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The Soft Music of Ships

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PAGE 1

THE SOFT MUSIC OF SHIPS By HEATHER HAMILTON A THESIS PRESENTED TO THE GRADUATE SCHOOL OF THE UNIVERSITY OF FLOR IDA IN PARTIAL FULFILLMENT OF THE REQUIREMENTS FOR THE DEGREE OF MASTER OF FINE ARTS UNIVERSITY OF FLORIDA 2006

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Copyright 2006 by Heather Hamilton

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iii ACKNOWLEDGMENTS I thank my parents, George and Kath y Hamilton, my brother, Gordon, and my sister, Charlotte, for their encouragement a nd support of my studies ; the University of Florida Creative Writing Program and its facult y; and my fellow students, who have been instrumental in helping my development as a writer. I especially thank my readers: Sidney Wade, whose guidance and encouragement during my first workshop at the University of Florida was invaluable, and Marsha Bryant, whose insights into Stevens and Stein in pa rticular opened new doors for my appreciation of their work. Most importantly, I thank my thesis dire ctor, William Logan, for his patience and exhaustive criticism during this process, and his infamous blue pen, whose jottings have taught me more about writing poetry than I ever could have imagined.

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iv Abstract of Thesis Presen ted to the Graduate School of the University of Florida in Partial Fulfillment of the Requirements for the Degree of Master of Fine Arts THE SOFT MUSIC OF SHIPS By Heather Hamilton December 2006 Chair: William Logan Major Department: Creative Writing The poems in this collection represen t an attempt at creating varietyboth formally and in terms of style. Neverthe less, they share certain themes that I find important and which serve to tie them togeth er as a body of work. Most prevalent among these themes are explorations of family, art, travel, and landscape. It is my hope that readers of this collection will be able to identify with such themes, and that through this identification they will find enjoyment in the poems contained within these pages.

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v TABLE OF CONTENTS page ACKNOWLEDGMENTS.................................................................................................iii ABSTRACT.......................................................................................................................iv PANTHEON, 2003..............................................................................................................1 NOON, LAKE ALICE......................................................................................................... 2 COLLECT YOURSELF...................................................................................................... 3 DRIVEWAY........................................................................................................................4 THE LOWER DEPTHS...................................................................................................... 5 EASTER, 1946....................................................................................................................6 THE CANVAS LOOKS AT AN ARTIST.......................................................................... 7 NOTES FROM THE SHORE.............................................................................................8 ODE TO CINNAM ON........................................................................................................9 AT THE BELLE CHASE MOTEL................................................................................... 10 LANDSCAPE....................................................................................................................11 HEART..............................................................................................................................12 FOR THE DEBUTANTE COMMITTEE......................................................................... 13 STILL LIFE WITH TURKEY........................................................................................... 14 THE FUNERAL DIRECTORS LAMENT...................................................................... 15 WHEN YOU LEAVE ME FOR A YOUNGER WOMAN............................................... 16 OUR HOUSE..................................................................................................................... 17

PAGE 6

vi DREAM #5....................................................................................................................... .18 ISABELLA BIRD IN HAWAII........................................................................................19 SONG FOR MY FATHER................................................................................................20 MY FATHERS X-RAYS.................................................................................................21 THE VISION.....................................................................................................................22 TULUM.......................................................................................................................... ...23 THE ALCHEMY OF HIERONYMOUS BOSCH............................................................24 BIOGRAPHICAL SKETCH.............................................................................................25

PAGE 7

1 PANTHEON, 2003 Turn off your cell phones before entering, instructs the tour guide, leading us across the portico to the rotunda. Theyre having a mass today The air inside is heavy with incense. A thin column of light falls from the oculus to the floor, widening as it descends. In such a space everything is audible: the priests slow foot falls around the altar, each camera shutters snap, the parishioners rising for communion. The guide leads us to the far wall, whispering that from here Romulus ascended into heaven. She points to the dark recesses lining the vault, explaining that these once held statues of the planetary gods. Filling these spaces now, we learn, are the consecra ted bones of martyrs. The group moves on, restless and impatient to see Raphaels tomb. For a moment, I remain. I look up, past the gold-washed da Forli fresco, past the Boccini-cube coffe rs steeped in shadow, expecting, perhaps, to see something other than worn concrete, recess, a flat disc of sky.

