BOOK LAUNCH, HABITATION, GETTING TO KNOW
ONE’S WAY AROUND THE BOOK: LETTER TO SAM HAMILL
FROM THE CHAIRS AT ELLIOTT BAY BOOK COMPANY
So it’s all an act of love.
Wanting to be part of the family,
a long conversation with the dead.
What you say to end the reading.
Book for a generation. Book it for the next one, too.
…the outer/warmth of the fire, the inner/ heat of the line.
What you write to Levertov.
Asked to read the poem during Q&A,
a bit out of gas, admit
you’re just getting to know this bound life
in your hands. Still, your response
to the question, complete:
Come visit me, I’ll read it to you.
Years ago, you pointed me to Levertov’s
essays on the line from Light Up the Cave.
Rain drops outside the bookstore
come from angels emptying tear ducts.
After Labor Day, testament
and testimony, a new one for our time.
Do you miss the Constitution?
Do you miss any of your civil rights?
The side of sharp from Seattle Spring:
After 94 days of consecutive rain
even frogs don’t sing.
This letter can still go either way:
your riffs outside the poems, or list how
your work’s lifted us over time.
Talk about dumb luck.
You fucking idiot, that’s the title poem.
No good deed goes unpunished, like you say.
Morning after, outside SAM,
waiting to stand before Morris Graves and Mark Tobey,
Merwin in my notebook: Songs that come back
to themselves in the old voice.
White birds of Graves from the inner eye.
Later, your Memoriam to Graves,
…who painted the wind, remembering his words,
no narrative in the painting, it is what it is.
You take us into the chicken coop,
a hundred dying chickens in jaundiced light,
mother with eggs, keeping
what’s tarnished, cracked and fertile.
And Graves, the only one forced into military service.
White birds painted before prison, knowing scripture.
Did he know Yeats? Emerging from retreat
the crane will dance, the lotus blossom.
In Vietnam I took R&R to Sendai and skied Mt. Zao,
rested in hot springs where Bashō soaked,
returned to Tet and Tan Son Nhut in flames,
worked Med Evac while King and Kennedy
go down in the empire.
Sam Hamill, your devotion defends invective.
The word repeats as mantra.
Your Catullus, the nastiest.
Your Bashō knows the road as home,
each day is a journey.
Home belongs to you.
Your word above all the rest.
You sit at table with Rexroth, McGrath, Seferis,
Levertov, Broumas, all the ones
you name in Habitation, all present, all at table.
Neruda’s muertes pequeñas, muertes graves,
en las Alturas. Naming them:
Juan Comefrío, Juan Piesdescalzos.
Living and breathing as much as Terry Tempest Williams.
You begin with Han Shan and take us to Tu Fu,
guide us to Red Pine and Hunger Mountain.
Sacramental relationships, all.
Call this, walking the interior.
I say to Bassett before the reading,
You open my heart being here.
Pound got so much right, you say.
And so did you.
Just being here as the poet says,
this, the long road home.
Qué te vayas bien, hermano.
Sube, una permanencia de piedra y palabra.