“To Eron on Her 32nd Birthday” by Sam Hamill

Sam Hamill


When the last shadow
of the forest vanishes
under the broad wings
of the last river falcon,

I will be alone again.
All the rain forests,
the endangered species and
flora and fauna

bearing testimony found
in hydrocarbons of stone …
going, going, gone.
Thus all our good intentions

are moving along—
their going is our going,
each bound to the other by
shared impermanence.

There’s nothing that’s not Nature.
And yet we are moved
almost to tears by the thought
of the last salmon or whale,

last wolf in the wild,
last California condor.
With a veil of tears
we shroud the dead we’ve tortured,

building great castles of sand.
Here at Kage-an,
we’ve golden and black bamboo,
white blossoming moss,

dark-leafed Japanese maple,
irises just being born—
emptiness in each,
as in this transient world.

Rexroth asked whether
meaning has being. I ask
how tall can the foxglove grow.
How long can the crow

strut his stuff, or the robin
continue to sing
the sun down under the earth?
I want to live a moment

in that song, to die
in that moment afterward,
when daylight has gone,
the world embalmed with silence

until the first marsh frog calls.
How much grief can one
life sustain?—ask the Rabbi
of Auschwitz who died

with his dignity intact,
or ask Chuang Tzu who laughs
loud at the question.
“I am not ashamed,” Merwin

wrote in a poem,
“of the wren’s murders nor the
badger’s dinners on which all
worldly good depends.”

Apologies to the slug
dissolving slowly
in the garden, and to the
mosquito thoughtlessly slapped;

and praise to the rice,
praise to the wine and to songs
that follow after;
and praise for our suffering

which ennobles all our joys.
I have no wisdom
to offer on your birthday,
but here is a song

to celebrate emptiness,
to celebrate years to come.
When I come at last
to be a passing shadow,

I’ll sound like a whale,
and plunge deep into the past.
We are devoid, Hayden says,
of essences, thus

neither young nor old, male nor
female, flesh nor stone.
Happy birthday, my dear one.
What outlasts us is our love.

from Rattle #8, Winter 1997


Sam Hamill: “I grew up on a ranch in Utah, a farm in Utah, and my old man, my adopted father, loved poetry. And he would sometimes recite poetry while he worked. And he would explain to me, the rhythm of the work would help you decide what poem to sort of say. The way you sometimes hum or sing when you work—well, he recited poetry that way, and I think that was what first turned me on to poetry.” (web)

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