Mudlark Flash No. 151 (2017)

An Eye for a Bargain
Poems by Paul Hamill

My Nebula

In mid-life I began to buy old stuff 
From the stupendous flood that swirls around 
Our days and strands its flotsam in church bazaars 
And yard sales: old tools, knackery, clocks and art.    

I love the mind that needs no furnishing
But itself—St Benedict, whose monks 
Have just two robes, a blanket and a cot; 
And Thoreau, who mocks the farmer self-condemned 

To push a house and barn down the road of life—
But the sad truth? Their light has not transformed me:
I set them as stars of unusual clarity 
In the nebula of salvages and wisdoms 

I want to adorn my life with, as if the self 
Were a black hole pulling bright bodies to it.

Magic Acorns

It seems a trait mostly of tiny creatures, 
This drive to ornament one’s self and lair. 
Some birds will weave a nest with bright yarn, pleased 
As I would be to sit an embroidered throne; 

And there’s the packrat—surely purloined buttons 
Are magic acorns against a deeper cold 
Than winter, which it can’t imagine 
But I can. Time passing, my finds grow sad 

Or remind me I am sad. I turn on them 
Like a peevish queen exiling her old favorite.   
Sometimes, though, exiled things are the small change 
Of a great transaction, a death or breakup:

A hesitance clings to them like the smell
Of the old parlor till someone impatient cries, 
She’s gone; clear this stuff out! Give us some room!

History a Flea-Market Too

Hunter-gatherers, we forage sleepily 
Or snatch with sudden fingers, an alternation 
Old as the species, a rhythm as amnesic 
As night tides. Flea markets and country auctions 

Are transfer points of history, Sargassos 
From which we fish a thing or two we fancy 
As the rest sinks. The process is Darwinian: 
Fitness for a niche preserves one lamp, 

Damns others as good. The more I know I think 
Great books and even cathedrals fall beneath 
The same laws. Last year I found a wicker swing 
For the porch and a clock that, cleaned, might tick for half

A century. I thought: How long I’ll last 
Is in between. I scrubbed my finds hard, to banish 
The entropy of others’ firmaments. 
New to my galaxy, let them reflect me!

Lord of the Tag Sales

               Taste is an ability to recognize 
               the one excellence amidst 
               a thousand mediocrities. 
                                       —Chesterfield
A splendid principle for life, Milord: 
Since passion pulls at judgment, let judging well 
Be one’s passion! Classical, too: the fear of shame 
That maddens heroes, the measure of great souls,

Is after all the drive to be that One,
The best among fairly good. And what if taste, 
In a Periclean interlude, should triumph?  
Social pressure might raise the best and damn 

The worst, improving horseflesh, architecture, 
Cooking, even (admittedly a stretch)
The status of poets. Rummaging a sale 
Where the best is blemished and the world outside 

Has the same look of huddling in a heap 
Toward chaos, putting this aside for that,
I feel a little lordly—self-endowed 
With powers of choice—one of a better sort.

Adaptation

In Gaza boys comb over rubbish piles 
For anything—a pot without a hole—
To trade for a scoop of chickpeas. In Calcutta, 
The Entrepreneur of the Year (she won a prize) 

Was a woman who started a junkyard in her yard.  
An Indian friend just come to the U.S. asked 
What struck him first, said, Open car lots. In my town 
They’d be stripped clean by dawn: a mirror will buy a meal.  

I feel the shabbiness of my good fortune, 
Trolling the fine junk of a rich country, breathing 
By choice the dust of what an old writer called
“A thousand mediocrities.” But we too

Show cleverness: we stretch a pension, assemble 
A cheap layette for a coming grandchild, afford 
A hobby. In the worst places in the world, 
When something changes for the better—the rich 

Are broken to the yoke of partial justice, 
Or spent land is revived—new adaptations 
Blossom: ornaments are hammered from scrap, 
Chunks of camel meat for sale sizzle 

In the bazaar on radiator mesh.
Fresh flowers and fabrics wave. The human hive 
Crawls stall to stall like bees across the comb, 
Scenting from cell to cell the honey of hope.  


Paul Hamill has published in Poetry, Georgia Review, Southern Review, Cortland Review, Diagram, and others. The most recently published of his collections is a chapbook, Meeting the Minotaur, from Split Oak Press, 2011. He retired from Ithaca College in 2011, where he had been a senior administrator, sometimes lecturer, and also, for a couple of years, county Poet Laureate. He spent last year as a Senior Fulbright Fellow at Lucian Blaga University in Sibiu, Romania, named for a great poet whom the authorities forced to refuse the Nobel Prize in the early 1950’s. A sequence of Hamill’s poems and an interview with him can be found in the current issue of the Journal of American, British, and Canadian Studies (Romania).

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