PAGE 8

2 NOON, LAKE ALICE The black moon of the alligators eye watches nothing, everything. Around her, surface feeders pop insistently at the water, like oil in a skillet, while the dry season reveals a Pompeii of mud-cast branches, fallen leaves, and the bristling cherries of sweet-gum pods. The noon light and water etch a chiaroscuro flame-stitch, broken under the mezzotint of a sudden wind, and the cattails conceal a darkness even Goya could not master. A heron lands beside them, its wings two lilac parabolas folding into themselves. O lake, how you taunt with your fertile particulars: purple spires of water hyaci nth clotting the shallows, the lime-colored skim of bright algae pulled like a sheet against the bank even the alligator, her tail now curled into the mud like a saw blade. In their ruffled beds, the pale tongues of water lettuce rustle in the wind, as if in speech. Whatever they speak of, it is certainly not love.

PAGE 9

3 COLLECT YOURSELF Collect yourself, Heather, as you might gather stones from the tilled bed of a garden or roots for the winter cellar. Winter breathes cold at autumns throat, spring broken before it blooms. There is no beauty but that which fails. Beauty carries with it rows of trumpets, flocks of eyebrows, the wreckage of ships. You would do better to study the ibis as it anglesdeceptively graceful through the rushes at the waters dark edge.

PAGE 10

4 DRIVEWAY Tonight the moon, that round of ice Left too long in someones mouth, Drips its trail of thinned light Across our window sill, as if in offering. Hands cupped, I let the water run cold over my palms And down through the salt-sprinkled cabbage Lining the bottom of the sink like a lake bed. After dicing the scallions into green tubes, I scatter them into the wok oil, Then move on to the carrots. Each time your car rounds the driveway It blows the monkey gra ss back in tiny rows, The same angle each time. Somehow we go on.

PAGE 11

5 THE LOWER DEPTHS In the dark vein of a ravine, where a lean-to house pushes against its frame, the boarders warm their sake over stories of past favor, dance their pas de deux to povertys cold adagio. The thief produces a tortoise-shell comb, part s the air above his head, hands it to the girl in offering. She refuses, turning away. He tells her of a town, just beyond the hills, where no one would know them. Theyll go there, he says. The former actor, forgetting his lines, crumples into a heap on the floor. He swears the sake has poisoned him. The traveler, to soothe him, speaks of a temple that can heal such things. The drunks eyes glisten like wet pebbles. Perhaps this is the true charity: to hold up the bright crumbs of elsewhere and lay a path.

PAGE 12

6 EASTER, 1946 The poppy-lined flowerbed Blooms a watery silver, And the aspidistra borders the lip of the porch Like a well-groomed moustache, Trim against the whitewashed lattice. In their bare feet and Easter suits, Dad and his two brothers hunc h together on the stairs, A candied egg in each hand. Above them, Grandmother smiles, Her arms resting on their shoulders As they grin restlessly toward the camera. Here, there is no bungled estate, no lien, No phone calls choked with gin and if only .

PAGE 13

7 THE CANVAS LOOKS AT AN ARTIST She is given to sadness like a bride. Each day she feeds her eyes cut lilies, summer pears, the silk-draped curves of a tableand still they hunger for what she does not offer: his face in daylight, the swollen belly of the summer sun. If she thinks her paint opaque she is mistaken her mouth gives up its secrets as readily as an autumn orchard yields its fruit. At night her sorrows hang like earrings; she can never know his form the way his shadows know it, and for this she must be angry. Still, perhaps there is some small charm in the way she marks her name in the corner, as if marking a thing could make it hers.

PAGE 14

8 NOTES FROM THE SHORE All day the lake remained calm; the film of po llen on the surface caked the waters edge like spilled saffron. Under a canopy of oak two egrets stalked the shoreline, their white necks outlined in shadow. When they moved, they set their feet thin and delicate as the hands of a wristwatch precisely into place. I did not think of you at all.

PAGE 15

9 ODE TO CINNAMON Doesnt each of your parchment scrolls read like a history of lovers? A bed of sand in Ceylon, an ancient bridegrooms tunic, the scented dunes of marriage sheets. When Nero, to mourn his wife, burned a years supply on her pyre, the alleyways of Rome must have come alive, each column cloaked in a perfumed ash, a powdered mouthful of caprice. How the sheets roll into themselves, narrowed at one end, like a telescope whose lens holds the hot sands of Mars. To taste that, you might almost believe in a heaven.

PAGE 16

10 AT THE BELLE CHASE MOTEL Upstairs, a shirtless man with a sleeve-tan Leaned against the railing, A cigarette pinched between his lips. Staring down at me, he flicked it out And closed the door to his room. My soccer coach pulled his car around the side, Next to a faded Miata. This is our secret he said, Killing the engine. I smoothed my uniform And followed him to number 14. He fastened the latch. Before he flipped the lights, I pointed to a bruise on my shin. This is our secret he said again. I nodded and closed my eyes.

