Monday, November 26, 2007

Eight Threads from the Morning News

"Found poems" are fascinating, juxtaposing random words and phrases from written source materials such as newspapers in such a way as to suggest any number of meanings. It is an avante-garde form, I suppose, since the found poem creates a tone more than anything else. I first discovered this form by reading Annie Dillard's Mornings Like This, a collection of her found poems. Below is a found poem I did a few years ago based on one page from the morning paper.

Eight Threads from the Morning News

This column is dedicated to the professional hairstylists of the world.
The sad tale begins.
I wasn’t concerned.

On New Year’s Day, Debbie discovered a lump in her breast.
On Saturday, the woman was walking, talking, laughing.

More than 300 Baptist students wore 50s style clothes
and ate root beer floats delivered to them
by parents on roller skates.

What’s going on?
It’s your call.
Dark sunglasses are good.

A standing-room-only crowd responded to the symphony.
Basically Beethoven.
“This is what we work for,” he said.
“To have an overflow crowd, and I think we have it.”

Then, contemplating the box of hair color,
I remembered I’d been damaging my hair.
The moral of this story:
when it comes to your roots,
trust only the experts.

Signs have been posted
encouraging area residents
who witness littering
to report the incident.

Personalities are cloaked in closets.
I think about tales I hear from a co-worker.
I think of my daughter’s closet.

Copyright, William Hammett, 2003

Sunday, November 25, 2007

Collateral Damage

Let if be when,
and let when be whenever
the carrier churns its wake
into a frothy Arabian dream.
The children on the roof,
the old men talking coffee and kif,
will be born again
when the afterburners scream.
And then we shall all wake
and thank mighty Zeus
that the wooden horse could lock and load
on the peasant’s curtain door.
We will be grateful
that adulterous Illium burns once more,
that Cassandra’s tales of collateral misery
were the first casualties of war.

Copyright, William Hammett, 2004
Picture: Public Domain

Wednesday, November 21, 2007

The Picasso in My Bedroom

(First published in Black Buzzard Review, 1999)

The cotton T-shirt was pulled over her head
by isosceles triangles hanging on a plane of shoulder blade.
With the spire covered in cloud,
my eye fell suddenly south
to a flying buttress supporting a nave
and two rose windows in the full bloom of love.
But mostly it was intersecting lines of vestibule
that brought me moaning back to church
and the brown Spanish grotto
where it was hip to be so square.

Monday, November 19, 2007

Mabel Mae Goes to a Star Trek Convention

Mabel Mae Greene is a sixty-six-year-old African-American who lives next door. She’s a lovely woman who cooks me dinner once a week. She recently took a cab to the New Orleans Convention Center to attend a revival sponsored by the Cleveland Avenue First Baptist Church. Reverend Thaddeus Withers was to deliver a sermon titled “Conform Not to the Things of This World,” based on Romans 12:2.

The taxi dropped her off at the wrong door, however, and Mabel Mae thought that the Romulan who greeted her was simply wearing the church’s new, though highly unorthodox, choir robe. Just as her near-sighted eyes adjusted to the light in the convention center, two Klingons took her gently by the elbows and guided her into the Grand Ballroom. Because of Mabel Mae’s new hat, a wide-brimmed straw affair with shrimp boats on top, the Klingons thought she was surely an alien from the planet Rigel 7.

Now seated, Mabel Mae looked around and thought she needed to have a sit-down with her nephew and optometrist, Dooley Watts, who had recently been released from Angola State Penitentiary, where he’d served time for lewd and lascivious behavior toward a minor.

“When does the sermon start?” Mabel asked the Andorean in the seat next to hers.

“Shatner?” came the reply. “He’ll be out any minute.” The Andorean’s antenna brushed against one of Mabel Mae’s shrimp boats.

At this point, Mabel Mae was definitely not conforming to the things of this world.

When the captain turned Boston Legal barrister finally took the stage and began speaking, Mabel Mae gave up the standard “Amen!” and Alleluia!” every few seconds, just as she did for Reverend Withers on Cleveland Avenue. People laughed at first, but security approached after five minutes. Trekkies wanted to hear the Shat. Mabel Mae’s formidable back vinyl purse was at the ready to whack anyone who tried to forcibly evict her from the service.

“What’s the matter, dear?” Shatner called out.

“I want a little ‘Amazing Grace’ is all,” she yelled. “Is that too much to ask?”

“Of course not,” said the Shatner, who had several forgettable albums under his belt.

And so the entire ballroom began to sway back and forth to the strains of the beloved hymn, ole Bill leading his worshippers, happy that he didn’t have to answer any standard trek questions for the time being. Besides he loved to sing, if one could call it that.

Mabel Mae had been lost, but thanks to a thousand people from the twenty-third century, she’d been found.

