Thursday, April 28, 2022

Tales Told to the Water

A stone’s throw from the Café Du Monde,
I sit on a wooden bench
facing the jeweled lights of the Crescent City
reflected in the swirling midnight currents
of the Ojibwa’s ribbon of big river.
A cargo-carrying behemoth,

dark except for red running lights,
rounds Algiers Point, searching for the Gulf.
I hypothesize that its belly is heavy with tractors
destined for rich farmland in Ethiopia
and that the engineer does splendid card tricks
and even made his girlfriend disappear into thin air.

The captain, a bigamist with wives
in St. Louis and Liverpool, smokes a Calabash pipe
while thinking of his grand charade.
One of the deckhands cries himself to sleep
because his daughter is a cloistered nun
who knows that his soul is laden like Ulysses’,

his memories a wartime landscape
littered with alcohol and broken promises
to a little girl and a now-forgotten god.
The freighter glides silently under the bridge
until it is obscured by dark miles of night.
I christen it the Acropolis

because I, the omniscient narrator,
have decided that its registry is Greek
and that Zeus has once again been unkind
to sailors trying escape the view from Olympus.
I will not submit these stories for publication.
They are only tales told to the water,

which may, by providence too deep to fathom,
wash against the hull of a freighter
and be read by men who, seeing their lives
exposed and written on a slate-gray sea,
will find safe harbor, love, and redemption.

~William Hammett

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Thursday, April 21, 2022

Film at Eleven

The young lovers plan their life together
with an algorithm of the heart
running on calendar pages not yet printed.

The stodgy professor solves the Collatz conjecture,
looks at the chalk ciphers on his blackboard,
and wonders whether the elegance of his proof

will be understood by a world twisted into pretzel logic.
Our silver moonchild inches from the Earth
at the rate of one foot per year.

In a billion years, will it careen
through interstellar space, the big blue marble
having to weather the empty nest?

Will the flowers in my garden bloom
or remain unpublished because of the need
for further editorial comment by a rake?

Will carousels around the world die from entropy
or speed up and become blurry time machines,
hurling children into the twenty-fifth century?

Perhaps the young lovers will ride a carousel,
stare at the rebellious moon,
and solve all variables in the equation of love.

Perhaps the evening blossoms into a psychedelic flower,
unfolding in unpredictable ways.
There was a time when my third eye

could predict the coming of days,
but age is a cataract that folds my brain into haze.
I take three steps and get a little older before I sleep,

before I watch the prophetic newsreel of my dreams.
Its headlines will surely tell me how everything goes down
beyond the horizon and all temporal seams.

~William Hammett

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Thursday, April 14, 2022

Wide River

The river is wide enough
to carry creation to the sea—
forest, stone, poems written on fern,
obits and records of birth

and all that lies in between,
fury of the furnace and the jealousy of ice—
all are flowing in this liquid time
to a nonrepeating decimal place

lost in the infinity of pi.
Nothing is forgotten
in this rush to the genesis of resurrection.
I see my grandfather’s rocking chair.

It was his cradle and throne,
its spindles and curved runners
riding a blue quantum wave.
His spirit is surely swimming in the current,

half in and half out of the grave.
I climb the steps to his wooden porch
and sit in an antique chair,
wondering at what point in the afternoon

I will see myself gliding by,
smiling and none the worse for wear.

~William Hammett

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Thursday, April 7, 2022

The Luncheon on the Grass

I am fascinated, though perhaps I shouldn’t be,
with Edouard Manet’s The Luncheon on the Grass,
known as Le Déjeuner sur l’herbe
if one smokes French cigarettes with gold satin filters.

A nude woman sits in the grassy shade,
and two young male dandies, a slight leer
on their bearded, aristocratic faces,
are dressed in black frock coats and frippery.

Another woman has pared down
to her birthday suit to skinny dip in the background.
Hmm. Let me emphasize that: hmm.
Did the foursome set off to have a picnic,

with the men casually remarking
once the wine and cheese were unpacked,
“Hey, you ladies should take off your clothes”?
Were the women suddenly overcome with the vapors,

too hot to keep their ample bosoms under wraps?
I sometimes wonder if, a few acres to the left,
Max Yasgur is watching Richie Havens
take the stage to sing “Handsome Johnny”

to a crowd of hippies half a million strong.
These are mere stragglers who didn’t heed the warning
not to take the brown acid.
Speaking of . . .

It seems plausible that bad mushrooms
are hiding behind the basket of food,
the men thinking they’re looking at pumpkins,
the women tripping on ergot cheese.

I just can’t find a narrative to go with such bucolic hijinks.
I have one theory roundly rebuffed:
The flying saucer left minutes earlier.
The men are dazed because of missing time,

and the plump ladies will give birth to alien babies.
Jackson Pollack will be hired years later
by the infamous Men in Black
to squirt away the large gray heads

with water guns filled with paint,
the portrait having been commissioned
by people wearing tin foil hats in Roswell.

~William Hammett

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Friday, April 1, 2022


It is warm, and I throw off
the white sheet that floats
like a sail on a dark ocean.

I push back the curtain
and open the window
on this moon-driven night

and float onto a branch.
The neighborhood is quiet,
and I fly to the top rail

of an iron fence
and then to a telephone line
before perching on the edge

of a tilted concrete birdbath
where I drink a few warm drops of dew.
I realize that I am dreaming of being a man,

one of those two-legged creatures
who drags himself along the sidewalk
and has no real connection

to the sky or the rain or the grass,
but lumbers into one of the large wooden nests

that have windows that sometimes open like eyes
on warm moon-driven nights.

~William Hammett

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