PAGE 17

11 LANDSCAPE Noon. The sun points its dead eye at the oak, poplar, such broken things as stir the air. The hillside burns, a rising fire of sand and wild forgotten violets. If to feel is our design, and coming is the same as going, why is each wind its own strange language?

PAGE 18

12 HEART The heart, when emptied, could be a just-squeezed grapefruit.

PAGE 19

13 FOR THE DEBUTANTE COMMITTEE Ladies, cross your ankles and steady your teacups, because Im putting on my kid gloves! Bottle-fed on mimosas and sweet tea, I cut my first teeth on petit fours and chicken salad. My momma sprang from a basket of magnolia petals, and my daddys half dogwood on his paternal side. I can mix a mint julep that will curl your hair, and once won a thank-you-note-writing contest with my hands behind my back and a finger sandwich in my mouth. Look out, or I might just reveal which of your tea services is silver plate!

PAGE 20

14 STILL LIFE WITH TURKEY Love is not here; love is everywhere, Mom sang as she stood over the sink. She held a glass of Merlot and a meat thermometer, waiting for the oven timer to sound. Nanny stirred the roux while Dad walked outside to light the Nativity scene. When Anna called everyone in for supper, she read the menu aloud: ro ast turkey with gravy, orange-glazed carrots, oyster dr essing and spinach souffl. Dad took his seat and st arted the blessing. He ended with a cheerful but quiet amen. Had our cat not lunged at a bird in the window, we might not have noticed the Bethlehem star in flames, or the windblown sparks kindling the hay on the ground. As a line of fire lapped at the base of the manger, Dad grabbed the gravy boat and the dish towel beneath it. Holding these under his arm, he marched outside. The neighbors had begun to collect on the sidewalk. The Thomas kids, their napkins st ill tucked into their collars, stared as Dad dumped gravy into the manger and whipped Marys robes with the dish towel. Mom watched through the window, silent. Then she sat up straight. Anna, honey she said suddenly, will you pass the dressing?

PAGE 21

15 THE FUNERAL DIRECTORS LAMENT If I never have to do another one, it will be too soon, the man with the boutonnire confides as we wait for the hall to clear. It seems that Ive become an instant chum, someone with whom he can escape the lines of hugs and handshakes. I nod and point him toward the chapel. Between the flower deliveries that arrive too late and the checks that bounce, I, too, could walk away from this. The cosmetologistwhos new could work for Prince. Each time she does a guy I want to ask Is he from Beetlejuice or Rocky Horror ? This one right here, for instance his family barely knows his face. Some file around the casket, shaking their heads; others crowd around the guestbook. A few of the children look around the room, then sneak a touch. I wait for them to leave the parlor, then I lift the spray of flowers and close the lid. I remember we need ketchup for dinner tonight, and write it on my hand.

PAGE 22

16 WHEN YOU LEAVE ME FOR A YOUNGER WOMAN Black and slick as eel skin, Main street will glisten, and the bus fill with cave-eyed shift workers. The concrete fountain behind the VA hospital will spit three arcs of water in a mute refutation of De Len. In the wooded lot behind our stop, two crows will disappear between the green asterisks of saw palmetto into the New World.

PAGE 23

17 OUR HOUSE Well call this our house, planti ng herbs in the floorboards. A moonlight sonata of crickets and sage-scented wind will fill the rooms each evening. Soon the zinnias will reach our knees. Well hang cut lavender from the rafters to dry, and each silver stem will make its own wind. Please spend the night. Well watch the stars go purple and sink beneath the clouds of jasmine on the stairs. I wont speak of the way your hands curl like steel ferns around my throat, since gardening will leave no time for such things.

PAGE 24

18 DREAM #5 In Paris with Kandinsky, I lost my red bracelet to a Tuileries rosebush, while Freud sopped up garnets of wine with his beard. It was war, all right. The grown-up shtick had long ago stopped working on the drunk, blind hangers-on, and it was time to wow them with such niceties as warm beets and Peruvian wool blankets. We set up tables around the fire, but the black smoke of a fruit truck chuffed up oily clouds over the roof and our errant scholarship such as it was threw itself into the ho t mouth of the chimney.

PAGE 25

19 ISABELLA BIRD IN HAWAII To take so much on faith, like the blue flame of a January sky, or the rumor of kingdoms beneath the unruffled feathers of the canopy, seems its own sort of religion. After eleven months on the desert ocean, I can finally hear the thunder of surf girdling the edges of the island! I cannot convey to you the opulent palette of such a landscape: first the breadfruit with its night-green leaves and pale sugar globes, th en the silver shafts of cocoa palm that look as if theyve never grown or been young. And the flowers: carmine hibiscus in the cave-black hair of each island girl, waxy clouds of yellow trumpet vine even the wind is scented with tuberose and jasmine. From my verandah I can survey unimpeded the bright blue silk of the Pacific, its murmurings mixed with the soft music of ships. Last night was warm, and heavy with rain. Even so, I heard what seemed to be a droning in my ear as I lay in bed. Just as I reached for my candle, I felt the unmistakable stab of one, then two, mosquitoes. No, not even this is paradise!

