SAM HAMILL 1943-2018
Several months ago, as I was preparing my 2018 return to the United States, I got an email from my friend, Sam Hamill, inviting me to celebrate on May 9th, 2018, his seventy-five years on earth, most of which were in the service of poetry. Sadly, Sam passed away last week and the now my journey back will begin in a different light, a different song, paying homage to a dear friend and remarkable spirit.
In my soon-to-be-published memoir, Sell The Monkey, the chapter, ‘Passport,’ is dedicated to my first meeting with Sam in Port Townsend in 1983, at a small exhibition. I’d just completed a new series of paintings on plexiglass soon after moving to that lovely Victorian town. What evolved from that first meeting became Passport, a collaborative book of images and poetry, published in 1987, on into several other collaborations, not to mention a remarkable and abiding friendship.
Sam and I lived just down the road from one another, and I’d often spend evenings of poetry at his home at Middlepoint in Port Townsend. Quite often we’d be joined by our mutual friend Bill O’Daly, who along with Tree Swensen, founded Copper Canyon Press. Those marvelous evenings were, for me, like being on a grand ship of poetry sailing across seas of Li Bo or Du Fu, Pound or Creeley, both of whom Sam could recite not only from memory but in their particular voice. There were many others, including and especially Sam and his extraordinary and precise prosody.
I bow in honor of his passage, his passion, and Panna, his dedication, and what he left us.
In the middle of the night you have opened your eyes
And walked out naked into the night where the world
is suddenly still and the cities
have been swallowed whole and everything’s present
as never before:
the air rising around you like waves,
shadows falling, trees sinking
farther and farther into the earth
which smells of passion.
You dreamed you were chained to a cliff,
gnawing at your liver, you dreamed you were
falling and falling,
but now you know that you can’t fall.
And you breathe in the light of stars—
Sirius brightest of all—and your flesh takes in
that light, and you listen
for the sound of feathers,
for the slow thrum of your blood that never lies,
and you lift up your arms to the night,
certain you can fly.
poem by Sam Hamill, painting by Galen Garwood, Passport, Broken Moon Press, 1987
Temple Tree, Vietnam for Sam Galen Garwood 2004
The Longings of Water, after Galen Garwood, to the Memory of Sam Hamill
A boy is building a sand castle on a Carolina beach,
Camelot’s citadel after Lanier’s King Arthur.
His mother watches from a dune. Beseech
him, Lady. Tell him soon the water
will destroy its moat and walls, why a last boat is docking
at the pier, fearful of the storm
darkening clouds portend. Warn your son of the harm
sure to come, Lady. How high waves appear, sudden and shocking.
Fingers trying to get buttons
in a button hole, to unzip
pants or a jacket. A hum like ripping
silk in your ears. Short breaths. Sons
of lost time, the last ticking of the clock, like pity
for you in the eyes of the young,
each ache or sore you feel is a sign that all you have clung
to is lost as driftwood reclaimed by the sea.
In an old, old story, locked in cliffside rock,
a mother weeps for her children.
The stone she is bleeds water.
Creek, rivulet, stream, river
mourn between dark cedar and tomb-like hemlock
for her daughters, her sons as if they were she, petrified, unforgiven.
What does water want,
mercy long for? In a font
or a river
to be your mother,
the tears she baptizes you with, washes over
you, life ever flowing its seaward sacrament.
Immeasurable Light Galen Garwood 2017
A Simple Gift for Sam Hamill
Yes, dear and oldest friend, every fall
the wounded saguaro fill with rain
from the Gulf of Mexico,
their priestly shadows suffer blizzards
that tore through the bad old days, years
the highway conjured a simpler horizon.
Do you remember how the bald tires
blew? Not in the whitest heat of Zion
summer, but in our unlikely return—
rain drumming Me and Bobby McGhee
against the windshield, singing Creeley
from the Great Salt Lake to the distant sea.
Perhaps it’s true, where coyote groans
in the poisoned canyon, a drifting road
calls our bones. Clouds tumble, a paycheck
arrives, we set out for other mountains,
under cold beasts orphaned by Orion.
Dawn rolled across the desert, over us
camped beside the unknowing flowing—
the beautiful Williams River. We boiled old
grounds over a twiggy fire, and drove all day
with the river’s breath and pulse, to reclaim
ways of seeing long since lost. Broken down,
the valves smoking miles shy of Eureka,
we waited beside the highway for help
or the law, and shared the last can
of Chef-Boy-Ar-Dee. Maybe it’s true,
we’ve had enough blistering sun,
perched in this imaginary mecca
that neither forgives nor grieves.
Friend, even in the early days
we knew the poets who blazed trails
and fought exile would be freed only by
death. McGrath has left the old high road
for the hieroglyphic fire, Kenneth’s temple bell
no longer rings in the ears of swallows,
Art Blakey’s metalflake snares dance
only in the heart’s garden. The garden’s
heart longs to break into sixteenth notes
Mr. Coltrane used to blow to reach his heaven,
a real gone, deep-fired perfection.
And the day! how it frees itself
from the light that bears us in its belly,
in an insignificant meal of muffins
and eggs, in the solitary life built
of renga, thick cedar, buddha dog
and his shameless nature. An egg
cradled in the hand remains an egg,
whether a dying chick or yolk
that blooms in the pan—it’s the song heard
by a deaf mute and the fear retold
in ten thousand generations,
the indifference of the ocean
that balances the inner ear.
The road rolls out before us,
past the beet packing plant
and the dry beds of Utah,
to places we have never been.
Let us go, in this single cyclic gift
that cannot be withheld: our song.
William O’Daly, Susurus, Guest Writer, Spring, 2011, print
Three Songs Galen Garwood 2018
SELL THE MONKEY, A memoir