Category Archives: Poetry and Short Fiction

Oh Becky, Becky, Forty-One

10325505_534644826647267_3331458339167818942_n41 and still kinda fun
41 and not nearly done
41 and you’ve barely begun

41 and still as dreamy as a wine-soaked nun
41 and still as deadly as a loaded handgun
41 and still as cool as a midnight sun

41 and still as hot as the N’Orleans sun
41 and still as sweet as a hot cross bun
41 and still as funny as a Friends rerun

41 and you’re O’s #1
41 and you’re mamma to a newborn son
41 and you’re wife to a son-of-a-gun

Oh Becky, Becky, forty-one
we’ve lost so much
but look what we’ve won

—John Faithful Hamer, Twilight of the Idlers (2016)

Oh Joseph, Joseph, Favored Son of Israel

Ford_Madox_Brown_-_The_Coat_of_Many_Colours_-_Google_Art_ProjectOh Joseph, Joseph, favored son of Israel, there are times when I see why he loved you best, why he spoiled you rotten, why he indulged your every whim, threw caution to the wind, and dropped a deuceload of denaros on that overpriced coat: you know, the colorful one, that got you into all that trouble: the one you found on eBay and simply had to have.

Oh Joseph, Joseph, favored son of Israel: there are times when I find myself reading you as you really ought to be read at all times: slowly and carefully, with the sympathetic ears Jesus had in mind when he cryptically declared: “He that hath ears to hear, let him hear.” It’s then, and only then, that I get a glimpse, a glorious glimpse, of who you really are. I treasure these moments, these moments when you tip your hand, because they remind me of how much I get you, Joseph. And, as you well know, getting someone is almost as great as getting got.

Behind that adorable boyish façade of innocence, behind your effortless small-town decency, and your refusal to succumb to cheap cynicism (which the dimwitted invariably mistake for naïveté), lurks an Old World darkness, a decidedly unAmerican fatalism, and a sadness: the sadness of a broken man, a man who caught a glimpse of something he wasn’t supposed to see, something terrible and tragic, intractable and inevitable, at the very heart of human existence. Yours is the inconsolable sadness of a melancholy man who stubbornly refuses to forget how sweet it was to believe in Santa Claus: a man who nevertheless refuses, at one and the same time, to succumb to the siren song of ideology, or the comforting myths of modernity: a man who refuses to fill that Santa-shaped hole with any of its grownup analogs.

And yet, despite all of this, you get up everyday and devote yourself to your wife, your children, and your work, in the full knowledge that it probably won’t amount to anything but dust and ashes in the end. Shall I play Adam in the Garden, friend, and call this virtuous beast by its rightful name? Very well then: Her name is Heroism. A shy, understated version of the virtue, to be sure, that feels no burning need to “let it shine” or advertise on LinkedIn.

Even so, I know what’s under that bushel of yours, friend. I’ve seen its warm glow, and recognized its honey light: it’s the light of a golden afternoon in late August, an afternoon abuzz with the sweet skyward songs of an angelic army, a heavenly host of winged insects, sent from on high to belt out summer’s sumptuous symphony, its soulful swansong, which tells the truth about the Janus-faced nature of these late summer days.

In this garden of earthly delights, this golden green afternoon, an afternoon whose cup runneth over, an afternoon spilling over with life, an afternoon that feels like it could go on forever one moment; and yet, a mere moment later, the very air seems pregnant with the poison-apple knowledge of a forbidden tree. It’s not The Tree of Knowledge, mind you, the one that gets all the press, the one made famous by the authors of Genesis. It’s a lesser-known tree of knowledge: born and raised, this side of Paradise, on the wrong side of the tracks, far from the shadow of grace: a world-weary version of his famous cousin who grew up on the mean streets and favelas that ring The Garden of Eden, God’s very first gated community.

He can’t tell you much about platonic abstractions like Good and Evil. But he knows a great deal about this fallen world we call home. Today, however, he’s got but one sad secret to share: “Summer’s days are numbered, friend; Summer’s days are numbered.” To feel the full weight of your own rapidly approaching death in the midst of this throbbing festival of life is always, it seems, just a little bit more than he can handle. The morbid knowledge weighs on him, as it weighs on you at times, Joseph.

