top ten

My Photo
Name:

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.

Friday, February 21, 2003

Spring

(again) and as usual it hurts...
Flowers
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
(the dying
woman)
stretches up from her pillow
to whisper
stories about
making and selling
paper flowers
"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,
they flower
sidestepping the cloud reflecting puddles
not even giggling,
holding their breaths, lifting
shiny shoes
like dainty deer hooves,
their ankle socks
flashing
like
the breath of
stars.

Thirteen Ways of Killing a Kitten

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
unpleasant noise.

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.

June's Lament

A month ago it was summer.

But now it's fall and
you're gone.

Your stains
will not bleach out of my sheets.

This morning
the horizon of pines
stitches together night and day.

In the chicken wire garden
beyond our bedroom window,
black-eyed bucks and jays
undo
each seam
of berries,
each knot of pumpkins.

Everything
is eventually carnivorous.
Desire turns allergic
to itself.

I've changed
my hair color three times,
but still
the lightening sky reminds
me of the underside
of your wrist
where I used to rest my cheek.

Your scent of
sweet
and rotting
fruit shadows
me from room to room.

Each winter promises to be gone
for good;
each love swears
to be the last;

And every man
eventually
becomes a stranger.

At the Airport

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.

Science Gone Mad

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
would stop
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
children
into its basic forms,
into the most simple compounds and we would
understand the dizziness
tingling and explosions
and pass
just pass
the class
that’s all we ask.

big sleep

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
or God,
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,
been disregarded.

War

A bomb falls
on an orphanage,
doesn't detonate.
The orphans decorate
it with ribbons and
dinosaur stickers.

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.

Multiple Choice

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:
a) Elvis
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:
a) love
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?

Doll Descending a Staircase


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
and muzak.
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.




The Underneath

I keep a pet
woman under my bed.

She’s small
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.
She pouts,
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
in white
until the moon
breaks.
________________________

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
somehow
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,
but maybe,
just maybe
a few
are
singing.

________________________
Joy School
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,
broken
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
gears whirring.

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
and teeth,
with a few
white
feathers.