Justin Hamm, Poems


Oklahoma

Where grown-old pickups go
to live out their remaining days.
The rusty, the crusty, the boxlike in body,
the last of the clunker-cash refugees    
parked outside of midcentury diners
or near the downest and dirtiest dives—
or else half off the highway, like this F-150,  
the powdered blue one with the red dirt dusting her hood
and the red dirt grubbing up her wheelwells,
the same red dirt found on the bootsoles
of the grizzled old cowboy
who wakes in her cab and straightens his hat
and steps gingerly into the hot Oklahoma sun
to the sounds of bone creak and joint pop.
Who two-minute gravel coughs his lungs clear  
and leans smoking against her tailgate
as he scans the red dirt horizon for signs
of the invisible pale horse rider.

The Farmers at Their Morning Coffee 

Hear what news passes their lips
between the slow, ginger sips
from steaming plastic cups
at the local Hardee’s.

Hear the coded odes
to past courting prowess,
the ballads of Mesozoic-like fish
caught not by pole but old-fashioned
Lincoln-style wrestling.

Uniformed in shirtsleeves
and meshback feedcompany hats,
they tell of coon dogs
treeing iguanas, old flood stories
to rival Gilgamesh or the Bible.

They tell in hushed voices
of witchwives who watch and hear
from afar the truth of a man’s heart.

Was another pitiful year
for the crops, says one.
Too wet to plant in the spring
and too dry to grow
in the summer, says another.
This one’s circulatory piping
has clogged up again.

And now the cold, too, has returned.
They all agree it really is
the deep kind that settles
into earth and old bones alike.
Things are always just a little
bit worse than they were
this time yesterday morning.

Still, it must feel good to be
so old and alive on this frosty morning,
to drink such hot coffee
and perhaps pick over
a rubbery breakfast platter
while curing the literal truth
of its shameful lack of color
here at this table where all the seats
are filled for only God
knows how much longer.

First Morning in the Mountains 

The day before, remember,
had been that special
travel chaos
families must endure.

But now, all of us
fully rested
from the long road trip,
we couldn’t stop
grinning

Outside, the bears
foraged beneath
a golden sunrise.

Inside the chilly cabin
you held our baby girl
babbling on your hip
and warmed the skillet,
lobbing the occasional
happy thought
into the living room
as you felt inclined.

Beneath a blanket
on the sofa
our older daughter and I
reworked
every pop song we knew
to reference bacon.

How is it there are
no pictures to post,
not a single selfie
to crop or filter?

Surely the camera battery
must have been dead,
our cell phones
mislaid for the moment.

Or else—no.
I think maybe it was
just that good.
I think we must have
felt so alive
in that moment,
so entirely ourselves,
neither of us could bear
to pause
for the time it would take
to tame and frame
the glorious freedom
burning from our faces.

Marriage (Detail)

She wakes me unexpectedly
in the dead of the night,
panicked, breathing hard,
asking, “Is she talking to me,
is she talking to me?”

“Who?” I say.

“The doll,” she says. “The doll.”
Then immediately begins
to snore again, leaving me alone
to contemplate that
while staring into the darkness.

 
Originally from the flatlands of central Illinois, Justin Hamm now lives near Twain territory in Missouri. He is the founding editor of the museum of americana and the author of American Ephemeral (forthcoming in 2017, and containing the above poems) and Lessons in Ruin, both from Aldrich Press, as well as two poetry chapbooks. His poems or stories have appeared in Nimrod, The Midwest Quarterly, Cream City Review, Sugar House Review, and a host of other publications. Recent work has also been selected for New Poetry from the Midwest  (2014, New American Press) and the Stanley Hanks Memorial Poetry Prize from the St. Louis Poetry Center. These are his photos, as well.

Justin Hamm’s Website 

Justin Hamm’s Photography at EIL 

A Poem for Your Pocket by Justin Hamm at EIL