October 14, 2018

Chera Hammons


This is the algebra of language: wordmath.
Try it. An ebb and flow of sweetness: honeymoon.
Childhood: the head covering of someone
who is still discovering what to forget.
The friend of my friend is my friendfriend.

Sorry, bad example; the second friend is silent.
There but not there. Something implied, imagined.
Like how yesterday I told students
Kill your darlings! But don’t bury them.
And somehow they knew that what I meant
is that redundancy can be as efficient as resurrection.
Though there was no real danger; we killed nothing.

When the moon appears in a lake,
it means it has dropped low enough for you to wade into.
If you want. The moon is blank as a mirror.
It doesn’t mind if you reflect in its reflection.

Foreshadowing: darkness that walks in front of you.
Slumlord: the god of not-enough.

If you are male, you are man, you are he,
I am fe. I am wo. I am s.
The plural and the possessive. The hiss
of air escaping from a tire. Tired.

Think about this: the enemy of my friend
could still be my friend,
but probably isn’t.

Is there any better way to say
that one can orbit a body that orbits another body?
That gravity ties us to each other?
And that other bodies orbit us?

—No, it seems we have finally run out of words.
Now removing the spaces between them
is the only way to make something new.

I say I am the daughter of my father.
I say I am the daughter of my mother, too.

from Poets Respond
October 14, 2018


Chera Hammons: “This week, it was posited that a moon belonging to another moon be called a ‘moonmoon.’ The reaction on social media was mixed, with some praising the name’s simplicity and childlike sound, and others complaining that it was lazy and not creative enough.” (web)

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May 13, 2018

Chera Hammons


They say the body can remember feeling pain,
but not well enough to feel it twice.
Once it has passed, it has gone for good.
See the way a person curls around an ache;
later, try to prove that it was there.
Ask a mother who has untangled her blood from her child’s
if she would do it all over again.

Beyond my front door the troubled world is waiting.
I yearn for something I don’t know how to name.
Is it something more than survival?
In the obstetrician’s office, pictures of flowers
litter the walls. Labeled pistil, stamen, petal.
People listen to music while they wait.
In farther rooms, faded cotton gowns
are folded. Meant to be tied in the front.

They say to be cursed, you’ve got to believe in curses.
What is a woman? Can you kiss
any of that hurt away?
The wood is too green and will not burn.
We leave with what we carried when we arrived—
a hunger, a love of air. That’s it.
I don’t know how to take compliments,
so I bury them alive.

You know how when you look at a light for too long,
everything gets the shape of that brightness on it.
People ask, this thing that you made.
Did you have to make it? Does it have meaning?
Did you have to do it so that you could live?

Some days, you have to forget pain
before you can make yourself believe
that this world is anything worth saving.

Now there are scars where the wounds have been,
the same shape as the wounds.
Now we are ruining our bodies again
and trusting that they will forgive us.

from Poets Respond


Chera Hammons: “I wrote this poem after reading an article posted by NPR entitled, ‘For Every Woman Who Dies in Childbirth in the U.S., 70 More Come Close.’ It notes that survival only comes at great cost. Anyone who reads this article must surely wonder, how is it possible that such a cost is acceptable to us?” (web)

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February 8, 2017

Chera Hammons


The worst part is that there is still some hope.
That there keeps being hope, no matter what happens to us.

Even though my stomach has hurt since the second grade
and I worry, one day, I won’t be able to make it to work anymore.

Even though when you were a child, you couldn’t say your Rs right.
We confess our wildest disappointments to each other,

no matter how small. The ways our families’ politics let us down.
The way you teach fourth grade instead of college,

though the debt we pay promised us something else.
The last rejection I got from Copper Canyon Press.

The way the plumber installed our dryer vent
(it’s too long, and the angle far too steep).

The way our border collie barks day and night at nothing,
no matter how we yell at or cajole her.

And if there is room enough for her to slip past
the person who opens the gate to feed her, she will.

The last time she got by us, she did it at night,
escaped into the blackness by the road

where we could hear her rushing like a wild boar through the sage,
then catch on the bottom strand of barbed wire with a yelp

that said she didn’t have the time to worry
about either her hurt or our embarrassment.

We stood in the road and could soon find no trace of her.
The darkness settled over us like a dove,

but all of the houses on the street had one bulb shining.
A quarter of a mile away, she appeared without warning

under the neighbor’s porch light,
as if she had always been waiting at the wrong door.

When we called the name that should have drawn her back,
she looked our way, tongue hanging, then disappeared.

I went to get the car, but by the time I had pulled out of the driveway
you were approaching in its headlights, bent low over the dog,

the dog pulling and panting, jerking you toward home.
I rolled down the window and offered you the leash,

but you called, It’s all right—I’ve got her collar
as if we weren’t talking about two different things.

That damned dog. That damned dog.
She won’t stop barking at nothing.

And all this time, though there’s no place left for any of us,
we keep living here. We keep confessing to one another.

