas

It is like leaving Las Vegas, this renunciation
of neon and the megawatt blink of electric sex,

as I drive across The Painted Desert into the high mountains
of hemlock, streams, and firs, a snow-capped peak

reflecting the sun like a cold mirror.
It is freedom to leave the tawdry, tanned hookers

and their slots, dinner shows feathered with fan dancers
and live nude girls, stripping the strip of Seguro cactus,

the totems that made the brown land into a sacred scroll.
I will drink the clear mountain lake to the dregs

and inhale the invisible periphery of stratosphere,
rarified and pure and all-knowing,

the lens of God’s eye beholding that which is meant to be.
The eagle and the hawk ride the glory of updrafts,

spinning the sky into a soul that lives in a thousand layers of land.
It is good to be here, good to be where no footprint
has sullied the rocks, the grass, or the riverbed of sand.

~William Hammett


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Wednesday, August 24, 2022

The Boat

We will go down to the sea in a ship, my love and I,
and we shall listen to whale songs in the night
and observe the treaty of dolphins and doves.

We shall lie together on the blue calm of the Pacific,
our legs entwined, our lips as moist as plums.
Together we shall man the mainsail, jib, and spinnaker

white nylon rope singing through the winch
as we leverage the boom from starboard to port
depending on where the winds of our heaving spirits merge

to send us careening across the equator’s neverending vow.
The bow will divide the waves symmetrically
as when a woman yields to desire, warm and accepting

of a male plow making fertile the rich land
while creating new waves of paroxysm and ever-cresting joy.
We will pull down sails and ride gray swells

when the tempest angles our sloop to the sky,
clouds racing like zephyrs in obedience to Olympian commands.
And when becalmed, we shall behold a thousand midnight stars

while sitting in the stern, her arm a slipknot around my waist.
How glorious to sail on an ocean seven fathoms deep,
lost with the love of my love, soul of my soul.

Such is my longing and such is my heart
when Eros touches the mariner’s art.

~William Hammett


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Wednesday, August 17, 2022

Lotus

I sit on a lotus petal and observe a mountain in the distance.
It floats above the horizon like a mirage, and perhaps it is.

The flower rises from muddy water and climbs the sky
like an avatar blossoming into sevenfold salvation,

opening and closing to the royal rhythm of a rishi.
But the mountain is suddenly anchored to igneous rock,

and I am seated on a fallen tree trunk, a failed aspiration.
My path to the divine traverses rutted roads

that do not blossom into green meadows of enlightenment.
My feet gather bone dust on heel and toe, heel and toe.

I will not float to the heavens on a blue petal wing.
I shall take the long way home and study the toad and fern

and the humdrum ministrations of the potter’s wheel.
I will plumb the depths of eveningtide when humble crickets sing.

~William Hammett

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Wednesday, August 10, 2022

Black Holes and Poetry

Words and syllables leech into the universe
through the event horizon spinning in my brain,
a point with no location or mass, no Newtonian coordinates.

The lines come from a muse hiding in an alternate reality,
a poet squared uttering images into a wormhole,
ideas to be translated by a tongue wagging in the Milky Way.

A man and a woman walk along a shaded path
before making love in a sun-dappled green field.
A steady rain washes them like quicksilver into the next stanza,

where they exchange letters, each writing on a different continent
because of infidelity, duty, war, or an uncommon plague.
A man eating a vendor’s pretzel stands on a New York street corner.

He once owned a sunny field where he found two lovers,
naked and alone and kissing after walking along a shaded path.
He has just left his employ—stamping postmarks on letters

written by a man in New York and a woman in Rome.
The content of these missives from the heart remains a mystery,
for in that other world, where the higher poet lives,

the quantum bard has taken a break to eat tea and toast and jam.
I am a humble scribe fencing pictures from the pregnant void,
but today I dare to disturb a universe poised on the edge of a daffodil.

The man and the woman reunite and once again make love,
and it is their child who has taken the time to write this poem.

~William Hammett


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Tuesday, August 2, 2022

In the Wings

The pretender stands between two black curtains,
ropes and pulleys running to the ceiling
like the rigging of a ship delivering far-fetched tales

to a land hungry for narrative escape.
Parapets and drawbridges float above his head,
scenery constructed by the author of all things below.

