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My grandfather's brother was a gravedigger.
He was more than this, I am sure,
but he became little more than parable
to my mother who did not know him well,
who feared him. She says of him
that he was a soldier in the War,
and that he returned to Goldsboro different-
he kept to himself, paced the dirt streets at dusk,
and he begged for work in the graveyards.
After only three days of sculpting out graves,
his dusk time pacing became more agitated,
and he began then to talk back to the dead
still living alongside him. He shouted,
cursed at them, pleaded that they leave him alone
and that they return.
I could be another body. It could be 1995 or 1959,
or I could live in a time not all that specific.
Lying on the grass last Sunday, or maybe when
I was five, I felt the ground pulling at me.
Apparently, the body has some responsibility.
It plants itself as memory whose accuracy is doubtful:
I could be another. It could be tomorrow.
The earth was pulling, and my body laid out straight
remembered falling asleep in the afternoon, drunk
with play and questions, a find of the four-leaf.
I was lucky all over again: born when I was, to whom,
and where: I was having a good life, a birthday, the day
answering to me. No one I loved had died yet-not
my grandmother who went first and quick, not my brother, not
the others. The breathing of the ground rouse me, grass
flooding the mouth and marking for itself my face.
I woke up belonging somewhere, not yet able to move
for fear I would disturb what was still sleeping.
In the blood of you, hearing
gives itself and takes
Ancient things remain in the ears.
How does a tribe
come to be?
The first time a lover loved my ears,
in those moments
a soul is borne,
tongued and chewed and nibbled them,
does blood become
I felt a roar and heard
to cross it
blood rush itself to answer
and be home
-from Call & Response (Alice James, 1995) selected by Fall Guest Editor Tyree Daye
BIO: Forrest Hamer is the author of Call & Response (Alice James, 1995), winner of the Beatrice Hawley Award; Middle Ear (Roundhouse, 2000), winner of the Northern California Book Award; and Rift (Four Way Books, 2007). His work is widely anthologized, and appears in three editions of The Best American Poetry. He has received fellowships from the California Arts Council and the Bread Loaf Writer’s Conference, and he has taught on the poetry faculty of the Callaloo Creative Writing Workshops. He is an Oakland, California psychoanalyst.
PROMPT: In "In the blood of you, hearing / gives itself and takes," Hammer crafts tension by making full use of the page; on the left side, we have a lyrical moment with a lover, and on the right, a broader lyrical question of the relationship between the self and community: "how does a tribe / come to be?" Rather than intertwining, these two strands seem to be in dialogue, creating new meaning through their disjuncture: how does blood bind us, within the body and without? To our lovers and to the "wanderers" looking to "be home?" The answers, unprovided, lie in the white space of the poem.
For your prompt, select two drafts of poems that feel unfinished, regardless of if they feel related. Borrowing Hammer's use of white space, set them in dialogue on the page (one poem on the left, one on the right) and play, moving the parts of the poems around to see what kind of conversation is waiting to take place. --Amie Whittemore, Associate Editor