PAGE 26

20 SONG FOR MY FATHER My father taught himself a broken English. On the passage over, with pocket watch and onion hoe, he read poetry at night to make his stomach hush, and proposed to Mother with the vocative O. He worked the ground, hands gloved in russet topsoil, a scab for every day of the week. The ocean widened as they churned across it, hed tell us. He swore he never looked back. It was a different, a harder life, I explain to my daughter, stra ightening the window shades. She looks up, but through me, as if Im lost in the air between shreds of fog. This isnt the Depression Mom. This is 1982 she says, voice edged with sudden frost. I watch her walk away like a ruffled cockatoo and wonder, what if hed know n this would be the cost?

PAGE 27

21 MY FATHERS X-RAYS Each film, an undoing. Each tooth and rib, a vaulted shadow. Here is, perhaps, a trellis in winter, or a scaffold dipped in stone. You are no part of this. Your spine is a column of orchids, your heart a crimson shell brimming with ocean.

PAGE 28

22 THE VISION after Anthony Hecht In Alabama, where these things can happen, I had a vision. It was nothing like the fiery demons of faith-healers, nothing, even, like Blakes water scrolled angels. It may not have been a vision at all. My mother and I were going through my fathers things, sorting them into piles for the estate sale. I flipped over one draw er after another typewriter ribbons, packs of cards, and respirator bags fell to the floor, each sending up a small cloud of dust. As I stood there, my mothers voice ebbed, the dust cleared, and the room fell away. The evening air, now a grainy purple, turned crisp and I was quite alone. I found myself at the foot of a brick smokestack. Then I heard the noise soft, at first, then swellin g to a strident chatter. I looked above to see one, ten, a thousand chimney swifts whirling overhead, circling the rim of the stack. They hovered there, in silhouette, untilas when you pull a bath stopper from a drain they funneled down and into its throat and were gone. Then the crisp air va nished and I was back in the room. For that afternoon, and even into the next May, I was haunted by the scene. Id almost forgotten it, until tonight, when searching through my attic, I stumbled upon a box of old paintings. There, in the picture that used to hang in my fathers study, was that solitary smokestack.

PAGE 29

23 TULUM A cloud of powdered limestone rises behind the last tourist shuttle, dusting the roadside silver-green. The cenote sits undisturbed beneath a grotto of rocks, a pool of lamp-black ink. The heat hangs like smoke over mounds of weathered rubble and sets of stairs leading nowhere. What could this be but beauty? The waves split their backs against the cliff beneath the standing temple and break like stones. Each day the wind-beaten tower inches toward the drop, and the sea gathers below a liquid tourmaline, an open mouth.

PAGE 30

24 THE ALCHEMY OF HIERONYMOUS BOSCH He knew about Communion sacrament, how, with an incantation, bread could turn and fill with breath. Perhaps he thought of this when in his fathers workshop, stealing copper plates from the pressbeds, tucking cast-off burin tips between his bootstrings. Nights would find him hunched over phials of liquid mercury, his tallow candle half-melted from the burning wick, the antimony dustflakes rising in a formless smoke. At sunrise he would study the growing light jealously as it gilded bright swaths of current on the Dommel. How brutal painting must have seemed to him, the broken pitchforks gleaming mustard-yellow where the fire hit, haystacks piled high with patches of ochre even the arrows fletched with gold.

PAGE 31

25 BIOGRAPHICAL SKETCH Heather Hamilton was born in Mobile, Alabam a, where she has lived most of her life. She graduated from the University of Alabama in 2004 with a B.A. in English and a minor in studio art.


Permanent Link: http://ufdc.ufl.edu/UFE0013894/00001

Material Information

Title: The Soft Music of Ships
Physical Description: Mixed Material
Copyright Date: 2008

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Source Institution: University of Florida
Holding Location: University of Florida
Rights Management: All rights reserved by the source institution and holding location.
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Permanent Link: http://ufdc.ufl.edu/UFE0013894/00001

Material Information

Title: The Soft Music of Ships
Physical Description: Mixed Material
Copyright Date: 2008

Record Information

Source Institution: University of Florida
Holding Location: University of Florida
Rights Management: All rights reserved by the source institution and holding location.
System ID: UFE0013894:00001


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THE SOFT MUSIC OF SHIPS


By

HEATHER HAMILTON

















A THESIS PRESENTED TO THE GRADUATE SCHOOL
OF THE UNIVERSITY OF FLORIDA IN PARTIAL FULFILLMENT
OF THE REQUIREMENTS FOR THE DEGREE OF
MASTER OF FINE ARTS

UNIVERSITY OF FLORIDA


2006

































Copyright 2006

by

Heather Hamilton















ACKNOWLEDGMENTS

I thank my parents, George and Kathy Hamilton, my brother, Gordon, and my

sister, Charlotte, for their encouragement and support of my studies; the University of

Florida Creative Writing Program and its faculty; and my fellow students, who have been

instrumental in helping my development as a writer.

