Sam Hamill, from Four Letters to Hayden Carruth


Pilate asks, “What is
love?” For which I substituted
friendship, which is love
unburdened by erotic
passion, but informed by love’s

kindliness, if not
by the inevitable
necessities of
dialectic argument.
And so I begin again—

“My dear friend,” I say,
meaning I have stood breathless
before the severe
beauty and anguish and love
and delight in your poems,

stood breathlessly still
as I listened to the turn
of a line or phrase
or flinched in recognition
of a painful truth revealed.

I do no know why
we must do it, why the line
begins somewhere in-
side the mind, its insistent
music delivering us

into another
world where the poem unfolds
from within, telling
us what’s really on our minds.
I swear it is so. I’ve sworn

allegiance before—
not to some bloody old flag
snapping in the wind,
and certainly not to that
junkyard dog, the Patriot—

but to what can be
found in poetry: friendship
and small dignities,
evidence of a long life
lived with an ear to the wind

and a heart exposed.
I swear it’s always been so.
A heart or poem
cannot be closed completely.
The heart of Heraclitus

or Euripides,
like the rhythms of Sappho,
resounds in your lines
as surely as the weather
of an age. And so I go

there in search of the
old familiar, the trusted
thing, the poem as
continuing thread binding
friend to friend across centuries.

Friendship in solace,
the root of a good marriage.
I extend my hand,
unwashed, still bloody with all
the excesses of our age.

I stand before your
poems as before a great
hearth in deep winter,
comforted by your labors.
I find sanctuary here.

We have our Pilates’
clean hands in public office.
We have messiahs
aplenty. I’m sick to death
of all those who want glory.

This is poetry.
It may change a life or burn
white hot with passion;
it may bring a smile
or be a coat for Jacob
wandering the wilderness,

but you and I know
that lust for fame is folly.
You ought to have a
Nobel Prize, a Pulitzer,
all the honors in the world.

But that is not why
you write. For which at my heart
goes out to you who
helped me learn to open it.
For which act you are my friend

forever, doing
the real work of poetry.
Fuck money. Fuck fame.
There are three worlds. In this one,
gratitude flows like honey.

The suffering world
brings about its own demise.
This world is neither
fair nor wise, but paradise
reveals itself in every line.

What, finally is love?
Willingness to face the end
without blinking? The
gift made—and given freely.
I bow to the poem, my friend.

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