- Name: Christine Hamm
Christine Hamm has a PhD in American Poetics. She won the MiPoesias First Annual Chapbook Competition with her manuscript, Children Having Trouble with Meat. Her poetry has been published in The Adirondack Review, Pebble Lake Review, Lodestar Quarterly, Poetry Midwest, Rattle, and many others. She has been nominated four times for a Pushcart Prize, and she teaches English at Pace University. Echo Park, her third book of poetry, was published by Blazevox in 2011. New Orlean Review published her chapbook, A is for Absence, in 2014. Christine was a runner-up to the Poet Laureate of Queens.
Tuesday, October 04, 2005
Friday, February 21, 2003
(again) and as usual it hurts...
like the mouths of dangerous children.
The wind is cold and too tired
of itself to be bitter. The stench
of drowning earthworms fills wet streets. Hands
and feet and foreheads are white and
stupid with cold and wet and mud.
Inside the hospital
a white dwarf
stretches up from her pillow
making and selling
"when I was a goil."
Tiny Indian girls flow
out of the thunderbird.
Lime and teal
satinslashpolyester frocks foaming
at the sleeves and hems with plastic lace.
They are made up like movie
stars, Egyptian eyed.
Into the one-hour photo studio
with the cracked pane,
sidestepping the cloud reflecting puddles
not even giggling,
holding their breaths, lifting
like dainty deer hooves,
their ankle socks
the breath of
I start to fill the tub.
The phone rings and I answer it.
I hear a lamp being knocked over in the next room.
I slam the door open.
I bring home a plastic bag of groceries. I leave
the bag on the kitchen floor while I do laundry.
I open the dryer door to check my clothes.
They’re not dry yet. I close the door and turn
the dryer on.
I chase the kitten. I trip and there’s an
My front door is heavy and poorly weighted.
It swings shut before I can stop it.
I come home one day and it has disappeared.
No trace. Ever.
I put down roach motels.
My window is propped open by a cheap screen.
The screens tips under pressure and the window falls.
I use flea powder.
There’s an older, jealous cat.
I step away from the stove to watch the X-files
while spaghetti boils.
In my dream, I give birth to the kitten. I hold it over the rocks
at the ocean and it falls. I can’t stop it. It disappears. I hold it in my arms,
wrapped in a pink blanket, face up, then it’s gone.
A month ago it was summer.
But now it's fall and
will not bleach out of my sheets.
the horizon of pines
stitches together night and day.
In the chicken wire garden
beyond our bedroom window,
black-eyed bucks and jays
each knot of pumpkins.
is eventually carnivorous.
Desire turns allergic
my hair color three times,
the lightening sky reminds
me of the underside
of your wrist
where I used to rest my cheek.
Your scent of
me from room to room.
Each winter promises to be gone
each love swears
to be the last;
And every man
becomes a stranger.
A small comfort
these awkward metal door frames
without walls or door.
Something should be different
when I walk through,
the room will change somehow
the light shift
the carpet brighten
and a melody emerge from the table.
But I’m the one who changes.
I’ve gone from unsafe to safe.
I’m one of the chosen.
I alarm no one.
Because no one can see
what I’ve swallowed.
It's the chemicals, they keep telling us.
Hormones, pheromones, dopamine,
not to mention cocaine, marijuana, ecstasy.
In intro chem my friend and I pass notes,
mocking the teacher, Mr. M., his pear shaped hips,
the strings of spittle at the corners of his
mouth, but really we're in love
we have no idea what with, but
there's the heady stink of it in chem lab, mixed with burning gas, chalk,
bitter ammonia, and those
odd colored liquids, constantly spilling from
beakers constantly breaking as they slip from the gloves Mr. M.
makes us wear, gloves we know we don't need;
if they would only
let us get our naked hands on those elements,
everything would be all right, the crab monsters, genetic
experiments gone horribly wrong, would go back in the bedroom
closet the dreams of red sweat flailing elbows and disembodied panting
interfering every time we tried to read
Emily Dickinson, and our love, yes that sulfuric, phosphorescent
oil slick shining from our noses and cheeks,
would finally separate, in the centrifuge between the hallway of babble and slowly decomposing chemical
into its basic forms,
into the most simple compounds and we would
understand the dizziness
tingling and explosions
that’s all we ask.
