catherine hammond




artist's bio



This first, kind touch provides
the flint.  The moment her hair
flashes to flame, the woman

escapes.  As a lizard does, by breaking
its own tail.  Walking around with her hair
on fire, the woman learns to avoid

theaters, dark concert halls.
She may never again hear live
Mozart.  She sleeps alone

with an asbestos pillow.  Nights
the woman cannot sleep, she goes
to twenty-four hour grocery stores. 

After midnight, she may witness other
bodies on fire.  Only once does she
speak to one of these.  A man in front

of the celery bin.  His burning
has spread beyond hers.  His eyebrows,
the hair on his arms, flaming fine

and blue.  His fingers touch her face,
arc the fragile bone of her cheek.
Later, she is not certain what

he told her.  Something
about the sun's tracing that exact
same curve across the sky,

deep red at each end of the path. 
The woman has learned
to read her own signs.  Already

she can feel the heat of her lashes
preparing themselves.  They
will ignite, and soon.  Her eyes

forced open for good.


Catherine Hammond
Originally published in
Chicago Review
with a Pushcart Nomination




Waiting for water to cool enough,
I shift from one foot to the other
and reach for a tray with two vials,
belladonna for fear, arsenicum
for resentment.  Disregarding twilight,
some mockingbird in my garden continues
to sing.  In the window, a giant moth,
hanging in mid air, inserts its long
tongue into white hibiscus.  I remember

or imagine a night we shared
zuppa inglesa.  Like Admiral Nelson
and Lady Hamilton, we called over
and over,  More rum—yes, our wedding night.  
As I sink into the tub my cat jumps onto the tray,
knocking over your crystal swan, beak
red as night.  I know that cat is waiting
for the moment water swirls down the drain. 
She will attack the vortex as a thing alive.

                 Catherine Hammond



Castalia, the pool at
and Castalia, the Blue Hole in
They say neither has a bottom.  So what if
she’s right, the American woman up the hill.
What if the two do connect and
did travel the complete wrong direction.
The correct way—not west, not east,
but down—straight through the center
of the earth.  Enter at

to surface just two miles north of the Clyde-
Sandusky Road.  The woman, standing near
a laurel, introduces the organ grinder as her lover
and traveling companion.  He cranks out

Clair de Lune over and over and never
once looks toward her.  This is all

so simple,  she says.   Swim
either way.  She talks about taking
off her clothes, something about the scramble
of yellow flowers on
Mount Parnassus, men
racing naked in the stadium farther up the path.
The organ grinder’s cat with only three legs
rubs his stump against my ankle.  I don’t
want to talk to this woman.

Her eyes, wet limestone, sharpen.
Nothing to this, the woman tells me. 
I’ll change your breathing toward the sea. 
We could travel in a group. 

presses hard against my lungs.  I move
my leg away from the cat.  Four

or five of us, if you will, all holding
hands, like old Esther Williams, making
stars and pinwheels in the water.

           You were six,
the woman says to me and I don’t know
how she can possibly know this.

Niagara Falls.  That particular day you are standing
behind those falls, looking out through the spray. Water
pounds down with the force of every single
thing that hasn’t yet happened in your life, and if you knew,
oh my dear, how could you
breathe another solitary breath.  
You comment the few drops of water
reaching your face must be rain.
Your father says,  “Don’t be silly.”

“We’re standing beneath the largest cascade
of water in all of
North America,”  your mother explains.

You say nothing.  Together you go up the elevator.
The door opens to the outside.  Those drops—
remember—how they fall warm on your skin.
How they cover your whole shining face with rain.

Catherine Hammond
Originally published in the
Mississippi Review


What on earth can you be doing
all this time
, her mother calls
from downstairs.  Bath water

makes you wrinkled as a prune.

But the door is locked and the girl
can barely hear, ears submerged,
hair floating.  Kelp beds—
thick and knotty strands moving

through cool currents and warm,
a promise from the ancient tub
with its clawed feet to hold her
safe and always.  A pulse drums

within her ear, duplicates
her heart that day in the pasture.
A skeleton—bones scattered 
near the fence.  She remembers

running past the salt block, refusing
to look back.  And the cattle—they will charge.
The girl stares overhead at the light bulb.
Mother pounds the door. 

You aren't the only one, she says. 
The old lead cow, horned and huge,
does charge.  The girl trips—
she falls.  Her gasp swallows

the daylight moon.  Not in time
to prevent kelp from turning
back to hair, lustrous pearls
to ordinary teeth.

