Michael Hettich: New Poems

Art by Yoko Tanaka

Some Days

I’m a vestigial bone in the body
of a nearly-extinct mammal that’s being
studied by a team of graduate students
who keep it in a cage and watch what it does

when they give it little electric shocks
followed by its favorite food.

Other days I’m a vital organ in the soul
of an old man who did something terrible once
in his youth and wants to tell someone about it,
now that it’s all been forgotten.

I could be the number of days you still have
to live, the ancient trees swaying
in the dreams that haunt you; maybe I’m the dog
sniffing the sidewalk for a clue to where
his master’s gone. I might be that disappeared

masteror the pigeons cooing by the fountain,
pecking at the breadcrumbs some old woman threw,
a woman who was loved for her beauty, in her youth–

unless I’m the windows in all the high buildings
glinting like tinsel as the sun goes down,
then falling into uniform darkness.


Simply by Breathing

I’ve been breaking things lately, so I can try
to mend them, and learn a new kind of caring—
at least for me–a gentle way to touch
the car-crushed snakes and broken-winged birds
that visit us in spring. But really, I can only
wait for them to heal, or die. So I break things
to practice, and then I practice waiting
for the healing. It’s like a wind I can’t hear
unless I hold my breath, another kind of sleep
I wake from, to break things again: no shattered
bones or teeth, no windows or teapots,
just a kind of silence, like the small bone we didn’t
realize was scaffolding something inside us
until somehow it broke. There’s marrow there, even
in that little bone, so much like a bird’s bone,
hollow and lightweight–and yearning, even now,
to fly. I ask it to be patient, to wait
until its fully healed, and functioning like silence–
then I break something else, simply by breathing
or looking out the window, or walking through the woods
searching for a trace of the trail I made
so many years ago now I don’t remember where
I thought it might take me, or what I might find there,
imagining a waterfall, beyond the next turn,
a spring-fed pool I might swim in, a place
no one else knew about, surrounded by the tracks
of the animals that came there to drink.


The Long Marriage

Night emerges from the morning woods
to walk across the tall grass toward us, sighing
faintly in the fresh light, as though it were in pain,
which it must be, to be seen in broad daylight, alone
with itself. We call to it, gently, like we might
call a stray dog, someone’s lost pet, holding
our own bodies ready to pull back, if it moves
toward us in hunger. But this darkness is not
starving, not dangerous, so we let it come close enough
to pet, and it enters our bodies, a language
we haven’t yet learned how to speak, which we keep
inside, like a secret, as the morning rolls on
through the oaks and maples, as though it were a wave
we could ride on a summer beach, laughing.


The Blizzard

The next day, we waded out into the snow
to look for tracks: rabbit, chipmunk,

all sorts of birds–and something with paws
that walked lightly, in circles. Where the tracks faded

the wind had made drifts. I took a snapshot
of you with the snow to your waist, smiling

and squinting as though you were starting to tell me
something important. There were crows in the trees

calling down at us, leaping from branch
to branch as though to warn us of something

we weren’t yet aware of. The night before
I’d awakened to a cry. I’d gotten up and listened

until I could call it the wind, until
I could call it your breath, marking the cadence

of your dreams, that life you’d forget when you woke.
I was alone though you were right there,

muttering a little in a language I’ve never
learned, a language you don’t even know

yourself, except when you’re sleeping. My body
seemed to glow, and the snow glowed blue,

though the moon was just a sliver in the darkness.

Michael Hettich has published a dozen full-length books of poetry, most recently The Mica Mine, which won the 2020 Lena Shull Book Award from the North Carolina Poetry Society and was published in April, 2021. A “new and selected” book is forthcoming from Press 53. He has published widely in journals and in a few anthologies as well. He lives with his family in Black Mountain, North Carolina. His website is michaelhettich.com.

Michael Hettich at EIL

More art by Yoko Tanaka at EIL


One response to “Michael Hettich: New Poems”

  1. Joy Dube says:

    I love your poems, so imagistic, they take you flying all over, then deep down into the earth. I love that.

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