March 21, 2011

Sam Hamill


The little olive-skinned girl
          peered up at me
from the photograph

with her eyes wide open,

deep brown beautiful eyes
          that bore silent witness
to a grief as old as the ages.

She was young,
          and very beautiful, as only
the young can be,
          but within such beauty
as bears calamity silently:

because it has run out of tears.

I closed the magazine and went
          outside to the wood pile
and split a couple of logs, thinking,
          “Her fire is likely
an open fire tonight,
          bright flames licking
and waving

like rising pennants in the breeze.”

When I was a boy,
          I heard about the bloodshed
in Korea, about the Red Army
          perched at our threshold,
               and the bombs
that would annihilate our world


I got under my desk with the rest of the foolish world.

In Okinawa, I wore the uniform

          and carried the weapon
until my eyes began to open,
          until I choked
on Marine Corps pride,
          until I came to realize
just how willfully I had been blind.

How much grief is a life?
          And what can be done unless
we stand among the missing, among the murdered,
          the orphaned,
our own armed children, and bear witness

with our eyes wide open?

When I was a child, frightened of the night
          and crying in my bed,
my father told me a poem or sang,

“Empty saddles in the o-l-d corral,
where do they r-i-d-e tonight.”

Homer thought the dead arrived
          into a field of asphodels.
“Musashino,” near Tokyo, means
          “Musashi’s Plain,”
the warrior’s way washed in blood.

The war-songs are sung
          to the same old marching measures–
oh, how we love to honor the dead.

A world without war? Who but a child or a fool
could imagine such a thing?

Corporate leaders go to school
          on Sun Tzu’s Art of War.
“We all deplore it,” the President says,
          issuing bombing orders,
“but God is on our side.”

Which blood is Christian,
which Muslim, Jew or Hindu?

The beautiful girl with the beautiful sad eyes
          watches, but
has not spoken. What can she

possibly say?
          She carries the burden of finding
another way.

In her eyes, the ruins, the fear,
the shoes that can’t be filled, hands
that will never stroke her hair.

But listen. And you will hear her small, soft, plaintive voice
–it’s already there within you–

a heartbeat, a whisper,
a promise broken–
if only you listen

with your eyes wide open.

from Rattle #25, Summer 2006

Recording courtesy of Michael Ladd. First aired on Poetica Radio, June 23rd, 2007.

Rattle Logo