Thursday, February 24, 2022

So Much Depends upon a Windowsill

My apologies from the outset.
I have not managed to tame this poem,
these scattershot words masquerading as art.
It started as a brief description

of an Italian man who carves a doll
for his granddaughter, freckled and five,
from a pine log found in the Apennines.
I grew distracted with that rhyme—

pine and Apennine—
and my mind wandered like an untethered balloon.
Suddenly I was in St. Peter’s Square
listening to the Pope, who I think is the cat’s pajamas,

as he spoke from the balcony to a gaggle of nuns
and pilgrims who had come to find solace
in papal blessings and a carafe of chianti.
I was already in Italy,

so I went with the flow and kept writing.
My Spanish is ramshackle roughshod,
and my Italian never materialized
from the quantum field of linguistic potential,

so my free verse ended in a poetic cul-de-sac.
I entered a Vatican museum but stumbled
into Dan Brown, who positively insisted
that I hold up a mirror so he could decipher

a seventeenth century manuscript on pigeons,
naturally written backwards in Portuguese,
and thereby save his latest girlfriend
from being blown up by the Illuminati.

At this point, my legerdemain with words failed,
and I decided that this poem
should be about a cat sunning himself in a window.
He’s content to leave well enough alone.

I mean, William Carlos Williams wrote
that so much depends upon a red wheelbarrow and chickens,
so why not a cat, sans pajamas, who believes
that so much depends upon a warm windowsill?

~William Hammett

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Friday, February 18, 2022

Big Sky Country

The name is no mere hyperbole.
The sky is unbounded blue, impossibly vast,
extending from the horizon before me
to the razor thin line to the south.

All is quiet except for the occasional murmur
of wind combing grass and tugging on my sleeve.

Two arcs on either side connect them both
without a seam, hitch, or geometric vowel.

In the far distance. low mountain peaks
have the audacity to break the smoothness
of the world’s rim, but that is okay.

It is merely a bit of filigree work
carved by earth or sky—I do not know which.

And though the land is majestic in its monotony
as it flies off in all directions without permission,
painted in broad strokes by a brush

held by the hand of a lingering Lakota spirit,
every point of latitude and longitude
is the center of this loping cowboy universe.

Blue and brown grasses mix like a Monet,
gloriously uneven since the seasons are changing
and the last cold front has signaled surcease
by rolling like white carpet into Canada.

My feet make contact with the ground,
not that gravity weighs me down
since I am lightheaded as I stand surrounded
by so much of everything and nothing.

I do not recall how I got here,
though I suppose I must have walked
unless I was placed here as an advanced scout
by the Lakota hand that takes nothing for granted.

Or perhaps I was snagged by a diurnal dreamcatcher.

I love my Creole home—it’s music and food
and delightful jumble of vernacular pidgin.

But sometimes I need the absence
of streets and brick and telephone wires.

Mr. Taylor flies gingerly to Carolina,
but I occasionally I go to Wyoming in my mind.

~William Hammett

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Sunday, February 13, 2022

Rue Montclair

Beauty is truth, truth beauty,—that is all
        Ye know on earth, and all ye need to know.

                                    from “Ode on a Grecian Urn”

                                    by John Keats



Let us assume for no apparent reason

that the name of the street is Rue Montclair,

an ordinary lane miles from the electric frenzy of Paris.

And let us further assume that it is a spring day—

any day in April will do.

It is two in the afternoon.

There is time to look forward with a modicum of anticipation

as well as look back with a minimum of regret.

And there is time to sweep and polish

the gloriously mundane that hangs invisibly

from rooftops of curved tiles and gray slate.

Such is our stage, for we are going to observe

the lazy, mosquito-like activity of this offshoot.

Call us peeping toms or sociologists

or painters looking for a suitable subject

to put on canvas—it makes no difference.

A slim man with thin hair pedals a bicycle

with petunias in a basket hung on handlebars.

He works for the flower shop on the left,

the one with the weathered red awning

above a window with the unremarkable name

of Fleur Montclair, but it is all that it needs to be.

He passes a rotund balding man

carrying a brown paper sack of baguettes

from the bakery called Patisserie Celine.

A triangle of sunlight has shifted

ever-so-slightly since we’ve been watching,

perhaps by a degree of arc, no more,

so that it tilts more sharply against the masonry

of the stationer’s shop that carries exotic inks,

vellum, parchment, heavy linen paper.

It is said that even in the digital age

the French are absorbed by matters of the heart.

A handsome man buys note paper and writes,

“Dearest Anna, I love you more than a field

of white daisies and lilting daffodils. Love, Charles.”

Two lovers, arms around each other’s waists,

step absentmindedly over cobblestones

to cross our small work-in-progress.

They kiss, moist lip against moist lip,

which is exactly what two o’clock demands.

There is, of course, the mandatory café,

where someone drinks a small cup of coffee

while another anticipates evening with a glass of wine.

They stare at a point beyond our ken,

absorbed in reveries of things to come or moments lost.

It is time to leave now,

and whether we have witnessed stereotypes

or a street that somehow got caught

in a web of bygone days,

it is nevertheless serene as the sun grows brighter in its falling,

Would you not agree that it is almost too much to bear

to behold beauty that would fit

in a shadow box hung on wall in need of paint?

~William Hammett

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Monday, February 7, 2022

In the Wake of the Whale

'    'God save thee, ancient Mariner!
 From the fiends, that plague thee thus!
 Why look'st thou so?'—With my cross-bow
 I shot the Albatross.

                            from Rime of the Ancient Mariner
                        by Samuel Taylor Coleridge


Surely the world has been knocked off its axis,

tilting towards menacing, demonic Betelgeuse

rather than faithful, beatific Polaris,

shattering the righteousness of compass points.

Nature withers at the root, and the time is out of joint.

The sun and rain can no longer sign treaties

or find a fair and just armistice.

Saharan heat boils the Gulf of Mexico

while madmen who cannot add or subtract

clamber up marble steps to proclaim that the sky is falling,

to chant “Cry ‘Havoc!’ and let slip the dogs of war.”

The Black Death breathes heavy on the fool,

the snow leopard curling in its den

outside the icy gates of Tucson

while the San Andreas grinds its stone teeth

in anticipation of human sacrifice.

As for me, I choose to swim in the wake of the whale—

the humpback, right, blue, and gray—

as it travels ancient routes in blue-green grace

and sings love songs now lost in translation.

Let others ply the wake of rush hour traffic.

I choose the mariner’s phosphorescent seas,

flukes carving cursive script, a scripture

rich in liquid vowels and sacred nouns

that speak of Omega’s distant rise

and a return to the bare breast of innocence,

to the spirit hovering over the deep

before it recreates paradise.

~William Hammett

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