After that last day,
I decide to try something new:
stay in bed a long time.
I keep my eyes under the covers,
but cats keep sitting on my head.
The washing machine next door
bumps one sneaker
bumps one sneaker
bumps one sneaker
and does not
heed my cries.
I send the hospital across the street
three memos requesting that they lower
the decibels of their sirens,
but I am ignored.
My neighbors upstairs continue to tread
on their rickety wooden floor,
evidencing no concern for my sanity or well-being.
And despite my supplications to any number of gods
my dreams continue to be peopled with
kitten-sized roaches, cheap
smelling hair-care products,
and marble palaces that sink into the sea,
leaving my dream self in tears.
My request that I dream of
the map of heaven
has so far,
A bomb falls
on an orphanage,
The orphans decorate
it with ribbons and
At noon, they eat
tunafish sandwiches in
the bomb's shadow.
They tap it with their fingernails,
whisper to it when no one's looking.
In class, the children stare
out the high window at the bomb,
their eyes distant,
as if they are blind to time or sound.
One girl tries to ride the bomb.
She is caned.
Many are caned.
Some run away.
The bomb stays.
The orphans grow older.
They all limp or stutter.
A bomb-shaped hole
occupies their tongues;
the soles of their feet.
In their dreams, cups shatter;
the sun explodes.
They startle awake into darkness.
There are no more candles.
Nothing left to burn.
Please answer the following four questions. For each question, you will be given an incomplete statement followed by four possible endings. Think constantly of things that are pink. Please choose the ending that corresponds closest to the corrrect meaning. Some endings may appear to be correct, but only one is the right answer.
Put your pencils down.
I'm the only writer in this room.
1. A poem is:
b) I'll give you something to cry about
c) hitting your thumb with a hammer
d) a wet kiss from a woman with loose dentures
e) the way the skirt of a girl moves around her thighs
as she climbs the stairs ahead of you
f) the image of your hand, there
2. On any given day, there are:
a) a bucket
b) pins in the corner of her mouth
c) what exactly does this have to do with the previous question?
d) a cloud that reminds you of a dream you had once, but you can't remember, it's all just a series of images and the images themselves are a blur. Or maybe that wasn't a dream.
Maybe it actually happened. Sorry. I can't be anymore specific.
But anyway, you were saying?
3. Subject and object confusion are often a sign of:
b) you're a woman
c) hitting your thumb with a hammer
d) your woman is a small machine
e) You're kidding. And what did she say?
I am the dressmaker’s daughter.
He hates sewing
but he knows nothing else.
He kneels at women’s feet all day
while their faces tell him his touch doesn’t matter.
I am the dressmaker’s dummy.
I can fit any dress size.
His touch doesn’t matter.
He is my father.
I don’t need a head
or feet or arms.
I am the dressmaker’s daughter.
The pins leave a tattoo of scars.
He reads them to me at night.
I smell like cotton padding and rust.
These pins are pearls.
I’ve worn 16 wedding dresses.
My hair is made of lace.
My nails have been replaced by springs.
All day I hear the whirring of tiny gears.
Tiny girls circle my head, which I don’t need.
Underneath my skirt,
there’s an automitizer full of gasoline.
I am dangerous around small fires.
I am a machine
made of rubber bands, ear wax
I run on hot air.
When I hold my breath,
I hardly bleed.
These pins do not pop me like a balloon
made of wax or songs.
His slacks are striped taffeta.
I am the dressmaker or his daughter.
I keep a pet
woman under my bed.
and feisty, with sharp teeth.
I make her
wear all the clothes
I hate; high heels, garter belts, clingy velour.
I feed her chocolate and wine
from a box. She glares at me
as she twirls the curling iron through her brown hair.
I let her out once a week
for a bubble bath.
When she’s PMSing
she kicks the bottom of my mattress
to keep me awake. I punish her
by taking away her cable.
spends all day looking at her mirror
instead of me. I get her a fist
sized disco ball:
we kiss and make up.
