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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Wednesday, May 11, 2022

A Far Cry from Innisfree

Weary of the coal-fired gridlock of cityscape,
my mind balks at subway token hustle and jive,
wheels on steel below obsidian ground
and the hard-shoe pavement slap of nine-to-five.
Hours of jet lag burn the brain,
and the blare of taxi horns, like a pinball,
bounces from bone to bone, pain to pain.
The surgical steal of a skyscraper pierces the sky
and bleeds the unsullied thought trying to rise.
Lumbering buses and commuter trains
rock hope and desire to an early grave
while impaling musical notes, once so pure,
hanging on the troubadour’s clef and stave.
The button-down guru chants his spreadsheet mantras,
a gong opening and closing the wailing of Wall Street,
the moneychanger’s table still not overturned.
But I too will arise and go now,
forsaking the usual metropolitan beat,
and find the wood-pure cabin in the trees,
the peace that comes dropping slow.
I shall sift the softened boughs of pine
before striking creative flint and stone,
before drinking the hamadryad’s sacred wine.
Then will I write and paint the natural colors of thought
and sing a song to the silvered lawn, the ring-neck loon,
courtesy of crickets and the mystical midnight moon.

~William Hammett

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Wednesday, May 4, 2022

Paleolithic

The acacia is two-dimensional and
pasted against the orange sun,
bloated as it falls by degrees below
the bleached savannah grass.
An entourage of stars follows in its wake,
diamonds displayed on black velvet.
Cricket philosophers discuss the circadian loss of light
and the inevitable folding of day into night.
The earth, now cured of fever, begins to breathe again,
and wanton seeds are free to indulge in lust.
A spark of fire in the distance,
a white pinprick in the evolution of darkness,
reveals that it is man who has grown from the clay.
He raises his head, jaw open and set,
already the ostentatious fool,
and issues a howl that will echo for millennia
in the valleys of war and peace
and up through the fragile taproots of life.
A lion roars, and myths are hammered into bronze
as invincible gods rule prophetic constellations
that pinwheel across uncomprehending minds.
In the morning, sunlight strikes steel and glass
jutting audaciously above the horizon,
the subway beneath Manhattan roaring.
Philosophers and shamans are quiet for now
as a secretary strides across the savannah.
Her forehead and brow grow to enormous proportions
as she begins to chisel letters
into the bark of the acacia tree.

~William Hammett

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