I especially thank my readers: Sidney Wade, whose guidance and encouragement

during my first workshop at the University of Florida was invaluable, and Marsha Bryant,

whose insights into Stevens and Stein in particular opened new doors for my appreciation

of their work.

Most importantly, I thank my thesis director, William Logan, for his patience and

exhaustive criticism during this process, and his infamous blue pen, whose jottings have

taught me more about writing poetry than I ever could have imagined.















Abstract of Thesis Presented to the Graduate School
of the University of Florida in Partial Fulfillment of the
Requirements for the Degree of Master of Fine Arts

THE SOFT MUSIC OF SHIPS

By

Heather Hamilton

December 2006

Chair: William Logan
Major Department: Creative Writing

The poems in this collection represent an attempt at creating variety-both

formally and in terms of style. Nevertheless, they share certain themes that I find

important and which serve to tie them together as a body of work. Most prevalent among

these themes are explorations of family, art, travel, and landscape. It is my hope that

readers of this collection will be able to identify with such themes, and that through this

identification they will find enjoyment in the poems contained within these pages.
















TABLE OF CONTENTS



A C K N O W L E D G M E N T S ......... ................................................................................... iii

ABSTRACT ............... ........................ .............. iv

P A N T H E O N 2003 ................. ...... .............................. .. ...... ....... .. .......... 1

N O O N L A K E A L IC E ........................................................................ ......................... 2

C O L L E C T Y O U R SE L F .................................... ....................................... .................... ....3

D R IV E W A Y ................................................................................................... . 4

TH E L O W ER D E PTH S ..................................................................... ......................... 5

E A ST E R 1946 ............................................................................. 6

THE CANVAS LOOK S AT AN ARTIST..................................... ...................................7

N O TE S FR O M TH E SH O RE .............................................................. ....................... 8

O D E T O C IN N A M O N ................................................................ ......... ....................... 9

A T THE BELLE CH A SE M O TEL ....................................................................... ....10

L A N D SC A PE .......................................................................................................11

H E A R T .............. ... ................................................................12

FOR THE DEBUTANTE COM M ITTEE ................................... .................................... 13

STIL L L IFE W ITH TU R K E Y ............................................... ....................................... 14

THE FUNERAL DIRECTOR'S LAMENT ..........................................................15

WHEN YOU LEAVE ME FOR A YOUNGER WOMAN............... ................. 16

O U R H O U SE .................................................................................. 17





v









D R E A M # 5 ....................................................... 18

ISABELLA BIRD IN HAW AII .......................................................... .............. 19

SO N G FO R M Y FA TH E R .............................................................................. .......... 20

M Y FA TH ER 'S X -R A Y S .......................................................................... ....................21

T H E V IS IO N ........................................................................................................2 2

T U L U M ........................................................................................................................ 2 3

THE ALCHEMY OF HIERONYMOUS BOSCH.................... .................24

B IO G R A PH IC A L SK E TCH ...................................................................... ..................25
















PANTHEON, 2003


Turn offyour cellphones before entering,
instructs the tour guide, leading us
across the portico to the rotunda.
They're having a mass today.

The air inside is heavy with incense.
A thin column of light falls
from the oculus to the floor,
widening as it descends.

In such a space everything is audible:
the priest's slow footfalls around the altar,
each camera shutter's snap,
the parishioners rising for communion.

The guide leads us to the far wall,
whispering that from here Romulus
ascended into heaven.
She points to the dark recesses

lining the vault, explaining that these
once held statues of the planetary gods.
Filling these spaces now,
we learn, are the consecrated bones of martyrs.

The group moves on, restless
and impatient to see Raphael's tomb.
For a moment, I remain.
I look up, past the gold-washed da Forli fresco,

past the Boccini-cube coffers steeped in shadow,
expecting, perhaps, to see something
other than worn concrete,
recess, a flat disc of sky.















