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Sample Poems by Kendra Hamilton


been so long since i been to Canaan
i ain’t been since i fell in love
my man be gone by seven a.m.
too tired, he say, to talk last night
i want to spend just one night less lonely
want to get drunk in love’s rose garden

a house, a canopy bed, a garden—
i’ll get that when i get to Canaan
like a door prize for falling in love
piling up stuff for a life less lonely
but i know there’ll be no talking tonight
and then he’ll be gone by seven a.m.

catbirds mewing at seven a.m.
hummingbirds feeding down in the garden
the thought’s a cool drink on a hot summer night
not like this endless longing for Canaan
not like the pain of losing this love
or how much i’m scared of that word lonely

mama say you can be alone, not lonely
i don’t believe that at seven a.m.
got a shelf full a books that talk about love
but i never drank wine in that sweet smelling garden
never seen the moon rise over Canaan
won’t even sleep less he fucks me tonight

why is the talking time never tonight?
why does the waiting time feel so lonely?
been so long since i been to Canaan
that’s what i think almost every a.m.
when he’s on the road and i’m in the garden
counting pink pills and brooding on love

the books all say no one dies of love
but a voice from the gloom calls out every night
calls dark and restless from the fenceline of the garden
says, step across, i won’t let you be lonely
last night i walked there until  seven a.m.
and knew in my heart i’d never see Canaan

so i’ll drink to Canaan, to falling in love
to the pink pill  a.m, but don’t come home tonight
let me be lonely—let me burn down that garden
just let me be lonely—and burn down that garden

Leaving Sedona

Sign on AZ Rte. 89:”Fire Danger Is Moderate Today”

  Thirty miles past Sedona on the Oak Creek Canyon trail
seems light years into this paleozoic womb.
I strain to see the tree-crowned lava caps,
the road twisting-coiling like a ribbon of floss
between the teeth of the red rock bluffs and the creek.
After LA’s endless sunshine, after stick-dry Phoenix
with its sudden, shocking storms of flame, this blush
of cool, of wet against my pores is a great beatitude
and my heart is light.
They call this forest Coconino, and here
my botanical pride is greatly humbled. I see piñon,
well, short pines and tall, and spruce and birch
with peeling bark, but this is not my place.
This land has secrets I’d not plumb had I
all the summers I’ve lived plus all those left to me.

At the Ranger Station and Scenic Overlook

  Indians. I’ve been traveling the West six weeks,
crossing reservation lands—Yavapai, Hualapai, Pima
—seeing little but mesquite and mobile homes.
Here at last, I’ve found them. Indians. And I, who know
too well what it is to be stared at, I’m afraid to look.
They are selling crafts beside a Park Service
book kiosk—lovely soapstone bears, beadwork,
turquoise, arrowheads. I’m mortified. I have
too little cash to buy, too little nerve to ask a question.
  Then, too, there are the faces—far darker than my own
and craggy, alien.  They are Hopi. Dressed as Hopi.
In Arizona Diamondbacks T-shirts and jeans.
The deep-set eyes in those deep-brown faces look
at me, I think, with accusation. We know your kind,
they seem to say, though we know not  what you do here.
Tossing their lampblack hair. Cliff cities in these hills
knew our kind eleven thousand years before yours
were dragged here, filthy, in chains. I think of Buffalo Soldiers.
Burn with shame. I snap a quick shot of the canyon,
slate clouds lowering over the red-breasted hills.
Using plastic at the bookstore, I buy a field guide.
Hop in my car and fly.

At the Powwow Inn, Rte. 66, Tucumcari, New Mexico

  There’s a Kachina doll painted on the motel door.
A blanket framed on the desert pink walls.
  This is the last straw.
  Storms have hounded me from Apache lands to Navajo.
Drops the size of bullets pelting the car, great lances of lightning
scissoring the inky sky. And everywhere the signs: KACHINA DOLLS!
What is this poisonous nostalgia ribboned through our culture?
We mourn what we’ve destroyed, and seek not to make amends, but
resurrect it through cheap trinkets. Kachina dolls, lawn jockeys,
dream catchers, mammy cookie jars side by side on the shelves.
  In the gift shop at the Powwow Inn, there’s a life-sized Indian doll.
He has two braids, a turquoise headband topped with a turkey feather,
a magnificent necklace of bone over his chambray shirt.
I imagine he’s also for sale.
  “Tucumcari” is an Apache word that means “lookout.”
I snap the mannequin’s picture. I am keeping
a sharp look out.

Ariadne Auf Naxos, Alabama

I. On Seeing Dionysus at the Hydraulic Road K-mart  

Iakhos, holy one, lightly treads linoleum aisles past
lawn mowers, half-price books, Martha’s pastel towels.
A cart, leopard-drawn, draped in grapevine, trundles
at his heels. Square-hipped shop girls sigh and sweat.

They hear the maenads singing—though there are those
who see only someone’s dad, taller than many, better looking
than most—a deacon in somebody’s church? Proof,
I say, our world’s not odd enough for outlandish you.

