Sample Poems by Kirsten Hampton
What Holds Us Together
They took the old drawbridge,
plunged it into the bay,
relic into reef, stress cracks
transformed to a sea zoo, sunken girder and truss.
That bridge was strung over the river
for a century,
over mid stream bass,
bottom white perch, the Potomac River
fissure between north and south.
The drawbridge melding Maryland to Virginia,
country to commerce,
and like the stray bull shark
that swims up to round snout
safe nursery shallows,
it fords one history to the next.
My grandfather was a traveler
like those who crossed that bridge.
He came over from a farther place,
from Holland, teenaged and pocketless
but he could do figures in his head
faster than fish can hide.
His English was punctuated with Dutch guttural,
the way water grinds rock, mixes cement
that upholds the American dream,
Detroit automobile factories that he designed.
He once slept under a new building
to prove his math,
roofline rafter long like the gray river
My husband's grandfather
was a different kind of laboring man.
Dark as slave history, he was strong
like an alloy of carbon and iron,
big man with a chest as wide as the hood
of a car.
He worked in the steel mills of Birmingham
where after the Civil War cash from moneymen
flowed like smelting ore,
ore that moved like oil, or red lava,
the kind that creates a new land
from the ocean floor.
From black-red blooms,
turned out the unyielding-I, wide flanges
and giant joists.
And in that old bridge's last sinuous reflection
I am realizing
it is possible
that the I-beam my northern immigrant grandfather
was made by my husband's grandfather,
in an Alabama house of heat.
Once I thought that in marrying, in melding,
welding our families together that I would become
like that drawbridge, or repurposed in an ocean.
But now I know I am more
the slipstream bull gray that has always ventured up river,
nosing for water-weeded eddies
as if to protect our young.
Woman In Jail With A Week To Think
Mildred Loving, Old Pauly Jail
Caroline County, Virginia, 1958
From the native oyster
she knew how to prepare.
The way the bivalve,
inside its shell,
carries a safe of saltwater
long periods out of the sea.
How Things Are (Not What They Seem)
Alexandria, Virginia, 2003
Even in the way the flat cuttlefish, which is colorblind,
ripples along the English Channel,
its wake like the hem of the petticoat
that Pocahontas wore
or the scalloped riffled
edge of parchment bills,
racial integrity laws
passed on the legislative floor.
So the cuttlefish and its system of
can match any background when cued,
blending with algae or sand
under cover of chromatophore.
In a similar way
when tracked or tallied,
are turned from white to brown
to black or more.
Curious that while staying the same
something can be completely changed,
as with cuttlefish.
When correctly classified as mollusk,
not fish at all, but metaphor.