Mudlark Poster No. 68 (2007)

Michael Hettich  |  Howling at the Moon

Michael Hettich has published a dozen books and chapbooks of poetry, most recently SWIMMER DREAMS (Turning Point) and FLOCK AND SHAWDOW: NEW AND SELECTED POEMS (New Rivers Press), both of which were published in 2005, and MANY LOVES, a chapbbook published in 2007 by Yellow Jacket Press. He lives with his family in Miami and teaches at Miami Dade College.

MP3 Audio File LinkHear Michael Hettich read “Howling at the Moon” here . . .
Running time: 3 minutes, 43 seconds. File size: 3.6 megabytes.

Howling at the Moon

After my doctor tells me he’s pleased
to tell me I haven’t been growing old
nearly as quickly as I had been
the last time he saw me, although I’m still
aging faster than I should, he smiles
reassuringly and says Good news:
He has new medicines that might carry me
far into the future with no real side effects
I’ll be able to notice after awhile:
After you’ve lost a certain capacity
for what we call memories in our haphazard
lexicon, he says. I’d call them figments,
or ghosts that inhabit your system and cause you
to age like some animal. He smiles.
But it’s nothing like losing your soul. I smile too,
at the mention of soul, which he pronounces like seal
in his foreign accent—a creature I’ve always
been fond of, my favorite in the zoos of my childhood.
I loved to watch them swim around their small pools,
so much that when my family set off for the lions
and bears I’d stay put with a handful of pellets
to feed them, laughing at the way they cavorted,
so sleek and cool. One summer afternoon
I saw a boy fall into the seal pool. He bobbed there
laughing nervously while the seals whizzed past,
until a zoo-man threw a rope ladder over the wall
and he climbed up, small hero, to be smacked by his mother,
so hard the popcorn she was holding in her other hand
went flying all over his head, and the crowd
that had gathered around them laughed and clapped
and the pigeons fluttered up into the sky.

By the time my family returned there was only
a puddle on the blacktop to prove my tale was true.
They made skeptical faces and called me “Seal Man,ּ
My brother started singing Sam and Dave’s “Soul Man”
as “Seal Man” and dancing. My mother took a snapshot
of us all smiling there. That was the year
I tried to swim too far underwater and got lost.
That was the year I forgot my other languages,
forgot my sharper senses, slept in my dreams
in the scrubby bushes at the scrappy end of town,
so different from this town, this air-conditioned doctor’s
examination room where I sit, shirt off,
strapped to chilly instruments, holding out my hand
for a prescription I will never fill,
at least not until I’ve tried sweat baths, homeopathy,
herbs and acupuncture, as I did years ago
when the noises of motors and sirens seemed louder
than I could withstand. The old acupuncture healer
stuck me with a single needle in the perfect place,
talked to me in Mandarin, which I understood
as long as the needle was in me, and allowed me
to hear entire symphonies inside my body,
loud enough to drown out every ugly sound:
Everything I looked at had its perfect timbre,
so I could make music by looking at the world.
Alarms and loud trucks, leaf blowers, commercials,
ugly loud guitars could vanish at a blink,
into beauty. So maybe I should track him down now,
old wizard, to slow down my aging; maybe
he could puncture my body to change my story
into a song I could sing again
and again with myself, in harmony, as though
I were a choir—or sing some other animal
somewhere in primeval woods, howling at the moon
until it grows full again, then sing for it to wane
into perfect darkness and its billion year-old stars.

Copyright © Mudlark 2007
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