Poems by Scott Hamilton

Emma Smith, "Lead" (2011).
Emma Smith, "Lead" (2011).

Elegy for a survivor of the war on Afghanistan

All surgeons are related
to their patients
by blood.
The best surgeons work quickly
in the dark.
At eight o’clock the lights in the psych ward
flick off, cellphones and girlfriends
are taken away,
and the nurses turn to guards.
You lie still in the blackout,
waiting for a bombing raid.

You often ask
about the past.
The past is a piece of rough skin soldered
to the back of your head.
Hair is beginning to grow over it.
You slept through the surgery
and screamed only once,
just before you woke up.
Your comrades in the ward
screamed in sympathy.
Now, every night, the dream plays backwards
at exactly the right speed,
so that you can admire the hips
and the cheekbones of the women
as they fly slowly
out of their crater
back up to the market square,
and slip their clean dark hands back into their purses,
or back onto the bomb-shaped
loaves of bread,
onto quinces and mangoes
as smooth as freshly-skinned heads.

Walking to the Dendroglyphs on Christmas Eve
(a dream)


Jehovah is tired
of advertising himself.
He bounces in the backseat
between fluffy dice,
trickles down candles,
glistens in crypts,
services virgins
and mystics
like a bored stud bull.

Let’s give him a break
today. Let’s leave the kid
in peace.


We step off the track
and head uphill,
wrongfooting manuka
and stunted pine.
Condoms and beer cans
dangle from branches
like festive decorations.
Split pipi shells stare blindly
from terraced mud.


On the ridgetop karaka
have made a circle
as methodically as druids’, as witches’
stones. A bottle has broken and spread itself
like a picnic blanket.


We come closer. We see how
the trunks have been cut.
The cuts are called Tangirau, Te Whiro,
Hiku’leo: Gods that don’t often
advertise, at least not on this
empirical island.


We stand and watch, as shadows
link the cuts, fill
the gaps, between elbow
and jaw, spear
and star, long-handled club
and proudly symbolic
bird. You trace a wingspan, hear
a morepork call,
as the light turns grey with age.


At the end of the ridge,
in a carolling farmhouse,
Jehovah is being born,
but this is the grove
of unadvertised Gods,
the place where they went hunting
star and owl,
the place where they come hunting
Somebody has written
beside Hiku’leo’s sharp-winged prey.

“Elegy for a survivor of the war on Afghanistan” was first published in Reading the Maps (August 6, 2010); “Walking to the Dendroglyphs on Christmas Eve (a dream)” in Reading the Maps (December 27, 2010); “The Parachutist” in Reading the Maps (August 17, 2011).