NOON, LAKE ALICE


The black moon of the alligator's eye
watches nothing, everything.
Around her, surface feeders pop insistently
at the water, like oil in a skillet,
while the dry season reveals a Pompeii
of mud-cast branches, fallen leaves,
and the bristling cherries of sweet-gum pods.

The noon light and water etch
a chiaroscuro flame-stitch, broken
under the mezzotint of a sudden wind,
and the cattails conceal a darkness even Goya
could not master. A heron lands beside them,
its wings two lilac parabolas
folding into themselves. 0 lake,
how you taunt with your fertile particulars:

purple spires of water hyacinth clotting the shallows,
the lime-colored skim of bright algae
pulled like a sheet against the bank-
even the alligator, her tail now curled
into the mud like a saw blade.
In their ruffled beds, the pale tongues
of water lettuce rustle in the wind, as if in speech.
Whatever they speak of, it is certainly not love.
















COLLECT YOURSELF


Collect yourself, Heather,
as you might gather stones
from the tilled bed of a garden
or roots for the winter cellar.
Winter breathes cold
at autumn's throat,
spring broken before it blooms.
There is no beauty but that which fails.

Beauty carries with it
rows of trumpets, flocks of eyebrows,
the wreckage of ships.
You would do better
to study the ibis
as it angles-deceptively graceful-
through the rushes at the water's dark edge.
















DRIVEWAY


Tonight the moon, that round of ice
Left too long in someone's mouth,

Drips its trail of thinned light
Across our window sill, as if in offering.

Hands cupped, I let the water run cold over my palms
And down through the salt-sprinkled cabbage

Lining the bottom of the sink like a lake bed.
After dicing the scallions into green tubes,

I scatter them into the wok oil,
Then move on to the carrots.

Each time your car rounds the driveway
It blows the monkey grass back in tiny rows,

The same angle each time.
Somehow we go on.















THE LOWER DEPTHS


In the dark vein
of a ravine, where a lean-to house
pushes against its frame,

the boarders
warm their sake over stories of past favor,
dance theirpas de deux to poverty's cold adagio.

The thief produces
a tortoise-shell comb, parts the air above his head,
hands it to the girl in offering.

She refuses,
turning away. He tells her of a town, just beyond the hills,
where no one would know them. They'll go there, he says.

The former actor,
forgetting his lines, crumples into a heap on the floor.
He swears the sake has poisoned him.

The traveler,
to soothe him, speaks of a temple that can heal such things.
The drunk's eyes glisten like wet pebbles.

Perhaps this is
the true charity: to hold up the bright crumbs
of elsewhere, and lay a path.















EASTER, 1946


The poppy-lined flowerbed

Blooms a watery silver,

And the aspidistra borders the lip of the porch

Like a well-groomed moustache,

Trim against the whitewashed lattice.

In their bare feet and Easter suits,

Dad and his two brothers hunch together on the stairs,

A candied egg in each hand.

Above them, Grandmother smiles,

Her arms resting on their shoulders

As they grin restlessly toward the camera.

Here, there is no bungled estate, no lien,

No phone calls choked with gin and if only. ..















THE CANVAS LOOKS AT AN ARTIST


She is given to sadness like a bride.
Each day she feeds her eyes cut lilies,
summer pears, the silk-draped curves
of a table-and still they hunger
for what she does not offer:
his face in daylight,
the swollen belly of the summer sun.
If she thinks her paint opaque
she is mistaken-
her mouth gives up its secrets as readily
as an autumn orchard yields its fruit.
At night her sorrows hang like earrings;
she can never know his form
the way his shadows know it,
and for this she must be angry.
Still, perhaps there is some small charm
in the way she marks her name in the corner,
as if marking a thing could make it hers.















NOTES FROM THE SHORE


All day the lake remained calm;
the film of pollen on the surface
caked the water's edge like spilled saffron.
Under a canopy of oak
two egrets stalked the shoreline,
their white necks outlined in shadow.
When they moved, they set their feet-
thin and delicate as the hands of a wristwatch-
precisely into place.
I did not think of you at all.
















ODE TO CINNAMON


Doesn't each of your parchment scrolls
read like a history
of lovers?
A bed of sand in Ceylon,
an ancient bridegroom's tunic,
the scented dunes of marriage sheets.
When Nero,
to mourn his wife,
burned a year's supply on her pyre,
the alleyways of Rome
must have come alive,
each column cloaked
in a perfumed ash,
a powdered mouthful
of caprice.

How the sheets roll
into themselves,
narrowed at one end,
like a telescope
whose lens holds
the hot sands of Mars.
To taste that,
you might almost believe
in a heaven.















AT THE BELLE CHASE MOTEL


Upstairs, a shirtless man with a sleeve-tan
Leaned against the railing,
A cigarette pinched between his lips.
Staring down at me, he flicked it out
And closed the door to his room.