Perhaps this is why his tastiest fruits are always hanging so low to the ground. Perhaps this is why he never plays hard to get. And perhaps this is why, despite your shyness and your dignity and your reticence, you strive for clarity, shun obscurity, and do not seek to conceal yourself. Alas, I see it clearly now, perhaps for the first time, that you wish to be understood, Joseph, truly understood. And known. Very well then, friend: I’d like the long version. Start from the beginning. Take, if you like, all day.

 —John Faithful Hamer, From Here (2016)

It Ain’t Me, Babe. I Ain’t the Angryphone You’re Lookin’ For

“It ain’t me, babe. No, no, no, it ain’t me, babe. It ain’t me you’re lookin’ for.”—Bob Dylan, “It Ain’t Me Babe,” Another Side of Bob Dylan (1964)

387520_10150429772502683_1050318433_n-002I’ve been approached on numerous occasions by English-rights activists who’ve been moved by my poetry. They seem to think I might like to join their cause. These situations always leave me feeling profoundly torn. Every writer wants to be read. And every writer wants to move readers. So naturally I’m delighted. But I’m also saddened. Because I have no real interest in joining their cause. I love it here in Quebec. I don’t feel oppressed. And I have absolutely no intention of leaving.

When I tell them this, ever-so-gently, an awkward silence ensues, followed by a painful distancing. It’s like the very ground beneath our feet has split open along some sort of ancient fault line. I can feel a deep chasm spreading out between us. From the other side of the abyss comes a sad, plaintive voice: “But, but, John, I thought you were one of us.”

“I was that day. Sorry, man.”

Strange as it may sound to regular readers of the paranoid Montreal Gazette, I’ve only been pissed off about The Language Issue™ three times in the last ten years. My response? I didn’t cry: “That’s it, enough’s enough, I’m moving to Toronto!” Nope, I did what any self-respecting, fiercely patriotic Montrealer would do: I turned my pain into art: I wrote a poem. No joke. I’ve written three poems inspired by The Language Issue™ in the last decade: “From Here”“Wild Black Raspberries”, and “Why I Loved Latin at Twelve”. Each time, when I was done with the poem, I was done with being pissed off.

It ain’t me, babe. I ain’t the angryphone you’re lookin’ for.

—John Faithful Hamer, The Myth of the Fuckbuddy (2016)

Highway to Heaven

Picasa 3 2015-10-02 73341 AM“Do you believe in The Rapture?” That’s what the distressed Baptist mom from Alabama asked me at her daughter’s gay wedding. I remember liking her. Guess that was her awkward attempt at an icebreaker. Or was it a shibboleth? A warm smile spread across my face as I dreamily recalled that magical moment when DeSweetie spotted Jenny on the dance floor in 1722. “Rapture” was playing. “Yes, ma’am. I do.”

Chasing rainbows and driving on a highway to heaven up and down the emerald hills and misty mountains of New England. Oh, Vermont, Vermont, nobody does green quite like you! We’re on our yearly pilgrimage to the sacred sands of Rye Beach, where Anna-Liisa’s ancestors have been sunning themselves for generations. Just as people from Jersey refer to New York as The City, my wife’s people refer to Rye as The Beach. Charms me to no end, this deep connection to space and place; it’s like getting a homemade gift, covered in fingerprints and kisses.

—John Faithful Hamer, The Myth of the Fuckbuddy (2016)

September 11, 2001

o-AMERICAN-FLAG-facebookI was waiting in line at the Hopkins Post Office, absentmindedly watching the idiot box someone put up there in the corner, to make us forget about time.

We watched the news reports apathetically at first. We had nothing better to do. Then the first plane hit. Then the second. And then everybody forgot why they were at the post office. Baltimore went nuts. The country went nuts. As did many of our friends.

Our friend Darin died that day. A plane (a fucking plane!) crashed into his office. He was so young. And the sweet memory of his wedding day was still so fresh.

An antisemitic conspiracy theorist once told me that all the Jews who worked in the buildings targeted for destruction received a phone call on the morning of September 11th warning them to stay away from work: “That’s why there were no Jewish causalities, John. Not one.” I wanted to punch him. But all I could think about was how sad it was:

to be standing here in the same suit, in the same synagogue. I kept looking around and thinking: Darin and Devora were married here, right here, just six months ago. The groom’s barber had been a little overzealous but the bride’s dress was divine.