Or contrarily that, of this parking lot world smelling so
strongly of diesel fumes, you are the savior. Marooned here
among the adenoidal girl singers and jumbo tubs of peanut
butter, I could be your Ariadne, lost and longing to be found.

It is spring, your feast-time. Leaves are on the vines. We broach
new wine to pour libations, and we grow young…we grow young.

II. The Triple Goddess Learns the Electric Slide

We broach new wine to pour libations. We grow young,
each year younger. Yes, the crown grays, breasts sink
lower on our bellies. Still we don our dancing shoes,
our flashing rings, set bits of crystal clashing in our ears.

Still we curl our lashes, straighten our hair so as, aswirl
in scent, in silks, to dance again our spiral dance, stepping
forward, swaying back, all those rows of toes tip-tapping
an electric slide, in perfect time, into timelessness.

So, yes, it’s just the Elks Lodge, as you say, just a group
no longer young in heels, a silly line dance, four-four beat.
Yet each is more: crone who in her prime grows young,
skin fresh, elastic, on her tongue no foretaste of the lees

at the bottom of the cup. Spirit, birdlike, darts amongst us:
we wax, we wane, stars rise, the earth exhales a dark perfume.

III. Ariadne auf Naxos, Alabama

I wax. I wane. The earth exhales her dark perfume
on this night blacker than emigration, than the darkest
night of separation, when even the stars above are red
and sullen. A thing I know. We’re falling out of love.

It’s said the sweets of life are for the mad. Well, I’ve
been that for you. Left my home blood-hot, candent
for the flush of skin on skin. Now I subsist on glimpses,
your distant voice acrackle on a mobile phone.

You found the thread hid deep within the labyrinth
of me, followed without effort. Your kiss my resurrection,
I came blinking from that world below. A thing I know—
for me there’s no return to the numbness of before...

So I think now, never was death so alive as on that day
you came, breathing miracles which now you murder.

IV. Ariadne’s Plaint Continues

You came, breathing miracles which now you murder
not respecting even spring—the finches chip-chip-
chipping at the feeder, tulips carving dabs of blood
on the picket fence, freedom not a hate or a forgetting

not yet at least. And still I cannot rest, have bad dreams:
a woman came with hands and eyes like mine, hair like night
perfumed with musk, and she’d been weeping, weeping.
I know her thready whisper how I died as my heart

greyly failed within me. And still you call and still I come,
as if forever’s now were where we stood, were still
to give. I’ve accepted what you can’t—there’s no appeal
from reason. So soon and very soon I’ll have to save myself,
leave this house to mourn its builder, find another,
breathe the no that fate won’t let me yes. This time.

V.  Theseus Recalls His Days Under Sail

Breathe the no that fear won’t let her yes? This time
she may. What holds her here I know—thirty years of history:
tiny hands on faces in a playpen, or dumped into a common bath.
Her smell, the very texture of her skin, like innocence itself.

Dark of heart, they’d say who knew us well, for me to claim
her love, her trust, all the luminous whole of singing her—
for cease from exploration, I cannot; shake off
my commitments, I will not, not even for the secret sweet

of her. It’s at the heart of who I am. I love the calls at 3 a.m.
Montreal? I’m there. I leave a house that sleeps to board
a jet bound who knows where. Just like the haze gray
days of setting out, sailing where the skies and sea are blue

and the women slim, hot, next to nothing on. Still I hold.
Our brief days grow briefest, she says. I don’t let go.

VI. Dionysus Speaks in Dreams and Portents

Their brief days already briefest, I just eased
the letting go. For heart-starved, sucked frail by spring’s
unregenerate bright sun she began to pine, to fail.
In his greediest paws I saw her going down, down,

down to dolor while his pride peacocked fat, well-fed
on her red currant pout. This my mystery profaned
for I am the merging/the madness both gentle
and terrible… which she does not flee. One whisper

from me leaves him sleepless, cigarette in hand, while
in a room across the river she sprawls in sweet
apostasy, grapevine twined about her bed. The skirl
of flutes, scent of wine arising, her heart opens

like hibiscus to my words. The thread is not lost:
if I be your labyrinth, you’ll find it in the dark.
VII. Shopping for the Sacred Marriage

She would find them in the dark, but the labyrinth
is garish with fluorescent light, the six hundred
thread count sheets she seeks sold out—nor do the cheap
chenilles, crochets offered in their stead have power to tempt.

She trips away. No more the nibbling sharp-toothed hours.
And that last thread of his voice raveling from the raw edge
of this current ease? She snips it, ruthlessly, away.
The absolute stars are still overhead, spring breeding

glory of the snow and crocus below, and she knows
the one note to resolve her discordant passions
into perfect silken tune won’t sound. Love him or end
it, neither stops the rhythm of the dance, the skirl

of flutes, the fragrant scent of libation. Even here, in this place,
Iakhos treads the cold white aisles, palm outstretched for her.