There’s wind inside everything, my acupuncturist said as she stuck me with a needle – even in the heart, let’s say, of that woman standing beside you in the elevator, who steps out at your floor and saunters briskly down the hall just in front of you, as if she were in charge, then turns and asks if you know where you’re going, and if so will you point the right door. But you’re lost too, so you tell her she looks like an old friend’s sister, and ask how he’s doing these days. She frowns and clams her brother sailed over the horizon and drowned in his own solitude, until he saw the whales and mermaids — she winks then – and couldn’t come home after that, so he sings to her now through the phone in a foreign language.
When we moved my study down from the attic
to the empty bedroom our children used to share,
we built new bookshelves from branches we collected
in the back yard. It was a kind of sculpture,
interesting to look at, but difficult to balance
the books in, and the branches swarmed with bugs.
Before long, insects were eating my library,
and when I sat down in the evening after work
with a favorite book of poetry, chiggers bit my arms,
leaving welts I scratched until they bled, so when
I hugged my wife, I left blood on her clothes.
There was blood all over our sheets in the morning.
Eventually I simply stopped reading, a logical
solution to the problem. I’m happy now
to spend my days up in the attic – where the old
bookshelves stand empty – strumming the guitar
I bought way back in college and played
for my dormitory comrades, high on pot and friendship.
I fumble through those old songs without my youthful grace
and I can’t hit the high notes, but it feels like happiness
and no one else is listening, so I let myself wail on.
We met in the rain, this woman reminds
the man she’s been living with longer than a single
lifetime, and you told me you wanted to melt
away with me, seep with me into the leaf-mold
and sweet-rot of the woods. But before that, she says
she told him she yearned to dance away the secrets
between them, the stories they’d told so often
they couldn’t be true except as paths
toward something larger, like the rain that drips
and dribbles until it’s a stream teeming
with creatures who sing to the evening and then
fall silent, waiting for dawn.
As the tide rises, tiny shells
tumble and wait, and tumble. There is nothing
alive inside most of them
but the kind of light
in a room whose curtains have been drawn for years,
a room whose window
faces a street
where people sit late into the evenings at cafes
and the palm fronds flutter. Someone sits quietly
in that room most afternoons, listening
to the chatter, trying to hear a voice
she might recognize. At dusk she gets dressed,
goes down to the cafe, and drinks a glass of wine.
No one ever talks to her. Of course the ocean never stops
pulling its shells from the deep; some of them
still have creatures alive inside them,
even as they’re stranded by the falling tide
to dry up and die, or be eaten by the little birds
who run along the beach, willets or terns,
or picked up by someone who admires their beauty
then throws them back into the ocean.
Michael Hettich's most recent books of poetry include "Bluer and More Vast" (Hysterical Books, 2018); "The Frozen Harbor" (Red Dragonfly Press, 2017) and "Systems of Vanishing" (University of Tamps, 2014). A new book, "To Start and Orchard" is forthcoming from Press 53. After many years in Miami, he recently moved to Black Mountain, NC. His website: michaelhettich.com.