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PAUL HAMILL - JUNE 2000 FEATURE  

The Cortland Review

FEATURE

Timothy Steele
Cynthia Haven interviews Timothy Steele and discusses metrical poetry, New Formalism and Walt Whitman.

David Kennedy
David Kennedy reviews a new translation of the timeless classic, Beowulf, by Seamus Heaney.

Paul Hamill
Read his epic poem, "Meeting the Giant," about the mythical Cardiff Giant in Cooperstown, New York.

John Kinsella
The Magic Circle: The next chapter in John Kinsella's exclusive autobiographical series.

 

Paul Hamill

Paul HamillPaul Hamill has been published widely in print journals including The Georgia Review, The Florida Review, and The Habersham Review. An active reader and occasional "slammer" around Ithaca, New York, he is also Director of Academic Funding at Ithaca College.
Paul Hamill - Poetry

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Meeting the Giant    Click to hear in real audio

     And there were giants in those days
     —Genesis


The perfect celebrity!
—first famous through his death
(which cost him nothing), then
for the mischief at his birth,
but never for an instant
troubled by inner life!
But this gets ahead of the tale...

At the Farmers' Museum
in Cooperstown, New York,
the Cardiff Giant sleeps
in a shed of barn planks.
Hucksters, miraculously
inspired—but not by grace—
seeing how Darwin and dinosaurs
stirred the bible-faithful,
had him rough-carved in limestone,
aged with acid, and hoisted
down to the staining loam
of an upstate apple farm,
a hogshead more promising
than any cider! Raised
to headlines and hosannas,
the "Fossil from the Flood"
made his fakers a bundle.

Although the pious were loath
to call the Lord's wrath tragic,
the sleeper moved them: choirs
on church excursions, preachers
receiving his text, families
seeking an innocent wonder
in the great world. They heard
the surf against the hills
to which his kind retreated,
the wives and children crying,
the sheep and cattle bawling.
They saw the giant's despair,
for he drowned lying down.
Something familiar about him:
a stoniness that sailors,
farmers, herdsmen, draymen,
weary village mothers,
or almost any citizen
of that demanding region
had seen at floods, freezes,
blizzards or epidemics.
Some folks meet their losses
that way, as if enduring
a beating without crying.
Something familiar too
in his thick feet, so sure
in the mud of the world's springtime.
He must have shuffled and squelched
like a man in galoshes, the way
that city people claim
all farmers walk. Moses
said he deserved what he got,
but he seemed like many a farmer
the somber gawkers knew,
just a shade too brutal
for land or life to yield
the good he planted: a man
as blind to his own nature
as wood, clenching tightly
a watered share of stock
in earth's abundance; bitter
at sons that fled out West,
and debts and fruitless years
that flooded back until
his face was ravaged stone
on a stone bed each night.

One sensitive clergyman
was sure his mien was compassion.
I would have liked that pastor,
who saw just what he brought;
but that's what fame does, fix
a point above the flux,
an Ararat. Fellow-feeling
was almost a temptation
(the same that the Flood punished)
to give the average sinner
the benefit of the doubt.
Visitors would have liked
to meet him, yet the picture
of shaking his thick shovel
of a hand and sharing views
unveiled a troubling kinship:
they, too, led giant lives!

But who knew if his kind
had souls? Something about him
assured that under flood
and a grave's depth of loam
he never dreamt and yearned,
never felt the ache
(as one who dreams may ache
for something not in the dream)
to hold his giant wife
or call out to his children,
whose names in his great voice
were surely harsh as knuckles.
He did not pine for the brightness
of mornings, nor for plowing
in springtime, nor for bread
nor beer, nor his own strength.
He laid it out as plain
as an old woman's proverb,
death is a stone that draws
our dreams and yet is dreamless.

Few who came to Cardiff
missed his silent sermon:
ye know not the day nor the hour
now how ungainly the means:
falling under a combine,
a cow's hoof to the temple,
childbirth hemorrhage,
pneumonia after hunting,
a plugged-up steam-cock blowing,
a shotgun caught in the fence,
train wreck, runaway horse.
Then the sleep in earth
with plows crisscrossing over
forgotten graves, or lovers
strolling Graveyard Hill
on Sunday for the breeze,
with no thought of old heat
or longer chills. What hush
and cool below the frost line!

—And then, as most believed,
the bones or dust once me
or you would somehow gather,
collected below ground
perhaps, like asparagus
or the unharvested onions
that send up ghostly flowers.
The ground would brighten, souls
erupt to something like
a universal picnic.
Friends and family
with a few sad exceptions
(scapegraces known to all)
would reunite with tears
of joy, no one mulish
or graceless as at dances
after harvest: even
the rough hands and small boys
would walk as dignified
as senators in church.
Preachers were sure there'd be
no longing to lift up
mellow soil in one's hands
nor take the seasons into
one's nostrils nor drive a team
with skill and curses, nor guess
what the spring wheat might sell for;
no need for sewing circles
nor to darn socks by lamplight
with children reading nearby.
There would be married sweetness,
not urgency, in bed.
That time would be as strange,
yet green with recognitions,
as the young earth of giants.

Giant, your first tourists
drove from towns burnt over
by hell-fear and revival;
they were not much taken
by the idea of fame,
which would have seemed a whimsy
on the theme of resurrection,
for fame that lives past death
is forever deaf and dumb.

I guess the grievousness
of never being born
is the same as being dead
if one is free of dreams—
(ay, there's the rub). Sleeper,
you have shrugged off two terrors
of death: one, that it is
as if we never lived,
the world we learned to care for
swept off with us; the other,
that we will taste our losses
forever.

Angels sent to the faithful
dance on pinheads,
but messengers to such
as me, earth-minded, dense
to beams of faith, weigh tons
in rock or fathoms. Old fraud,
your sleep is enough truth.
My world flows while I grasp it:
its loss, not my own bubble
existence and rusty mailbox
where strangers can address me,
is what I find most poignant:
sunsets seen exactly
from my spot on the hillside,
casual words of friends,
silk of my lover's thigh,
the private universes
that poets share a little.
I make my earth six days
and half of sabbath; it bears
a flood from which I save
a few dear species, brief
as light on passing waves:
light in my lover's eyes,
light of truth in sorrow,
light behind the wind
that shifts the curtains,
brightness in the meadow
that was my fallow cornfield.

It makes me disinclined
to think of too-long vistas.
One thing that I will miss
is the woodchuck in my yard
who has despoiled my pumpkins,
and from that wealth of mine
is fat. He stands upright
and looks at me, brown eyes
aglitter with ignorance,
careless of my worries
or possible use of pumpkins.
My mother, whose taste in phrase
is Irish, calls him The Landlord.
Although he is old and fat
(my pumpkins!) he just escapes
the next-door farmer's dogs.
With rolling waves of fur
he scuts to his burrow and sinks
with excruciating slowness
just before the teeth
of their long-legged dash
can tear him. He will pass,
god willing, before I do;
and I will enjoy pumpkins,
but there is more spice in him.
Something essential plays
within my pure frustration
and his pure shamelessness.
Pumpkins and glittering eyes,
mortal chases, greed
and wrath and laughing names:
rhythm and play of the surface
where all the living sail.

 

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2002 The Cortland Review