                    Catherine Hammond
                    Originally published in the Laurel Review



The girl knows she's a fool to follow
dry leaves as they—dark
and amputated hands—lure her
through the cut in the land.   Walking

between high rock walls, air cooler,
she reaches the fruit tree, heavy
with mountain snow.  Apples hang
plump and yellow.  A robin pecks

at their flesh.  In the wind, she hears rhythms
of a man and a woman—thighs rubbing,
the scrape of tongue on tongue, nail on skin. 
The robin has chosen to stay the winter

for fruit that will shrivel and sweeten.  He
does not look toward her as he digs out
one core—and another.  The girl trembles. 
Her skin can scarcely hold her.

Catherine Hammond
Originally published in MARGIN:
An Anthology of Magical Realism



Once more, flooding in spring,
River Ho breaks beyond its banks. 
The village places the girl, dressed
as a bride, in the boat made
from cinnamon bark.  Her mother's
instructions to pay close
attention—in the water's
reflection she will see
her new life.  But the water
is muddy and moving too fast
to see even a fish or a glint
of slim light from the rocks 
submerged below.  Sticks
and dead leaves beat
against the frail cassia hull. 
The girl thinks about flying—
all her life she has wanted
to fly—high as that fish hawk,
that osprey with—snap—
those strong talons.  The bride
unwraps her hands from the iris
the village has given her
for an oar.  Elder Ho waits
ahead with his whirlpool.

Kuan kuan, the osprey calls.

                        Catherine Hammond




A man and a woman sit on deck.
This—in a fjord south of Aalesund—
is the ferry Voksa.  The couple

has come with a picnic lunch
to watch the she-whale, rumored
in love with the black and white

boat.  For ten days now the animal
has hugged the steel hull
and allowed streams of water  

pumped from the ship to shower
her pale belly.  In a newspaper
article, mammal expert Ugland

suggests she may find comfort
in some aft vibration below deck.

Or perhaps she has lost her pod

and wants company. 
The man
and the woman—each knows why
they planned an afternoon in this icy wind,

watching Hanna bump and rub herself
against the Voksa's cold hull.
They have brought pancakes with currant jam,

a bottle of cherry heering, and a fish
for the whale.  Children, let out of school
to witness the improbable couple, cheer

as the mammal rolls in the backwash
of the ship's propellers.  The crew bets on
the height of the jet from her blowhole.

Mammal expert Ugland expects the whale
to leave the Voksa by winter.  Even now,
snow dusts the couple on deck.  April

is the long shot—the double
or nothing.  The man puts an almond
on the woman's tongue.


Catherine Hammond       

Originally published in Yellow Silk



The story begins simply enough.  A sound
(was there a sound) startles the woman awake. 
She leaves the lover (was he really my lover—

the way he kept his shoulders flat on the pillow,
his head immobile—he never did bother to kiss me)
and walks naked through the door

to the sea.  Saw grass cuts her legs.
The sound (was that a cat in the water mewing,
a whole life in that wide yowl—kitten to skull)

repeats.  (Or did that cry come from the mouth
of the sea, white and hungry mirror to the moon.) 
The woman enters the waves. 

She never hesitates, even as salt stings grass-
whipped legs, mouth, eyes.  The woman (was there some
moment I should have turned back) searching for the long,

slow tongue of the ocean, travels (is this the way sea
anemones move—such a ululation of breasts, hair, cells,
and the water flowing through) deeper yes, listening

within the silence—for any small sound.                                             


Catherine Hammond




Even now, the woman must wear the ocean,
a dress crumpled in the back of her closet
(put it on, the voice whispers).  Having learned
lessons of salt, her eyes stare into distance.

Whatever she means to say, she says nothing.  
Oh, she can talk about the sharp ping of milk
hitting a steel bucket, warm froth filling
her mouth.  She watches for disguises—

lightning pretending to spread itself on water's
surface—while penetrating through to the heart.
Wind's caressing the undersides of leaves (don't
dare speak).   Braiding  and unbraiding her hair,

the woman considers singing—silence is always
the presence of some other thing.  The man never
questions her absence—foam at her collar,
starfish caught in a sleeve.  Do you think

I do this on purpose?
  she refuses to say. 

  Catherine Hammond

 Originally published in the Laurel Review