Michael Hettich






I open the book I was reading last night

to find blank pages.


The apples in the kitchen, we picked together

while we talked of recipes and flavor, have turned

to plums, overnight. They are even more delicious.


We went to the ocean and discovered a lake.


I’d been reading a book about lakes, had learned

eventually a lake will fill

with shells of its microscopic creatures, and turn into

dry land, rich with the muck of many lives.


So we swam out, pleased at the way fresh water

cleared our eyes, when we’d expected salt.



I was reading about songbirds that carry living insects

inside their beaks, to keep fresh for their chicks.


I went back home after many years away

and discovered events that had changed my life completely

hadn’t happened there yet.

I had to live through them again.


Some of those years I’d felt like a branch

nodding up and down in a tannin-darkened river.


Some of those years I’d tried to make myself

into that river, that smelled like rain

and shadows, that flowed so gently sometimes

it didn't seem to move at all. 




for Colleen and John


Because the map of the body showed roads

which no one had followed, that led into forests

teeming with unnamed birds and flowers;


because those birds migrated off into that wilderness

to flock out on the other side, where the first self lives;


because there were hands inside the words I spoke,

each hand clutching tight to its partner as they danced

circles inside circles, to say what I might mean;


because I was leaning my slant-self toward the afternoon


as the trees took one step toward furniture and waited

while the dark birds approached them, still a thousand miles away.



And then I was making myself into someone

built backward, so I too could someday fly away;


then I was talking with my light-self, with my shadow-brain,

until all the animals I’d been had returned:


foxes and ravens, hummingbirds and bees,

moon-drunken moths, and those bats too that zigzag

out across a still lake, feasting as they sing


and the darkness enters each blade of grass

and down into the roots of the trees.



Then I woke in the middle of the night

and walked to the window in the bedroom we shared

as children and called you by another name, and called

myself by your nick-name, and somehow I was healed.



Fruits grow ripe in our orchard while we sleep;

moths fly up above the trees to blow away.

Someone is sitting in the darkness with a book,

speaking to the darkness of the life he’s memorized.


And tomorrow we’ll be gone, remembered like incense

noticed only vaguely, drifting from a stranger’s

apartment, as you walk down the hall and stairs

to work any morning, cup of coffee in your hand,


or floating to the ceiling in an ancient cathedral

you visited once, as a tourist.



And when we stepped back outside into the day,

everything seemed to be singing, and everything

singing seemed to be a song, whose words


were breath, heartbeat, blinking the eyes

in this very moment, this now, and we were happy


for a moment or a minor eternity, and then


we entered the selves we had made of ourselves

and gave who we were to the day, and moved forward

into the rest of our lives.


Michael Hettich's most recent book, Systems of Vanishing, was published by University of Tampa Press in 2014. Other books include The Animals Beyond Us (New Rivers Press) and Like Happiness (Anhinga 2010). His work has appeared in such journals as Ploughshares, Orion, Prairie Schooner, Poetry East, and Alaska Quarterly Review. He lives with his family in Miami.