She’s so small
I can fit my tongue
all the way around her neck.
She tastes of vinegar and honey.
When she’s been good I let her sleep
at the foot of my bed. Sometimes
I wake up
and she’s in my mouth.
I chew her
hair softly, like a cow would,
if it had the heart of a wolf.
Then I put her back in her cage.
She cries and dresses
until the moon
Kiss or Kill
red like the velvet dress
Maria wore that night outside the bar in november
she refused to wear her jacket
she said it clashed
her goose pimples
were like braille
I wanted to read them
with my fingertips
Maria kept talking under the streetlamp
she wouldn’t go back into the bar with me
to get warm
I wondered if she wanted me
to kiss her
and I wondered so hard I felt sick
her breath kept spurting out
in white clouds of syllables
from her red red mouth
shaped like a big o or maybe a zero
I just wanted to shut that red mouth
I wasn’t sure how
Self Portrait as a House
I could be a tin-roofed house
made of cardboard or gingerbread
in Mexico City:
mud and shit floor,
yellow dogs running in and out,
sometimes tugging on the baby's ear.
Maybe I'm a house
only open to the public
ten days a year, hallways saved
by parens of gold velvet cord,
doorways lined with plastic tongues,
and maybe I'm filled with the curlicued
objects of the dead
who had several silk hats,
some with blue feathers.
I could be an apartment building:
leaking the music of pipes,
smoke detectors and screams or barks.
Maybe I'm full of people
with hair that won't behave
and maybe they're crying,
for Joseph Cornell
Why is it that when people speak of joy
or paint its substance,
the canvas is a vast
blue sky or an acre of snow,
maybe by a few black boughs.
My joy teaches me small:
tiny and dark with delicate moving parts
in the shadows,
like the ripple of a salmon gill
under the river
or a small vintage machine
with obscure purpose and
My joy is not made in the huge
bright handclap of God.
It is made by tiny mice paws
in the mud. It is made of straw
with a few
Tuesday, September 24, 2002
White light pours raging from
my soul burning
blasting to ash everything
in sight white illuminates
the bones of my hand
white leaves my tears at dusk
white tears it all to dust
and tears and sings and soars and swallows
and makes me wish for night
white is the gnashing of teeth
the gullet that ends in shit
white is the needle
the sucking and fucking and touching
but most of all
my clit licked
like an electric switch hit
white is the power surge
that drains the city
scars the seers
rips the iris, the pupil
throws school out of order
classrooms upside down
empty plaid skirts floating
white lights like a moth
stings like a widow
stings like an hourglass
trills of sweet death.
Tuesday, September 10, 2002
In your loft
with the lights low
we sit talking
as I want to fuck you
I look into your pretty
brown eyes and
will your fist up my cunt.
We talk about politics,
spirituality, the knicks,
who gives a fuck?
I try to radiate sex juice
in your direction.
If I get any more frustrated,
these dirty windows will shatter
like when a soprano hits a high "C".
I hint that I'm "a woman with a past."
I hint that I'm "easy."
It's 4am and my throat is sore
from all this goddamn intellectualizing.
I'm dizzy from lust, fatigue
and your cigarette smoke.
I say I need to get to bed.
You gesture towards the couch
and slouch off towards your room.
In five minutes I knock on your door
and let myself in.
Your belly is soft, concave
and covered in darling brown curls.
Your cock tastes of piss and scented
Then just of cock.
Afterwards, I whine into my hand,
"Four hours of talk!"
You are hurt,
crease your sweet brow and say,
"What? You didn't enjoy our conversation?"