He listens to lines of dialogue recited on castle ramparts,
counting the beats, measuring each iambic strobe of life
before inhaling and stepping across wooden boards

into the terrible and glorious lights of the proscenium.
“The troops have arrived, m’lord!”
And then he is gone, sequestered in a dressing room

before being turned loose at the stage door.
A bus lumbers by, and he waves away exhaust
with a hand that moments earlier wore a white glove

and gestured to a prince of some dire warning of invasion.
At home, he sits on a couch in front of the TV
and surveys white cartons from a Chinese takeout

arranged like a small fortress waiting for a siege.
Tomorrow he will get a call from the author of all things below
as do we all before stepping into a world hungry for narrative,

having waited in the wings for our cue to swell a scene
and tend to matters most mundane but necessary to the show.

~William Hammett


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Tuesday, July 26, 2022

Carny

The carny pulls moon-eyed gawkers into his weathered canvas tent,
his gravel voice scraped raw by a million cigarettes,
his lusty call the shepherd’s crook of a midway devil combing sawdust

for meandering curiosity that would lose its soul for a nickel,
people looking for salvation in a bearded, fire-breathing fiend
or Siamese twins sitting in a double double-breasted suit,

hair slicked back with snake oil and glossolalia born of hell.
The hawker’s skin is brown leather born of merciless summer sun,
camouflaged by calliope notes wheezing sharp and flat

and a smile poured from the pint of liquor in his purple vest.
At night he sleeps on the raw mattress ticking in a bunk
sagging in a trailer park of muscle men and whores.

The tattoos on his arms and chest come alive—“Marvels one and all!”
and slide across his body like slippery serpents with an eye on Eden,
freaks and geeks already rehearsing tomorrow’s deadly show.

~William Hammett


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Tuesday, July 19, 2022

The Comet

Dancing with the Oort Cloud on the edge of reality,
frozen ballerinas in white dresses of snow
flirting with the stranger from so many miles below,

the comet turns slowly to behold the belly of fire
that eons ago created its nickel-iron soul.
He has been a nomad with a heart of stone

for seventy years and change, a prodigal
who leans inward to a half-forgotten love.
His elliptical dive spins memories in retrograde

as solar winds sweep dust and ice like a valet
into tails of a white tuxedo billowing in the void.
Transformed from old man to dancer come late to the ball,

he sheds skin like a snake, his youthful brain on fire
with hope that gravity will gyre and break his fall.
Surely Lazarus felt this magnetic pull of life

as he stuttered from the cold, dark tomb,
white burial shrouds trailing in the wind
as bright yellow light streamed across his born again face.

~William Hammett


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Tuesday, July 12, 2022

Deposition

The robin clings tenaciously to his branch
and his testimony in the shaded witness dock
to verify that the man stopped
on the darkest evening of the year

and that the horse did indeed
give his harness bells a shake.
There was a moment deeper than silence
as the man inhaled the breath of solstice,

as he watched the woods fill with winter snow
in the absence of a farmhouse or human eye
that could penetrate the haze of downy flake
and watch temptation form an ugly shape.

“Yes,” the robin states, sole witness to the scene.
“The woods were lovely and seemed to speak,
but the man chose to live, not die.
There were too many loose ends

hanging like autumn leaves
still in love with their tree,
too many promises in the snow, ankle deep.”
I put the transcript on the nightstand,

the sound of easy wind outside the door.
Too many have fallen in winters of discontent.
I close my eyes, but still they see. They see
the miles that I must tread before I sleep.

~William Hammett


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Tuesday, July 5, 2022

Shotgun House

It’s five in the afternoon, and the old black man
plays his twenty-seven-dollar guitar on the front porch
that sags a little deeper as he makes the lyrics ache.

The shotgun house is loaded with memories
of a gravel voice, majors and sharps and flat-out Cs.
As axemen are fond of saying, he can really bend the strings.

The air smells like the muddy Mississippi five blocks away,
and the calliope on the steamboat pipes circus music
to a cirrus cloud that looks like a bow tie floating

above a Mardi Gras ball where Comus and Rex swap wives.
Mudfoot, as he is known, has a recording contract
with his neighbors, who wear wifebeaters and fix their own cars.

