The Afterlife: Letter to Sam Hamill

By Hayden Carruth 1921–2008 Hayden Carruth
You may think it strange, Sam, that I'm writing
a letter in these circumstances. I thought
it strange too—the first time. But there's
a misconception I was laboring under, and you
are too, viz. that the imagination in your
vicinity is free and powerful. After all,
you say, you've been creating yourself all
along imaginatively. You imagine yourself
playing golf or hiking in the Olympics or
writing a poem and then it becomes true.
But you still have to do it, you have to exert
yourself, will, courage, whatever you've got, you're
mired in the unimaginative. Here I imagine a letter
and it's written. Takes about two-fifths of a
second, your time. Hell, this is heaven, man.
I can deluge Congress with letters telling
every one of those mendacious sons of bitches
exactly what he or she is, in maybe about
half an hour. In spite of your Buddhist
proclivities, when you imagine bliss
you still must struggle to get there. By the way
the Buddha has his place across town on
Elysian Drive. We call him Bud. He's lost weight
and got new dentures, and he looks a hell of a
lot better than he used to. He always carries
a jumping jack with him everywhere just
for contemplation, but he doesn't make it
jump. He only looks at it. Meanwhile Sidney
and Dizzy, Uncle Ben and Papa Yancey, are
over by Sylvester's Grot making the sweetest,
cheerfulest blues you ever heard. The air,
so called, is full of it. Poems are fluttering
everywhere like seed from a cottonwood tree.
Sam, the remarkable truth is I can do any
fucking thing I want. Speaking of which
there's this dazzling young Naomi who
wiped out on I-80 just west of Truckee
last winter, and I think this is the moment
for me to go and pay her my respects.
Don't go way. I'll be right back.

Source: Poetry (January 1999).

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This poem originally appeared in the January 1999 issue of Poetry magazine

January 1999
 Hayden  Carruth

Biography

"Now and then a poet comes along whose work ranges across wide and diverse territories of form, attitude, and emotion—yet with the necessary intelligence that belies a deep, lifelong engagement with tradition—so that variance never seems mere experimentation or digression, but improvisation," wrote Midwest Quarterly contributor Matthew Miller. "Hayden Carruth is such an artist."

The National Book Award won by Carruth in 1996 . . .

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Poem Categorization

SUBJECT Buddhism, Religion, Living, Humor & Satire, Arts & Sciences, Christianity, Death, Mythology & Folklore, Ghosts & the Supernatural

POET’S REGION U.S., New England

Poetic Terms Free Verse, Epistle

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