These poems are from Habitation: Collected Poems, which is featured in this issue.
Habitation: Collected Poems of Sam Hamill can be ordered
from his publisher
Lost Horse Press
Interview with Sam Hamill in a previous issue.
The Orchid Flower
Just as I wonder
whether its going to die,
the orchid blossoms
and I cant explain why it
moves my heart, why such pleasure
comes from one small bud
on a long spindly stem, one
blood red gold flower
opening at mid-summer,
tiny, perfect in its hour.
Even to a white-
haired craggy poet, its
pistil and stamen, pollen,
dew of the world, a spoonful
of earth, and water.
Erotic because theres death
at the heart of birth,
drama in those old sunrise
prisms in wet cedar boughs,
in washing evening dishes
or teasing my wife,
who grows, yes, more beautiful
because one of us will die.
Half broken on that smoky night,
hunched over sake in a servicemans dive
somewhere in Naha, Okinawa,
nearly fifty years ago,
I read of the Saigon Buddhist monks
who stopped the traffic on a downtown thoroughfare
so their master, Thich Quang Dúc, could take up
the lotus posture in the middle of the street.
And they baptized him there with gas
and kerosene, and he struck a match
and burst into flame.
That was June, nineteen-sixty-three,
and I was twenty, a U.S. Marine.
The master did not move, did not squirm,
he did not scream
in pain as his body was consumed.
Neither child nor yet a man,
I wondered to my Okinawan friend,
what can it possibly mean
to make such a sacrifice, to give ones life
with such horror, but with dignity and conviction.
How can any man endure such pain
and never cry and never blink.
And my friend said simply, Thich Quang Dúc
had achieved true peace.
And I knew that night true peace
for me would never come.
Not for me, Nirvana. This suffering world
is mine, mine to suffer in its grief.
Half a century later, I think
of Bô Tát Thich Quang Dúc,
revered as a bodhisattva now— his lifetime
building temples, teaching peace,
and of his death and the statement that it made.
Like Shelleys, his heart refused to burn,
even when they burned his ashes once again
in the crematorium— his generous heart
turned magically to stone.
What is true peace, I cannot know.
A hundred wars have come and gone
as Ive grown old. I bear their burdens in my bones.
Mines the heart that burns
today, mine the thirst, the hunger in the soul.
Old master, old teacher,
what is it that Ive learned?
I came here nearly forty years ago,
broke and half broken, having chosen
the mud, the dirt road, alder pollen and
a hundred avenues of gray across the sky
to be my teachers and my muses.
I chose a temple made of words and made a vow.
I scratched a life in hardpan. If I cried
for mercy or cried out in delight,
it was because I was a man choosing
carefully his way and his words, growing
as slowly as the trunks of cedars
in the sunlit garden.
Let the ferns and the moss remember
all that I have lost or loved, for I carry
no regrets, no ambition to live it
all again. I cant make it better
than its been or will be again
as the seasons turn and an old mans heart
turns nostalgic as he sips his wine alone.
I have lived in Cascadia, no paradise
nor any hell, but both at once and made,
as Elytis said, of the same material.
A poor poet, I studied war and love.
But Cascadia is what Im of.