He played backup for Chuck Berry in nineteen-fifty-six
and cut a demo at Sun records called “Two Below in Tupelo.”
The sky grows a deeper blue as a buxom black woman

balancing fruit on her head like Carmen Miranda calls out
“Blackberries! Watermelons! Fruit on the vine!”
The old man goes inside to eat a plate of red beans and rice.

On Saturday it will be crawfish and a bottle of beer.
He shares a bed with the ghost of his wife Mabel,
who still whispers sweet nothings in his ear

as he turns in his sagging hall of fame
and dreams of how he and Chuck set the crowd on fire
with a little mojo and a taste of the twelve bar blues.

He grins and says, “I’m the happiest man this side of Sunday,
and when I die, I ain’t even gonna make the six o’clock news.”

~William Hammett

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Monday, June 27, 2022

Sanctuary

English ivy clings to the red-brick walls,
but more as a lover in sensual embrace
than a prisoner scaling mortar to the meadow beyond.

My sanctuary is painted in peonies, larkspur,
evening primrose, and daylilies for annual hire.
This garden is ample enough to hold my solitary soul

and its clothes that grow more ill-fitting
as seasons slide surreptitiously from the sundial to my brow.
I sit in a slanted wooden chair and read Wordsworth

through bifocals, a cup of tea on the table by my side.
At the end of The Prelude—oh, what irony!—I close my eyes
so that I may view the mountains and valleys of the world,

and yes, the meadow, which the ivy can now see
because awareness has risen like kundalini through its sap-filled spine.
I am as free as the robin perched atop the northwest corner.

He can survey the land or fly—it’s all the same to him.
I sip the tea and open my life again,
its pages bound each to each by natural piety.

~William Hammett

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Tuesday, June 21, 2022

Wine-Dark Seas

Odysseus sailed the wine-dark seas
as the wind pushed his aging bark—
now starboard, now port, now starboard again—
past the sultry lure of siren song
which could spin the very clouds into lust.
He was young and then old, full of piss and vinegar
and then weary of even his own tales twice told
of leveling the the once-mighty parapets of Troy.
Upon returning to Ithaca, beard falling to his waist,
his second wind caught a second wind.
There would be no caring for the household gods,
and once again he set sail upon wine-dark seas.

I mow the lawn, put the groceries away,

and arrange my books from the tallest to the shortest.

I have leveled a good many years along the way

by simply waking up and spinning the hours like a wheel,

each with a hundred spokes, a hundred tasks

that rarely called me to draw a metaphorical sword

or adorn my chest with imaginary leather breastplates.

Still, there are evenings when the sky rolls purple

and the linnet’s wings beat a clear rhythm across twilight.

Then I am full of piss and vinegar again

and hear the long-forgotten call of a siren song.

I walk to the shore without turning back

so that I may, with a beard longer and gray,

sail upon unknown wine-dark seas.


~William Hammett


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Tuesday, June 14, 2022

Apocalypse

This is how the world ends
Not with a bang but a whimper

                        from "The Hollow Men"
                        by T.S. Eliot


It will not begin with angels peeling back the sky
as if they were opening a can of sardines.
Commuter trains will still leave New Haven on time
and find an underground home at Grand Central.

Elevators in cathedrals of glass and steel
will carry souls down through Dante’s nine circles of hell
so they can crowd the deli or find the apartment
on the Upper East Side rented to a pseudonym.

The Color Guard will parade down Main Street
on the Fourth of July, and the high strutters in white boots
will serve lemonade while Charon sits idle,
waiting to ferry drunken hardware clerks

down the River Lethe nine miles past Kansas farms and fields.
The general populace will march deeper into quicksand
or find itself knee-deep in swamp sedge
until the sky is indeed gone and darkness closes like a fist.

The firmament will disappear, though by degrees,
but only as a result of disinherited angels
who turn off their alarm clocks, shave, eat breakfast,
and learn that it is nine minutes past Armageddon.