We were just about to leave for the funeral when Anna-Liisa decided to take another pregnancy test. It came back positive. That was Tristan. Our firstborn. What a strange funeral that was:

to be so elated, and yet so sad, at one and the same time. Could swear I heard King David singing softly in the temple that day: “You turned my mourning into dancing; you removed my sackcloth and clothed me with joy.”

—John Faithful Hamer, The Myth of the Fuckbuddy (2017)

Selling Everything

41XBc2HTu0L._SX322_BO1,204,203,200_Ah, the sweet simplicity of commerce. I leave my house in the dark, long before dawn, heavy box on my shoulder: making my way to the métro, panting like an exhausted Vieux-Montréal caleche horse, trying not to slip on the ice, drinking in the silence, delighting in the cobalt sky—and my newfound immunity to January’s sting, and Winter’s wrath.

On the métro and on the bus, strangers stare but I don’t really care: can’t remember the last time sitting felt so good. Fifty-pages-of-The-Favourite-Game later, I’m standing in a sunlit classroom, on a country-club-of-a-campus, marveling at the magic of the market: one by one, they come out of the box, transfigured and transformed by trade, into pretty piles of paper.

Heading home this afternoon, under a bright blue sky, I delight in the sweet soreness of my bourgeois body, and feel light, light as a feather. How strangely satisfying it is: selling Everything.

—John Faithful Hamer, From Here (2016)

Why I Loved Latin at Twelve

1074093_10151552031287683_1515421453_oOreille-de-Géant is better than Greater Burdock, but neither measures up to the mesmerizing musicality of Arctium lappa. Eastern Milksnake is better than Couleuvre Tachetée, but neither measures up to the evocative elegance of Lampropeltis triangulum triangulum. Ouaouaron is better than American Bullfrog, but neither measures up to the capacious cadence of Lithobates catesbeianus.

Silver Spotted Skipper is better than Hespérie à Taches Argentées, but neither measures up to the simple splendor of Epargyreus clarus. Vulcain is better than Red Admiral, but neither measures up to the delicate delights of Vanessa atalanta. Spring Azure vs. Azur Printanier, Summer Azure vs. Azur Estival—alas, sometimes it’s hard to choose—but clearly neither measures up to the etymological chutzpah of Celestrina ladon and Celestrina neglecta.

Growing up here in Québec, where the politics of language can be so divisive, learning the Latin names of the plants and animals around me—when I was 12-years-old—was like finding a passport to a country without borders, a country without language police, neighborhood bullies, and the Office Québécois de la Langue Française, a country where I was no longer one of those maudits anglais, a country where I was free to be fully human, fully Homo sapiens sapiens.

—John Faithful Hamer, From Here (2016)

Human Nature

IMG_6168“She was born in The Year of the Tiger.” That’s what the smiling out-patient said before sipping her cold coffee, smoking her stale cigarette, and laughing at a joke only she could hear. She was sitting next to us in the Dunkin’ Donuts on Wellington Street that used to be open 24-hours-a-day, and we were doing our best to ignore her. That was the semester David Fiore and I pushed our nocturnal proclivities to the limit, the winter we went weeks and weeks without seeing the sun. We’d sleep all day, read and write all night, and meet for a game of Scrabble at three in the morning.

I remember dying for a good game of Scrabble as I sat there in the fertility clinic, last January, waiting for some stranger to stick a giant needle into my nuts. Of course she told me to wait, and the doctor told me to take it easy. But I didn’t listen because I was a 29-year-old dumb-ass, and, like most guys in their 20s, I still secretly suspected that I was a superhero, a superhero who could fly. So I carried the kid, popped the stitches, and broke my shit.

That’s why the vasectomy couldn’t be reversed. That’s why I’m sitting here in this stupid waiting room, under these stupid fluorescent lights, reading these stupid magazines filled with stupid questionnaires. The one on Page 18 says it comes down to this: “Are you a dog person or a cat person?” Well I’m definitely not a dog person. But don’t get me wrong: don’t have anything against dogs; it’s just that I refuse, on principle, to pick up someone else’s shit, with my hands, each and every day, till death do us part. That’s a commitment I’m simply unwilling to make.

“Dude,” said my new friend Jimmy, “could swear I just saw a big lizard walking across your living room floor.” The sun was coming up, we were coming down, and Samantha, snobby aristocratic Samantha, the four-and-a-half-foot-long iguana who lived with us, was making her way to the sunny sill to bathe in the morning light. “The Devil’s in the details, friends. God too.”