with wings made of safety pins,
used tampons and bottlecaps,
softly swoops down
and kisses the place under
the left breast
of all the middle-aged single women
whose bras are too tight, who
get a little sore
spot right there,
on the fragile skin
over the heart --
every night before each
of those women
takes her last breath
of kisses she'll never have,
or had but never wanted,
she feels a tingle
right there --
like the start of a heart attack
or the glowing thumbprint of a saint
or how a thumbprint might feel
if a saint were to touch her
to touch her:
Anyone who wasn't
She weeps into your coffee; staples memos to her blouse. She has acne; her lipstick smears. She breaks up with her boyfriend every other weekend and makes you hear about it. She is always twenty minutes late. She sometimes answers the phone with a stunned silence, as if she’s forgotten not only where she works and who she is, but what a phone is. She loses files. She erases files. Her nails are so long she can’t type. She has carpal tunnel so she can’t type. She shows up one Monday in a neck brace. She forgets to wear a bra. She swears (a lot). She refuses to get you lunch. You find a voodoo doll of yourself in her desk. She makes you hate her. She smells of cinnamon and dog shit. When she wears a tank top, you swear you see the flutter of wings around her shoulder blades. Your palm pilot melts in its cradle. Your tie makes like a lobster and pinches your nose. Your titanium G-4 explodes. You can’t stop yourself from putting your tongue in her mouth. She doesn’t wear underwear. She doesn’t bathe. She makes you love her. She is your master.
when you fuck me
you touch my spine
and I become your fingerprint.
you hurt me
I become your teeth marks.
you bend me over the sofa,
and I become
the last day of July.
July insects buzz the sidewalk.
It's twenty minutes of rectangular and bleak to anywhere.
See the cracks,
the lines crisscrossing
the telephone poles, the concrete
and your hand,
this street disappears into empties --
beer cans and sky.
You're walking through airless shadows.
Your shoes don't make a sound.
And we have no idea where we're going.
The muscles of my tongue cup him.
Broken backed chairs lean forward expectantly
and the rug curls in anticipation.
No one can close their eyes but him.
Then moonlight does what moonlight does,
Shadows speed across his face
like a hand struggling with Braille.
I struggle for something not so solid.
Preparations, retreats --
strategies are traced on the sheets
covering his thighs.
Only when he's sleeping can I think.
Such things can be done
with a shadow.
The Anatomy of Distance
Picture an oil painting,
In the Medical Academy, by a Dutch master in 1741.
The walls are in shadow, appear to be black.
Our walls are blue.
I. The Doctors:
In the auditorium,
in our room,
spectators surround the body.
One touches it and looks at us.
He doesn't mean to touch the body
in a way that has any kindness in it,
As your fingers attempt to sign nothing
with their grasp,
but his hands are as gentle
as the soft astonished faces of the men staring at us
as we stare at them.
II. The Body:
The body does not appear
to be sleeping but dead.
Not just the pallor but the lack of eyelashes.
The upper lip curls in ecstasy or disdain.
Although the kidneys vena cava intestines
splay into our faces,
is the only one
who escapes in this picture.
truly alone and hidden.
You and I are hidden
from each other
by the body,
the deeper we thrust
our cutting, fondling instruments
the farther we float away like unmoored boats.
Until we lie next to one another
on the same bed
in different rooms
the same color as the inside of an eyelid
the same color blue.
My life is pain.
I could be a hypochondriac.
There's some kind of multiple choice here,
but I lost the pencil and forgot to mark the page.
I'm not quite sure -- I wake up sick
in the morning, nauseated by all the light.
My feet leaving the mattress
for the floor gives me shooting pains
I'd have to ask my doctor,
but she stopped returning my calls last month.
She said it was getting too intense
all that blood and exchange of bodily fluids.
She had a thing for latex.
I think that shows a fear of intimacy.
We only kissed twice the whole time
we were together.
Anyway, it's over now.
She won't even renew my prescription
And I'm left with this migraine
and an unnatural swelling behind my left ear.
My skin, it tingles
sometimes, along my fingertips.
I'm sure it's the precursor
to some sort of paralysis.
And the light, ah,
It scalds my eyes.
Makes them tear constantly.
This can't be normal.
Tell me, this can't be
Sex in Middle America
to a slip on a clothesline.
The light holds it like a dance partner
a hand around the waist
a knee nudging between knees.
The line sighs with brilliant expectation.
In the breeze
the lace hem
reaching with hips
the shivering moon.
The South African junkie
bites my breasts
with his broken teeth.
He refuses to believe
the bruises are from him.
I love him in exact proportion
to his disdain.
His rotting breath
and constant farts
remind me of a dream
in which I ride a black donkey
in the mountains of a desert
and hit it with a switch.