(Picture: Public Domain)

Sunday, November 18, 2007

The Evening Is Full of Toads

The man sits on the porch that is dying.
The screens cannot be mended,
and the wood sags deeper than the dog.
The man tells stories, old stories
about a swing and a rock and a jar of toads.
Children listen while the sun
slides from a leaf at the edge of the woods.
A fox, because he is in the habit of stopping, listens.
“I married young,” the man says,
“but my wife died for no apparent reason.
She was buried under a new moon
by a preacher who was pale
and spoke water and stones and nonsense.
I also came to many conclusions about the seasons,
which often trade places with each other.”
The fox knows this to be true and moves on.
The dog, however, has heard this before and sleeps.
“I have given back everything I stole,” the man says.
“Nearly.” He unscrews a jar,
and the children feel more alive and hopeful,
though they do not understand why.
They are almost certain the man has died.
They walk home with old stories,
thinking of water and stones and nonsense.
The light is gone from the leaf,
but the evening is full of toads.

Copyright, William Hammett, 2002

Friday, November 16, 2007

Black Satin Dress

Well, I had a hankerin' to play pundit since I am a card-carrying iconoclast for lo these many years, so I have been fiddling around with a different blog called NewsDive. I am also a bit of a politico at heart. (I love that term.) It is a site devoted to satire and commentary, with a definite liberal slant. The link is in the sidebar. I just wish Blogger allowed people to use two different names/profiles so as to direct traffic to the right blog. It gets confusing. Hope everyone is well. Anyway, below is a poem that was published . . . somewhere a few years ago. Can't remember where.

Black Satin Dress

Cosmic background radiation
hisses from the phonograph
as you dance

in a long satin dress, black,
holding scotch neat,
inviting me with your hips

to feel the irresistible pull
of dark matter
collapsing into a kiss.

A diamond needle spirals
inward to the final groove.
The only sound is a hiss.

Friday, November 9, 2007

I Wear Old Shadows

I wear old shadows
and drink rainwater.
I sift through the evening news,
looking for a story on doves.

Often I stand for hours
in the window
of the Central Hotel
to provide a silhouette.

I converse with pigeons,
who know a thing or two
about retirement
and how the sun rises.

Jesus gave me a quilt
and a paperback novel
about the end of the world.

He said he was proud
of my service
in World War One.
He have me a hug.

I forgot to tell you--
my neighbor died on a bench
last winter.
For many hours

he was a monument to
the color blue
and the wind
and the texture of stone.

If I have time,
I will carve twilight
from a memory or two
and think of old kisses

and wine.
I will open the door
to my apartment
before dinner

and watch
the shadows of warriors
wander silently
down the hall.

Before bed,
I will listen to Mahler
on a transistor radio
through an open window.

Wednesday, November 7, 2007

Salamander Illusions

Richard Brautigan was a counterculture novelist and poet in the early seventies. His avante-garde novels still sell exceptionally well today at brick and mortar stores. My first novel, Salamander Illusions, used his short chapter format (though not his esoteric style). Agents liked it but thought it too quirky. An agent at Brandt & Hochman, however, suggested I try a small press, and Word Wrangler Publishing in Montana (where Brautigan had spent much time) picked it up. Here are the first two chapters. Like Brautigan's, they are very similar to flash fiction.

1. The Humming of a Refrigerator

And so I was sitting in the kitchen at eleven p.m. on a Wednesday night, and it was July and the window was open and the refrigerator was humming. I was drinking a bottle of beer, and the humming was the background radiation of the universe, the universal om, or so it seemed. It so happened that I was humming and buzzing as well, perhaps from the beer, perhaps from cosmic radiation, or perhaps because the ghost of Richard Brautigan sat in the chair on the other side of the Formica table and said “hi.” In the sixties and seventies, Brautigan had been a novelist, a counterculture icon before he entered permanent retirement by offing himself. He was humming a song, and somehow I knew that the song was about trout and watermelon sugar and the Springhill mining disaster and sombreros falling out of the sky and other things he had written about. I’d read Brautigan for many years and had come to this conclusion: He was weird and wrote offbeat prose, but he knew something the rest of us didn’t, something about the strange little cracks in reality which, if examined, can be found to be repositories of that most precious commodity—truth. Odd to find truth inside the San Andreas fault of the modern mind, but Brautigan managed to do just that. I smiled at him, and he smiled back.

“Welcome, Richard Brautigan," I said. "What brings you back here?”

“I think it was the humming of your refrigerator,” he answered. “I can’t be sure.”

We sat in silence for a few minutes until Latino music flared into existence from across the alley like a solar prominence and then died out.

“I’ve been writing stories,” I told him.