My soccer coach pulled his car around the side,
Next to a faded Miata.
This is our secret, he said,
Killing the engine.

I smoothed my uniform
And followed him to number 14.
He fastened the latch.

Before he flipped the lights,
I pointed to a bruise on my shin.
This is our secret, he said again.
I nodded and closed my eyes.
















LANDSCAPE


Noon.
The sun points its
dead eye at the oak,
poplar, such broken things
as stir the air.
The hillside burns, a rising fire
of sand and wild forgotten violets.
If to feel is our design,
and coming is the same as going,
why is each wind
its own strange language?
















HEART


The heart, when emptied,
could be a just-squeezed grapefruit.











FOR THE DEBUTANTE COMMITTEE


Ladies, cross your ankles
and steady your teacups,
because I'm putting on my kid gloves!

Bottle-fed on mimosas and sweet tea,
I cut my first teeth on petit fours and chicken salad.
My momma sprang from a basket of magnolia petals,
and my daddy's half dogwood on his paternal side.

I can mix a mint julep that will curl your hair,
and once won a thank-you-note-writing contest
with my hands behind my back
and a finger sandwich in my mouth.

Look out, or I might just reveal
which of your tea services is silver plate!















STILL LIFE WITH TURKEY


Love is not here; love is everywhere,
Mom sang as she stood over the sink.
She held a glass of Merlot and a meat thermometer,
waiting for the oven timer to sound.
Nanny stirred the roux while Dad walked outside
to light the Nativity scene.

When Anna called everyone in for supper,
she read the menu aloud: roast turkey with gravy,
orange-glazed carrots, oyster dressing and spinach souffle.
Dad took his seat and started the blessing.
He ended with a cheerful but quiet amen.

Had our cat not lunged at a bird in the window,
we might not have noticed the Bethlehem star in flames,
or the windblown sparks kindling the hay on the ground.
As a line of fire lapped at the base of the manger,
Dad grabbed the gravy boat and the dish towel beneath it.
Holding these under his arm, he marched outside.

The neighbors had begun to collect on the sidewalk.
The Thomas kids, their napkins still tucked into their collars,
stared as Dad dumped gravy into the manger
and whipped Mary's robes with the dish towel.
Mom watched through the window, silent. Then she sat up straight.
Anna, honey, she said suddenly, will you pass the dressing?















THE FUNERAL DIRECTOR'S LAMENT


IfI never have to do another one,
it will be too soon,
the man with the boutonniere confides
as we wait for the hall to clear.

It seems that I've become an instant chum,
someone with whom he can escape
the lines of hugs and handshakes.

I nod and point him toward the chapel.
Between the flower deliveries that arrive too late
and the checks that bounce,
I, too, could walk away from this.

The cosmetologist-who's new-
could work for Prince.
Each time she does a guy I want to ask
Is he from Beetlejuice or Rocky Horror?

This one right here, for instance-
his family barely knows his face.
Some file around the casket, shaking their heads;
others crowd around the guestbook.
A few of the children look around the room,
then sneak a touch.

I wait for them to leave the parlor,
then I lift the spray of flowers
and close the lid.
I remember we need ketchup
for dinner tonight, and write it on my hand.















WHEN YOU LEAVE ME FOR A YOUNGER WOMAN


Black and slick as eel skin,
Main street will glisten,
and the bus fill with cave-eyed shift workers.

The concrete fountain behind the VA hospital
will spit three arcs of water
in a mute refutation of De Le6n.

In the wooded lot behind our stop,
two crows will disappear
between the green asterisks of saw palmetto
into the New World.















OUR HOUSE


We'll call this our house, planting herbs in the floorboards.
A moonlight sonata of crickets
and sage-scented wind will fill the rooms each evening.

Soon the zinnias will reach our knees.
We'll hang cut lavender from the rafters to dry,
and each silver stem will make its own wind.

Please spend the night.
We'll watch the stars go purple and sink
beneath the clouds of jasmine on the stairs.

I won't speak of the way your hands
curl like steel ferns around my throat,
since gardening will leave no time for such things.















DREAM #5


In Paris with Kandinsky,
I lost my red bracelet
to a Tuileries rosebush, while Freud
sopped up garnets of wine with his beard.

It was war, all right. The grown-up shtick
had long ago stopped working
on the drunk, blind hangers-on,
and it was time to wow them

with such niceties as warm beets
and Peruvian wool blankets.
We set up tables around the fire,
but the black smoke of a fruit truck

chuffed up oily clouds over the roof
and our errant scholarship-
such as it was-
threw itself into the hot mouth of the chimney.















