Mudlark Poster No. 34 (2001)

Michael Hettich

The Moon Beneath The House

Rope | The Months We Lived Alone For Years
Attributes of Love | Espresso | Our Father
Certain Trees | Yearning To Be Beautiful
Light | When

Michael Hettich's book A SMALL BOAT was published by the University Press of Florida (1990). His most recent chapbooks are SLEEPING WITH THE LIGHTS ON from Pudding House Publications and MANY SIMPLE THINGS (1997) and IMMACULATE BRIGHT ROOMS (1994) from March Street Press. He teaches English and Creative Writing at Miami-Dade Community College. E-mail:


A trained dog can locate a man whose bed
he has breathed once, who slept there
one night, months ago,

but can't smell the difference between identical
twins. We touch
and are briefly appeased

of ourselves, as though we might believe
ourselves, as though
we might ask each other

please, who are you touching, and touching,
answer I love you. But no, I am asking
who are you touching, my darling, while

our bodies sleep braided and steadfast, like rope?

The Months We Lived Alone For Years

There are days, even weeks, when I don't wake completely
and walk around without myself, looking at things
from a distance, like glass must look at sand

or stone: Walking home, I came to a house
with a roof of human hair, braided and plaited
beautifully, and a chimney that looked like a bone.

I thought I could recognize the music I could faintly hear
through the closed windows. As I stood there listening
I noticed the partly buried train tracks leading

right up to the front door, which was painted in bright
flowers and trees. But the afternoon was full of ashes
from a fire at the edge of the Everglades, burning

toward the city, so I tried not to breathe
too deeply and found myself imaging a journey
cross country, by train, with my brother hidden

in a big box, to save money, with my grandmother
weaving her spit into spider webs that never caught
anything, with my mother trying

to sell her good grammar to anyone she met,
with all of us trying to sell our hair
until we went bald as fish. The mountains

loomed in the distance as we chugged through Kansas,
so we got off the train in a small town and found ourselves
lost, and couldn't speak the language and had to

hitch a ride home. And I'd ended up here,
dumbfounded outside a hair-covered house,
trying to understand something, to remember

a song I loved once, so I could sing the harmony.

Attributes of Love

Here we see a man with too many arms
and hardly a penis
to control what he reaches for.
Here we see someone whose body is numb
except for his lips, so he never stops talking
except to taste, to kiss. And here
we have a man
who was born without ears
but listens with his profile. Test him. He hears
everything: whispers at distances, even
what you haven't said yet, what you never will.
This man wants to be a baseball, so he can
fly, and this man thinks if he could
photocopy silence he'd be content as air.
Watch yourself now. Here we have a woman
who has pulled out all her bones. She breast feeds her memories.
This woman paints herself thick with disappearing
tattoos of veins, and she wants to make love
until she is fluent in French or Japanese,
so she can travel without being seen.

Their children are paper, which is made from trees
and bits of cloth, from grass. Pressed flat.
Their children are glass, which is made from sand
and heat. Their children drive fast, act wild.


Last night while I slept, someone drew a map
on the soles of my feet, with a fine-tipped pen.
outside it was rainy and windy, gusts
and drama; leaves turned their bellies up, but little
moisture fell. Last night while I slept
moths fluttered up against my eyes for the tears
sleep turns to sand. And someone, last night,
tweezed the hair along my knuckles
and in my nostrils, and someone pierced my ears.
My wife lay beside me laughing and grunting
in her sleep, wrestling with the lovers she never
remembers but whom I sometimes remind her of,
I think, when I'm sweaty from a run along the beach,
when I'm salty from a swim, or from an afternoon body
surfing on my boogie-board, or digging holes to bury
our children in—up to the neck—to take snapshots
to send to their grandparents, so the old ones won't forget
we live far away, and our children have bodies
that are starting to grow hairy and full of those juices
my own wife won't admit she dreams of, as she dreams
of strangers, as she calls out, laughing in the small hours
of the night, beside me and so absolutely far away.

Our Father

wanted to taste the milk of every
species of mammal in North America
because he believed our human trace
started in milk, and because he loved

breasts. After that, he hoped to make
a journey collecting eggs, not only
bird but lizard, spider, insect
eggs as well, to taste them, moving

ever lower on the great chain until
he understood the diversity and subtle
textures of life on this continent with
knowledge he carried
on the tongue and in the blood.