Every time we are saved, we pretend it’s forever.

from Rattle #54, Winter 2016

[download audio]


Chera Hammons: “My dog June, who inspired many of the lines in this poem, was adopted from a kill shelter. When my husband and I adopted her, it was her last day, and ‘Euthanize’ was stamped in red across all of her paperwork. She was a mystery when we got her—she was already spayed, she was mostly housebroken, and she had had some light training. Someone in the past had cared about her. Over the years, we’ve come to discover the issues that probably landed her in the shelter, but she’s ours now, part of our home, and we will do our best not to fail her. So much of the time, when there’s so much that’s out of our control, that’s all we can really do, I think—accept what we are, what we have, and try not to fail each other.” (website)

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March 29, 2015

Chera Hammons


Musicians know how to write silence,
how to lay lines and measures across a white landscape,

to show where music is and where it can’t be,
where notes should swell and where they should rest.

If I were a musician I might write it this way:
empty measure after empty measure, then the cymbal left ringing out.

Everyone would know what I meant then.
But poetry doesn’t speak with silence the way music can.

It can give you images: the slow drop through a tent of cloud.
The way the land stretches forever in veins of rock and snow.

It can put spaces in between things to spread them out.
The baby’s cry hanging in the air, caught as in a photograph

with the same strange stillness as a horse caught mid-stride.
The metal glittering sharp as ice around the flanks of the Alps.

The fragments of bodies gathered and lifted out
of where they fell, as gently held as early asters,

or love letters smuggled through a war.
If I were a musician I could write it another way, too:

I could unroll the lines of the staff like a fence.
The notes would settle all over it like wrens.

Then they would sing, if they felt a song there.

Poets Respond
March 29, 2015


Chera Hammons: “I think what strikes me most about this event is the difference between what we can see on the outside—the plane descending, the blur of engines, radio silence—and the panic occurring on the inside. The strangeness of the co-pilot’s breath on the flight recording during the entire descent, without a single word spoken. Also, the limits of words in the face of such a tragedy.”

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January 4, 2015

Chera Hammons


The birds are always a surprise,
the way they dart among the airy metal trusses
and peer at the shoppers,
tilting their heads with worry,
as if we could reach them that high up.
You can’t help but wonder how they survive
with everything packaged
and put away, what door they came in through,
or if they will make it back out. It’s hard to think
that the sparrows in the cereal aisle,
waiting for a spill, can slowly starve.
That the janitors will scoop their still-warm bodies
into bins, quickly, during the empty nights,
when nobody sees.

Really, this place is full of undoings
that people don’t usually notice,
the things we put in our carts that used to be living,
but more too, the employees who wonder how to pay rent,
the relationships quietly unraveling, couples not speaking,
grandparents slowly leaving lonely houses
less and less at a time,
the children already starting to undo their parents,
getting farther and farther away from them in the aisles,
some of them, and you can see
that eventually they’ll get out of reach completely.

Still, the shot surprises us. The thought of it,
an opening mouth that was just beginning to say No.

Because this morning, like us,
she might have watched the dark-eyed juncos
scratching for seeds in the snow, bright and delighted.
Because she awoke like us and dressed,
because she ate breakfast,
and her life, like ours, was just as it had been
every other day, something from before
that carries over with us,
and something else always just about to begin.

Poets Respond
January 4, 2015

[download audio]


Chera Hammons: “I was shocked when I heard that a two-year-old boy had shot and killed his mother in Wal-Mart with her own concealed handgun. I kept thinking about what it would be like to carry that sort of thing, for the child and for his father, for the manager that took the gun from the boy’s hand, all the ripples something like this can have. What the mother would have had time to see and feel. It’s the sort of thing that, if you let yourself think about it too much, is enough to break your heart.” (website)

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October 13, 2013

Chera Hammons


It’s a house-shaker, cellar-thumper,
the sort that we are warned about,
but not all of us have basements
so we fit into our closets when it comes,
just widened-out eyes and elbows while
the outside air boils and sings with electricity.

We grow up with it, always know this might
happen to us, that we will sit in our groaning box
in a sea of wind, and will wait under pillows
that must stop whatever pieces of cars pierce the walls,

so we have planned ahead, know the safest room.
We know that while we wait
the rebar will be ripped from the concrete,
the studs will be stripped, sand-blasted with topsoil,
hail will beat the nearly-wild roses flat.
The bells at the non-denominational church
will clang like mad yelling saints, the power will flicker,

the lights may go out, the garage door thrown off
so the house is a vacuum, but the warning sirens
are always a thrill when they start up,
the way that families freeze to listen at first.
They pause in their meals, or their small talk,

and suddenly hear tree branches already
slapping the dust off their houses, and the spitting rain
that saturates the brick red like when it was new,
the windows rattling, and the mile-long rumble
that might not be a freight train.

We know more about meteorology than most.
A ridge of low pressure, straight line winds,
gulf moisture were in our bedtime stories.
The storm will pass soon, the worst ones
wear themselves out fast with their violence,
and the morning will sparkle with dew and bent metal,
the roots of the cottonwoods like old fingers
finally holding the sky like something they’d hoped for.

We have rebuilt now so many times that nobody thinks
it’s unusual if you never find some of what blew away.
We will go outside to see what still stands,
meet our neighbors assessing the storm,
and what the new day is like, preening in its calm;
we’ll call it a good day for repairing the damage,
a good thing that things were not worse.
The weather is our culture, what we have in
common, all we really know how to talk about.

from Rattle #39, Spring 2013
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