Then Jimmy said: “There should be a return policy on dreams. If your alarm clock goes off at 5:30 and you find yourself in the middle of a stupid dream—where you’re shopping for place mats at Ikea and listening to Foreigner’s ‘I Wanna Know What Love Is’—you should be allowed to hit the snooze button, go back to sleep, and return that dud-of-a-dream for a better one.” To which someone responded, rather randomly: “It’s all fun and games until someone puts plastic on the couch.”

But we knew we were in the enchanted land of Non Sequitur when Jenny giggled to herself and said: “Bees are so furry and cute up close: they’re like little kitty cats—flying brainwashed kitty cats—living in totalitarian societies.” Jimmy nodded in agreement: “And moths are butterflies on crack who flunked flight school.” Then Anna-Liisa looked at me and smiled: “Do you know why I love walking in the woods with you, dear? It’s not for the butterflies and the flowers, the four-leaf clovers and the frogs. It’s because it’s the only time the world seems to have your full attention.”

Scrabble, ecstasy, and fertility clinics: so much human, all-too-human striving. And yet I can’t help but wonder: Were we pushing the limits of human nature or trying to figure out where they might be? Regardless, the grumpy grownup in me wants to march right back in time and protest in front of each one of these magical moments with an angry placard that reads: IT WON’T WORK! HERE’S WHY. But then Joy wells up within me, laughs, and says it already has.

—John Faithful Hamer, From Here (2016)

Burnt Offerings to the God of Talk

858599_10152620535600570_1778003578_oIf we’re going to philosophize, it’s going to involve walking or wine—fresh air, sunlight, and sky—laughter, gossip, and small talk. Sure, we’ll talk about God, Death, and the Human Condition, but also that outfit she wore last night to the Oscars. Sure, we’ll talk about Injustice, Impermanence, and Imperialism, but also blue butterflies from Baie-d’Urfé, purple tomatoes from Santropol Roulant, and red boots from Fluevog. Sure, we’ll talk about Plato, Nietzsche, and that new one by Naomi Klein, but also TV shows like Game of ThronesThe Good Wife, & Orange is the New Black. Sure, we’ll talk about Climate Change, Trump, and Aleppo, but we’re also gonna talk about the kids, Meredith’s new place on Rue Chambord and the vicissitudes of rooftop gardening in a hipster homestead. Truth be told, there’s nothing we won’t throw on the campfire of our conversation, nothing we won’t sacrifice on the altar, nothing that won’t be offered up as a burnt offering to the God of Talk, a deity who delights in frivolity and fanfare, a deity whose Holy of Holies can be found wherever people gather to tweet like parakeets, and groom each other like chimpanzees, a deity who can see the beauty in the pointless privileged prattle of a Jane Austen novel.

—John Faithful Hamer, From Here (2016)

The Erotics of Christian Mysticism

Thus speaks God the Lover:
Blessèd are they which do hunger and thirst
after not righteousness, but me.
Blessèd are they who know that my springtime heart desires
not holiness and contrition, but goosebumps on the skin
and butterflies in the belly.

The mystics all knew, those beautiful mossy flowers,
that God the Father is a woman in a tight black dress:
a coquettish deity, who flirts shamelessly with the young:
making lovers of the impetuous who lack prudence
and are not frugal with regards to joy.

To these it is given to enter the Holy of Holies,
to bathe in the sweet candlelit waters of eternal life,
to touch the warm face of God in the secret of Her presence,
to be swallowed up and enveloped by a sacred Yes and Amen.

But alas, like Fortuna, God the Lover is a capricious deity
who forsakes all of her lovers sooner or later:
slipping out suddenly, inexplicably, quietly,
like a thief in the night.
She dashes her lover’s soul upon the rocks
like the delicate head of an unwanted baby,
exposed on a hillside, in some terrible bygone era.

Oh, Paul, how bitter you became!
Oh, Jesus, how heartbroken you must have been,
when you uttered those chilling words from The Cross:
“Lover, lover, why have you abandoned me?”

What is The Bible, if not the annals
of the scorned lovers of God?

—John Faithful Hamer, From Here (2016)

maesta_4
Duccio di Buoninsegna, Maesta, particolare della Crocifissione, 1308-1311