He walked everywhere, and he slept outside
most nights. He believed that if he learned to focus
well enough he would eventually be able
to tell the size of a field with his eyes

shut, to be able to smell what mammals
lived in a forest and how many different
species of tree lived there too. He wanted
to fashion a language that incorporated barks

and purrings of all the wild creatures he encountered
so maybe a more nearly universal language
might be sung, at least in some
rudimentary form, and he tried to move

exactly like certain wild creatures, to make
only their sounds for days, to sleep
in the positions he'd observed them sleeping,
to hide the way they had, to vanish

the way they did. Eventually he'd learn to fly,
to breathe underwater, to live without thinking
as a human. And then he'd move on
to trees and flowers, on to wind and silence.

Certain Trees

The old Cuban tree man
who walked around our neighborhood
clipboard in hand, inspecting our trees,
told me, in Spanish, to cut back our aging
key lime to keep it
alive a few more years.
Even strict pruning, he said, might not do any
good, for the tree had lost its sense
of jubilation.
He squinted at the bare branches
and told me to paint whatever wounds
I cut, to seal the rot out, to protect
the old tree's heart. Then he thanked me graciously
and moved next door, to examine our neighbor's
stunted avocado, and on down the street.

That afternoon, while I climbed up into
the old tree with saw and paint can, my wife
planted a forest, no bigger than our double bed,
of slash pine and tall grass susans, blue daze,
hardy-looking button-perfect purple creeper flowers
whose name I don't know; then she watered the dwarf
cypress the mocking birds love so to perch in,
to survey the neighborhood, calling witty insults
at humans and cats, copying everybody's
songs, until their constant mocking
becomes like our bodies if we don't touch each other
enough, just part of the landscape we inhabit,
which is hardly even noticed anymore, sometimes
for years, like the roar of jets
or traffic, or the groaning of freight trains in the small
hours, when you might as well be sleeping.

Yearning To Be Beautiful

It rains every day in this season, and in every
raindrop, I could believe, are tiny fish or frogs

that swim or hop or wriggle away
into the ground or the trees. Things

are coming alive all around me, yet I am
afraid in some place before language, as when

I became a self, aware of my separate
being, and thought this is me, much later

in life than my ancestors must have, who couldn't
linger so long in childhood and must have

lived a different-sounded self
in a silent time, where spirits

might have been heard in the fluttering leaf
and a year lasted longer than it does now. But I grew up

slowly, at the edge of a huge city, free
to roam our neighborhood of grass and swamps

and remnant woods, places where we could
pretend to be wild, stalking whatever

we imagined, hunting invisible things.
We've vanished, of course, into what we are today.

And today it is raining; green things are growing quickly;
flowers are bursting into fragrances we should be

drugged by: Things that can't think might be
beautiful forever; conscious things

can be beautiful only in brief moments of
awareness, balance, stop-time: into

wind and pollen, green stuff, spider webs
and rain filled with millions of mindless, dreamless,

tiny-souled creatures that vanish into everything
even as the rain falls, as we all are vanishing,

conscious of our vanishing, watching ourselves
go, yearning to be beautiful.


For over a year, when I was a young man,
night never fell. We lived inside closets
for the darkness, or underneath
beds, and we grew
deliriously tired. Eventually we dreamed
while we went about our lives, while we talked to each other,
and lived a kind of double life, dreaming and waking
at the same time, even when we drove our cars,
even when we talked or touched each other.
Gradually we almost forgot about darkness,
in less than a year. Night creatures starved.
Crops grew heavy in half the normal season;
children went to school double time, and we worked
just to do something, and we grew thin just living,
and we grew old more quickly,
bleached pale from all that light.


Doctors cut open this old man to fix his heart,
they found a tree, just behind the breast bone,
thick and leafy, tall, full of insects,
animals and birds, part of another landscape.

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,
or 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—

have previously appeared in Parting Gifts, Rhino,
Tampa Review, Apalachee Review, White Pelican,

and Mudfish.

Copyright © Mudlark 2001
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