Birds in Poems
Three Poems by Michael Hettich
We sat in the kitchen talking about
the way the light fell through the window.
You said it made you remember something
about a particular person you’d loved
without knowing you loved her, the texture of the hair
along her arms, the way she smiled
at nothing, looking up into the air.
I said I thought of dust drifting
down across everything, the dust from our bodies,
dust from the bodies and things of the world,
the truth of our lives. Then we discussed things
that hardly mattered, what to do with clothes,
shoes, and costume jewelry.
We drank our tea and waited for something
to happen, something to release us from ourselves
and free us from each other. The winter light faded
quickly to dusk. It was dead-of-winter cold
but still there were pigeons cooing on the windowsill,
scrabbling for the breadcrumbs no one had left them.
When it fell dark, they huddled together,
fell silent, and waited for morning.
The trees were suddenly alive with birds
whose gnarled little faces made her remember
a long-ago painting she’d seen once, she thought,
in a library book. But these birds were actual,
singing at her now, go home before dark.
And dark was a man, she knew that, someone
who fixed things for her mother, broken pipes
or closet doors, an old man who kept
his own small animals
hidden in his clothes,
hamsters and mice; you could see them peeking out
when he leaned to adjust the pipes beneath
the kitchen sink, humming and smelling
like fur. Her mother thanked him, smiling
and he shuffled off into the basement, where he lived.
At night she imagined him down there, with his
mice in their cages, running on their little wheels.
In the kitchen the water still dripped from the faucet
and her mother still cried, though she thought no one noticed.
The moon would be out now, a smudge above the trees
where all those little birds with old people’s faces
were sleeping. If she called out they’d wake
and take off, calling her name as they flew.
He is walking by the river, in a spitting rain,
watching the gulls and pigeons, and trying
to remember. He leans on his walker, and looks
across the river to New Jersey. Maybe
he wonders what he’s doing out here in the rain—
and then he does remember—or his body does—and he
shuffles on, pushing his walker, stumbling
where the sidewalk is cracked, to a bench, where he sits
and dozes, getting wet, while joggers and dog-walkers
pass, watching him from the sides of their faces,
as though he might be dangerous, or injured,
and they might be called upon to help him.
Soon pigeons have landed; the gulls have circled
and flown off, grousing, toward the bridge,
which hums, as always, with traffic. I can see
his hair now, parted by the gentle rain.
I can see his lightly-freckled scalp, and if I lean close,
I think I can hear his breathing.
(John Hettich, 1956-2015)
Why Great Lakes Fishermen Shoot Cormorants
For Francie Cuthbert
When they fly down trout streams
they are shot
on the wing
these greedy insatiable
their necks like snakes
in the water
they shit acid and kill
the very trees
they roost in
and no one ever speaks
about their emerald green eyes
Leaf, Bract, Blade
This time of year, a dogwood tree
at the border of our woods
calls to me whenever I step out my door.
Look, it says. Just look.
Its blossoms are not blossoms
but specialized leaves called bracts.
This morning crows blacken
the dogwood’s white branches,
lifting a cacophony of caws
that make me think of a new piece
I’m learning on the piano,
an etude in a minor key.
And isn’t the world always like this,
war in the Congo and Ukraine
and fifteen other countries, gun violence,
the homeless camp in the woods,
a woman sleeping in her car
in the church parking lot. Yes,
a terrible cacophony, but beauty, too,
insisting on its part, the dogwood’s blooms,
or last night’s moon, slivered,
opalescent. I want to be one of those people
who name what they see, whether beauty
or pain, leaf or bract. Bird, bullet, blade.
And still the white dogwood,
still the fluttering black wings.
Past bird features:
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