ISABELLA BIRD IN HAWAII


To take so much on faith, like the blue flame
of a January sky, or the rumor of kingdoms
beneath the unruffled feathers of the canopy,
seems its own sort of religion. After eleven months
on the desert ocean, I can finally hear the thunder
of surf girdling the edges of the island!

I cannot convey to you the opulent
palette of such a landscape:
first the breadfruit with its night-green leaves
and pale sugar globes, then the silver shafts
of cocoa palm that look as if they've never grown
or been young. And the flowers:

carmine hibiscus in the cave-black hair
of each island girl, waxy clouds of yellow trumpet vine-
even the wind is scented with tuberose and jasmine.
From my verandah I can survey unimpeded
the bright blue silk of the Pacific,
its murmurings mixed with the soft music of ships.

Last night was warm, and heavy with rain.
Even so, I heard what seemed to be a droning
in my ear as I lay in bed.
Just as I reached for my candle, I felt
the unmistakable stab of one, then two, mosquitoes.
No, not even this is paradise!















SONG FOR MY FATHER


My father taught himself a broken English.
On the passage over, with pocket watch and onion hoe,
he read poetry at night to make his stomach hush,
and proposed to Mother with the vocative "O."

He worked the ground, hands gloved in russet
topsoil, a scab for every day of the week.
The ocean widened as they churned across it,
he'd tell us. He swore he never looked back.

"It was a different, a harder life,"
I explain to my daughter, straightening the window shades.
She looks up, but through me, as if
I'm lost in the air between shreds

of fog. "This isn't the Depression, Mom. This is 1982"
she says, voice edged with sudden frost.
I watch her walk away like a ruffled cockatoo
and wonder, what if he'd known this would be the cost?















MY FATHER'S X-RAYS


Each film, an undoing.
Each tooth and rib,
a vaulted shadow.

Here is, perhaps, a trellis in winter,
or a scaffold dipped in stone.

You are no part of this.
Your spine is a column of orchids,
your heart a crimson shell
brimming with ocean.















THE VISION


after Anthony Hecht

In Alabama, where these things can happen,
I had a vision.
It was nothing like the fiery demons of faith-healers,
nothing, even, like Blake's water scrolled angels.
It may not have been a vision at all.
My mother and I were going through my father's things,
sorting them into piles for the estate sale.
I flipped over one drawer after another-
typewriter ribbons, packs of cards,
and respirator bags fell to the floor,
each sending up a small cloud of dust.
As I stood there, my mother's voice ebbed,
the dust cleared, and the room fell away.
The evening air, now a grainy purple, turned crisp
and I was quite alone. I found myself
at the foot of a brick smokestack. Then I heard the noise-
soft, at first, then swelling to a strident chatter.
I looked above to see one, ten, a thousand
chimney swifts whirling overhead, circling the rim of the stack.
They hovered there, in silhouette,
until-as when you pull a bath stopper from a drain-
they funneled down and into its throat
and were gone. Then the crisp air vanished and I was back in the room.
For that afternoon, and even into the next May,
I was haunted by the scene. I'd almost forgotten it,
until tonight, when searching through my attic,
I stumbled upon a box of old paintings.
There, in the picture that used to hang
in my father's study, was that solitary smokestack.















TULUM


A cloud of powdered limestone
rises behind the last tourist shuttle,
dusting the roadside silver-green.

The cenote sits undisturbed
beneath a grotto of rocks,
a pool of lamp-black ink.

The heat hangs like smoke
over mounds of weathered rubble
and sets of stairs leading nowhere.

What could this be but beauty?

The waves split their backs
against the cliff beneath the standing temple
and break like stones.

Each day the wind-beaten tower
inches toward the drop,
and the sea gathers below-
a liquid tourmaline,
an open mouth.















THE ALCHEMY OF HIERONYMOUS BOSCH


He knew about Communion sacrament,
how, with an incantation,
bread could turn and fill with breath.
Perhaps he thought of this
when in his father's workshop,
stealing copper plates from the pressbeds,
tucking cast-off burin tips
between his bootstrings.

Nights would find him
hunched over phials of liquid mercury,
his tallow candle half-melted
from the burning wick,
the antimony dustflakes rising
in a formless smoke.
At sunrise he would study
the growing light jealously
as it gilded bright swaths of current
on the Dommel.

How brutal painting must have seemed to him,
the broken pitchforks gleaming
mustard-yellow where the fire hit,
haystacks piled high
with patches of ochre-
even the arrows fletched with gold.















BIOGRAPHICAL SKETCH

Heather Hamilton was born in Mobile, Alabama, where she has lived most of her

life. She graduated from the University of Alabama in 2004 with a B.A. in English and a

minor in studio art.