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These poems are from Habitation: Collected Poems, which is featured in this issue.

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Habitation: Collected Poems of Sam Hamill can be ordered from his publisher Lost Horse Press

Habitation: Collected Poems
$25 / $30 (Canada)
6 x 9 624 pages
SEPT 2014

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Interview with Sam Hamill in a previous issue.

Sam Hamill’s translations from the Chinese Crossing the Yellow River in a previous issue.

Poetry from Sam Hamill in a previous issue.

A Pisan Canto by Sam Hamill in a previous issue.

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Contributor Notes




Sam Hamill

Sam Hamill
Sam Hamill - Habitation: Collected Poems





The Orchid Flower

 

Just as I wonder

whether it’s going to die,

the orchid blossoms

 

and I can’t 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, it’s

purely erotic,

 

pistil and stamen, pollen,

dew of the world, a spoonful

 

of earth, and water.

Erotic because there’s death

at the heart of birth,

 

drama in those old sunrise

prisms in wet cedar boughs,

 

deepest mystery

in washing evening dishes

or teasing my wife,

 

who grows, yes, more beautiful

because one of us will die.     

 




True Peace

 

Half broken on that smoky night,

hunched over sake in a serviceman’s 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 one’s 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 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 Shelley’s, 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 I’ve grown old. I bear their burdens in my bones.

Mine’s the heart that burns

today, mine the thirst, the hunger in the soul.

 

Old master, old teacher,

what is it that I’ve learned?

 

 



Of Cascadia

 

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 can’t make it better

than it’s been or will be again

as the seasons turn and an old man’s 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 I’m of.