Giovanni Segantini, Life Angel, 1894
When a woman comes to my front door selling
bunches of wildflowers she’s just picked
from my garden, when she sings a folk song, standing
there on my stoop, about heather and thyme,
their fragrances and use, when she shows me the roots
of the flowers she’s just picked and tells me they might
thrive in the sun of my garden and points
to the dirt she just picked them from, when she tells me
her daughter had a thick braid halfway down her back,
when she tells me her son loved dancing.
The Small Birds
They ask us to understand our grief
by simply leaping out, trusting the air
which is far more complex than sorrow, to follow
all we’ve ever done with a pure heart and change us
completely, but never for long.
Someday, you say, you’ll be glass in a window
that looks across a landscape of wilderness and snow
which will melt when you go out there and walk, because
you love a good man or woman. But whom
do you love, after all? For now, you open
that window and lean out. For now you just watch things:
vivid rugs on hardwood floors, closets full of clothes
that would never fit you, where another person’s smell
lingers for years. And then it vanishes.
A Kind of Pleasure
Your sleep is like a staircase carved into a mountain
covered in spring snow beneath which tiny buds
are starting to stir, in that darkness they can feel
will be melting soon. You are walking up those cold stairs
with bare feet that hardly touch down, and feel
that dream-snow as a kind of pleasure.
And beyond the tree line, up ahead, others wait
also barefoot, where the sky is the thinnest wisp of blue.
Love could be something like that empty blue
beyond which, out of sight now, clouds must be moving.
Love could be the spring creeks starting to flow
underneath that snow, or those stirring flowers
as you leap, still barefoot, hoping to fly
for a moment down the mountain, to tumble in the wet
spring snow. Trout shiver to thaw the icy lakes.
The hibernating animals are starting to wake.
Your body is more like a gesture than a thing.
More like a song than a gesture.
from Behind Our Memories
When doctors cut open this old man to fix his heart
they found a tree, just behind the breast bone,
thick and leafy, full of insects,
animals and birds.
And when they dug deeper they found not just
the one tree, but a whole forest full of flowers,
rivers and animals they’d believed extremely rare,
even extinct. They discovered they could wander
into this forest, just by pulling back
the dead man’s chest like a door, ducking,
and stepping in…
Behind Our Memories (Adastra Press, 2003)
A Good Day
Walking through midsummer mountain woods
full of raspberries and berries whose names I don’t know,
through dark mushroom-glowing old growth, lake glinting
down-slope between leaning huge cedar trees,
the hatchet-sound of a pileated woodpecker stops me
to listen as a large doe crosses the meadow
just ahead. When she notices me, she throws back her head
and snorts—a spray-cloud of wet breath, like the mist
that rises from a waterfall, to shimmer in the still air
after she’s vanished. No other trace at all.
Michael Hettich grew up in New York City and now lives in Miami, Florida with his family. He is the author of Flock and Shadow (New Rivers Press, 2005), Swimmer Dreams (Turning Point, 2005), Behind Our Memories (Adastra Press, 2003), and Like Happiness (Anhinga Press, 2010), among other books. Most of these poems come from a book manuscript in progress. To see more poems, learn more about his books, or to experience Michael’s musical collaborations, visit his website.