~William Hammett

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Tuesday, June 7, 2022

The Shed

It is late afternoon as I walk down the grassy lane
that leads to the brown wooden shed
where it is time to rest the jigsaw puzzle that is me

while the Earth rolls into darkness
in order to spin a new day that is even now
hiding far below the pine trees on the horizon.

I put my soul in the empty yellow coffee can on the shelf
and hang my wrinkled skin on a rusty nail
by heavy tools pegged on rough, uneven slats,

slumping like weary soldiers home from the war.
A faded circus poster advertising acrobats
hangs opposite the door and reminds me of a soulmate

that slipped through a crack in the wall
when I was young and life had been cursed by a witch.
Brushes and tubes of dried acrylic paint

are stored in a barrel next to the iron stove.
I have not painted a portrait or a landscape
since the time before there was a time

that reached into the soil and found enough rainwater
to produce a bumper crop of weeds and brown grass.
I open a cracked leather Bible and read

“This is my body. This is my body.”
I lie down on a neatly-folded brown Army blanket
and will sleep until the coming of dawn

unless darkness decides to hold down the fort
for an extended time and delay my resurrection
until some future golden morn.

~William Hammett

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Tuesday, May 31, 2022

Plum-Sweet

There is nothing so succulent and sweet
as a ripe plum hanging from its branch in due season.

Standing in the green shade of such a tree,
I yield to temptation and pluck the purple fruit,

holding its moist, curved skin against my face,
juice running down parted lips.

Surely this is the kiss we tasted when the world was new
and mild days made love to cool nights.

I lie in blades of grass and close my eyes
as a leaf makes its journey to the ground,

passing lightly across my cheek like a whisper.
Such is the hand of a maiden sweet,

her heart filled with passion’s nectar,
one whose skin is soft, whose breasts are perfectly round.

~William Hammett

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Tuesday, May 24, 2022

We Write the Endings

The prologue, of course, is completely beyond our control.
Some author, upper case or lower, with a meticulous outline—
names and dates, chapter and verse—

drops us into his template for fiction,
and we begin to run, sprint, or power walk,
swinging through trees with boyhood ballyhoo

and stealing kisses that are uncommonly sweet.
After unrolling sheepskins and linen with a high thread count,
we become surgeons, bankers, tinkers, tailors

hammering three-penny nails that fix us
to mortgages and mates and babies mewling.
Life whines like thread running through a spool

or the reel of an angler who has flirted with a tarpon run amok.
Shakespeare, now professor emeritus at the university on the hill,
laughs as he thinks of the seven ages of man,

who crawls into cataracts, catacombs, and assisted living and dying.
The backstory having fallen out of the plot long ago,
life becomes a free writing exercise.

We are characters in search of a story,
freewheeling our way through leap years
while adlibbing most of the dialogue.

That’s when we come up against the denouement, isn’t it?
This is when we realize that whatever has gone down,
even hurricanes and borderline wives and chill to the bone,

it is we who write the endings published in actuarial years
but far more likely chiseled in polished granite stone.

~William Hammett

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Wednesday, May 18, 2022

Saxophone Perfume

My mistress, the evening,
lingers by Bourbon Street jazz club,
stars falling into the endless tangles
of her hazy, honeyed hair.
Her alto scent,
seven notes of pure siren song,
charms the cobblestones
heavy with cinnamon secrets.
Cognac spills amber into dusk.

Her song slides along alleys
and finds me at the café
as I scratch rhymes
on the napkin under my gin and tonic.
Small wonder I write couplets
in the key of everlasting G.

Smoke deep in her lungs
blows jasmine into twilight,
and the body electric tenses
as brass notes melt magnolia trees
loitering on the Esplanade Avenue
at the end of the sweet, tawdry midway.

Darkness is ripe with tropical orchids
and the rendezvous of shadows,
where strip clubs turn into shotgun homes.
Neon lips are sweet
as they fold over the mouthpiece of the last set.

After 2 a.m.
the air is heavy with cicadas’ rasp
and the seduction of saxophone perfume
that renders the old familiar tunes:
a cinnabar kiss on the street corner,
a waitress finishing her shift,
a whore turning in her sleep,
head-over-john and fit to be tied.

I cannot compete with the Quarter’s free verse.
Weary, I close my eyes
and count backwards from ten,
never reaching one.

~William Hammett

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