With his arms around me
I can hear flies
as if we are already dead.
The Addict Renames the Days
This day is called Screamed myself hoarse at him
while I sat naked and fat on the futon.
The next day is called He punched his fist through
the wall and I kissed his broken knuckles.
The next is called I am too stoned to remember to
move when someone fucks us.
The next day is not called anything.
The next day is called My head is a snow globe
that’s been set on fire and is cracking.
This is followed by the day of Vomiting and regret.
The final day is I’m leaving you and getting a real life,
then the week starts over.
In the elevator
going up to your apartment
you jam your hand
down the front of my pants.
And I'm not wearing underwear.
This is sudden and
makes me wet
but I think you
close your eyes
not to see me
but to see yourself.
in your own
private porno flick.
I'm not starring.
I'm just an extra.
I'm just along for the ride.
Things that are Left at K-mart,
According my Dream on Wednesday
Stitches. Spines. Saints.
Folds of female flesh.
Waterlogged books, swollen pages spreading.
Seawater. Ski masks.
Hatchets. Tea leaves
in the shape of an anchor.
Gold hoop earrings.
Plaid checks. Chocolate chip cookies.
unsets like pink daisies.
Mannequins with chipped lips.
The torso of a woman.
A marble quarry filled with rainwater.
The torso of a woman. My mother.
The torso of a woman.
The rhinestone glasses she wore in college.
The Venus de Milo. Cumulus clouds.
My Venus. My torso.
The torso of a woman.
My cats hate electricity.
They are scabby, fetid, dark.
They nose the alarm clock off the dresser.
They unplug the TV, the fan, the microwave.
My cats circle me in the dark,
teeth shining like
the memory of that night
the one I turn the lights on trying
1,000 Words for Snow
can be nothing but a cliche,
their necks and waists
pared down to a commonality.
They are becoming feral and angelic,
Fur springing from their forearms and upper lips,
Cheerleaders with yellow and navy polyester croptops
revealing an emptiness,
like blond rain,
more giving up the scalp for the pillow
The scent of vomit, bleach and strawberry
coalesces in front of them like
Skywriting bargaining with God, the body.
Their eyes burn like stomach acid
Their mouths drool uncontrollably at the refrigerator light.
They are reducing
To satin bows around necks, the texture
of new teddy bear fur, and
curling into an earlier and earlier knot,
Recapitulating into a
A wishbone of endless white ice,
or vast vanilla ice cream.
They are returning to something everyone remembers
But cannot say.
They are ivory novices in an abbey
with blood colored shadows,
prostrating themselves before
Before it happened
before the ever slower
beating organ, praying
for the final reversal of miracle.
And in their ears they always hear
the tinny ringing --
A scratchy voice from a swollen
of the snow-white
beauty of bones.
I keep his cigarette butts in my cereal bowl
on the kitchen table
next to the bottle of wine he drank.
It's become an acrid shrine to forgetting you.
A toast to his teeth gentle on my ribs,
to his thumb beckoning inside me
until you were just
healed bruises and
It's a souvenir of his whispered
questions, my answers always
with the breath of
a woman who has run a long way
to get to this place.
This is a poem about a lawn.
It's flat where the chairs went in August.
There are dandelions.
A bulldog digs a hole and buries a hand,
buries a handball.
The lawn is mown at near regular intervals by
a flamboyant transsexual.
I mean a moody teenage boy.
The mower is gas powered and full of deadly thoughts.
The daughter of the house
sniffs gasoline in the garage.
When she lies on the cool invasive concrete
the rafters full of her father's tools spin above her.
Later, she will become a moody teenage boy.
I mean a second grade teacher.
Until she marries a red haired man
who dies suddenly.
She finds herself feeling nothing and
questions the nature of her reality.
She's not real
so she doesn't question it for very long.
But this poem is not about her;
it's about her lawn
and she's ten and
hasn't turned into anything interesting for
the past 24 hours.
The lawn, however,
has become a sunset, a stick of flesh
and a tic in the gunman's lower eyelid.
it becomes a weeping man,
stands up and
walks out of this picture.