“That’s good,” he said. “Your next one should be about a refrigerator humming and a woman sitting here at this table, naked, drinking a beer.”

He smiled, and his moustache spread out like the wings of a condor awakening from a long slumber.

“Is that enough for a story?” I asked him.

“Of course. I can’t think of anything more interesting than a naked woman sitting in the kitchen late at night drinking a beer.”

“But the story doesn’t go anywhere,” I said.

“It has already arrived,” he replied. “Do you want a naked woman to leave your kitchen, a naked woman who is starting to buzz a bit from the beer?”

He had a point.

2. The Story of a Naked Woman

As Brautigan had suggested, Jaguar was sitting at my kitchen table. It was eleven p.m. on a Tuesday night, and she was naked and drinking a beer. The window was open, and Latino music from across the alley mixed with spicy molecules of night air. The refrigerator, of course, was humming.

Jaguar lifted the beer bottle to her lips and then raised it high in the air. She tilted her head back to get the last ounce of Budweiser, and as she did, her long black hair, hanging over the back of a kitchen chair, touched the linoleum floor. If there’s a more beautiful sight than hair going down while a beer bottle goes up, I don’t know what it is. Her bare legs, which seemed to stretch for half a mile or so, were propped up on another kitchen chair. That was, and is, also a beautiful sight to behold. Jaguar, mostly because of her legs, was a long woman—a long cool woman without a black dress or any kind of dress at all—as she sat, naked, listening to the hum of the refrigerator. We were sitting side by side, facing the open window.

“That music,” she said, “—it’s like a hot chili pepper. Or maybe a red neon sign in the darkness. I like it.”

“I do, too,” I said, taking a sip of beer.

We listened to the music for a while, not speaking to each other—just the both of us sitting naked and drinking beer.

“What do you intend to do?” I asked.

“Paint the hum of the refrigerator.”

This was not nearly as esoteric as it sounded. Jaguar was an artist, and I knew what she meant: She wanted to capture on canvas the purity and the eternity contained in the hum of the refrigerator. It was an unwavering sound, although totally unobtrusive, much like cosmic background radiation or a one-note melody.

A warm utterance of air, almost imperceptible, stirred the curtains bunched on either side of the window. Jaguar and I didn’t say anything else to each other for the rest of the night.

The refrigerator was saying everything that needed to be said.

Copyright, William Hammett, 2000.

Sunday, November 4, 2007


Outside, the moon floats through a leafless tree,
riding peaceably the road well taken
through Orion with his boots in the snow.
A mongrel underneath the tree
paws the ground at carp in the stream,
settles composedly in a mongrel’s dream.
Within, the woman turns, unawakened,
leaving the trace of a dream in a sigh,
and draws the patchwork tighter over shoulders and hips
weighted in the furnace hiss that serves as lullaby.
There is no reading to be done,
no study of poets, of Coleridge
contemplating frost at midnight.
Rather, the plumb for stillness wrapped in ice,
the maple sprig glazed by the stream,
is the night itself, dark and frozen,
hanging from the silver throne of Betelgeuse
by a rarefied thread that issues
the sounding of a sleeping world:
life, like the north gate,
is held fast in winter’s skin,
and yet there is the fire of a cold star,
sap-filled roots, a moon riding the sky.
There is a pulse in the stream, somewhere.
There is the trace of a dream in a sigh.

(First published in American Poets & Poetry, 1999)

Friday, November 2, 2007

Ishmael or Buddha

Call me Ishmael ... or Buddha ... or Billy. Yeah, let's go with Billy. Melville's protagonist had New Bedford street smarts. Whenever he felt a drizzly November in his soul or realized he was starting to bring up the rear of every funeral, he knew it was time to put to sea to rid his soul of melancholy. There was no rehab to check into and no Prozac, so I guess whaling was probably as good a way of exorcising his demons as any. And then there was Siddartha, aka the Buddha, who went inward to "om" his way through the thousand natural shocks that flesh is heir to. He found an antidepressant sitting right inside his navel. How convenient! Happy, happy Buddha! His slight smile has always intrigued me--and he didn't have to eat apples to ward off scurvy. Ergo, you can sail the seven seas or assume the lotus position. Some of us, however, look to words in order to unravel the answers to life's persistent questions (as Guy Noir might say on Prairie Home Companion). That's what I did when I was seven. I read a Perry Mason novel--not sure why--and then wrote a single-spaced, three-page story and sent it to Mason's creator, Erle Stanley Gardner. He wrote back, telling me that if I kept at it, I might give him some competition in the bookstore one day. I took his advice and never looked back. So here I am, setting sail ... or maybe sitting quietly and closing my eyes. In the literary world, I'm a little fish in a big sea, but it has been a great ride thus far. Plus I felt like blogging. Welcome!