Mudlark Poster No. 128 (2015)

Nature Poem and Other Poems
by Michael Hettich

Nature Poem | The Craft of Poetry | The Hike
The Lecture | The Nest | On an Otherwise Ordinary Day
Poetics | The Mica Daughter

MP3 Audio File Link   Hear Michael Hettich read his “Nature Poem” here.
Running time: 3 minutes and 8 seconds. File size: 2.6 megabytes.

Nature Poem

I’m wondering how to fill it, that sack you left me
	of sky, redundant as an egg...
                                                                — Bill Berkson
Something like a swarm of bees inside the air,
	something like a mattress full of quills, or a tee-shirt
		glistening with fish scales sloughed from the body
	of a man who blistered his fingers on the clouds
he leaped to grab onto, as though he could become them,
	so he could be rainfall. This is the grief
		of wool hats in the tropics, or a bone in the river,
	that’s been smoothed into a pebble. You pick it up and wonder
what the wind might intend as it worries the trees—

	but wind intends nothing, of course, like that pebble
		falling through the ocean inside you, behind your
	rib bones and moon-bone and closets full of blaring
ambulance-street-cars and broken fire trucks
	hoping to rescue the snakes from your shoes
		before they start sliding up your legs like vines
	to poke into your holes. So I lean to read your palm, 
close enough to smell that perfume you’ve sprayed 
	on your clothes and hair as though that might make you 
		less mortal. And it does, at least while the fevers
	are rising inside us and our fingers are stroking 
that fur; at least while our barefoot dances 
	continue long after the music’s gone limp 
		and the rain has reminded us again of the silence 

	always inside, like the lake we dive into, 
so crowded with arm-length ravenous fish 
	we think of as sheriffs of the ocean, though 
		they’re caught here in fresh water, sluggish with thirst 
	and yearning for salt. But we let them devour us 
anyway, the way a man might turn into 
	the cat he petted, and purr his way into 
		oblivion while his wife sat at home 
	watching old sitcoms and picking at her fingernails 
until they were bleeding, then doing pushups 
	until she broke down and cried out	 dirt 
		will be dirt. Remember: those fish weren’t fooled
	by the flies you tied with your father, leaning 
in the near-dark basement workroom, while 
	your mother took her clothes off in the kitchen upstairs, 
		lay down on the floor and dreamed she might melt 
	into a skeleton to demonstrate just how 

a fish might shiver. And soon there was glittering 
	glass in the path you walked, barefoot, 
		thinking you might still escape the relentless
	dogs in your body—large dogs that howled 
like wolves and were always ravenous, until 
	your bare feet left blood prints all over the floor 
		beside your mother, while your father took a shower 
	and sang in the voice of Ella Fitzgerald  
or Bessie Smith, if they could have sung 
	like a man who sang like a woman, off key, 
		and the walls started sweating as the rain seeped through 
	the wallpaper your mother had hung, pictures 
of fruits that have never existed, and carrots, 
	interspersed with small mammals—bunnies and squirrels—
		cute creatures, while off in the distance the farmhouse 
	waited so patiently it almost made you cry
as the horses and pigs there exploded, one by one.

The Craft of Poetry

The flocks inside 
the mind are still 

sometimes able
to darken the sky. 

And there are birds 
that never grow tired 

of flying, and never 
seem to grow old. 

We think they must have 
wonderful names 

no one has learned 
to speak, though some people 

spend their whole lives 
trying, as if 

to sing them somehow
out of the mind

into the actual world.

The Hike

I decided to walk a big circle that day
to see what I could see. It felt good to have a body
after weeks at the desk; it felt good to walk along 
alone, not talking except in my head, 
maybe singing a little. If there were cawing 
crows I would hear them, I thought, and if a deer
watched from the trees, maybe I would see it,
as I knew I’d see breezes moving through the grasses,
as I knew I’d see spider webs. Maybe I’d sit down
and read or write a little. If I could just open
myself a little wider, I thought, I might be something
instead of just someone, for a little while. 
I might even try to stand still for an hour,
or lie down off the path where no one could see me
and pretend to dry up and blow away. I could be 
a gesture moving quickly through the trees. Watch me 
move as emptiness through the energetic air
like a glint you didn’t see. But you thought you did.

The Lecture

Inside each moment, he explains, there’s meat,
like the meat inside a nut, a nut that must be roasted
and cracked open, somehow, to be eaten, a nut
that grew on a tree, from a blossom, and might have been
eaten by a bird when it was just a bud,
though it wasn’t. So you taste it. That’s what it means
to really be alive. And that bird has flown off

to land in another kind of tree, to sing
songs that would remind you of  the smell of dust
drifting through sunlight in an old wooden house
you found in the woods once, lay down in and rested
on that bare wood floor. You imagined the people 
who built that room, as you listened to the whisper 
the dust made landing all around you 

and you woke to the shiver of cool wet grass 
against your bare feet, as you ran to where the sun 
was shining, a patch where the grass was dry.
The sun felt warm on your body, and your body
itself was just itself, and it fit into that moment
like the tree inside the nut, and the bird inside the tree
as it took off to fly south, while the deep boulders groaned
on their never-ending journey to the surface and the light.   

The Nest

Our bones will be shiny and new, our eyes
will be watching whatever they want to, and if 
they don’t know exactly what it is they want 
they may well be offered a smorgasbord of landscapes
to choose from, mountains to orchards. And the rooms 
will be fitted with small gusts of wind, like shadows 
scrubbed of their darkness, so there will be no need 
of windows. Outside, the trees will be hung
with speakers for pop songs, to drown out whatever 
might wail and wake us, while everything sharp
will be flensed into light from the future, buzzing 
like sterilized dreams—and who wouldn’t hum
to the blood as it flumes 
through the fist we keep clenching 
inside ourselves, like a jellyfish? 

Aren’t muscles sometimes more vividly living 
than we are? Listen: I’ll sing a-cappella 
with my breath, wondering who’s built my brain.
Today it’s a nest for a bird that can’t fly 
or simply doesn’t want to, and her nest is beautiful—
twigs, woven grasses—and the bird warms a clutch 
of translucent eggs; I think I hear singing 
inside them as I drift into twilight. Now they’ll never hatch, 
though the chicks try to break free; they chop with their beaks 
and frantically cry out. And that will be their song. 

On an Otherwise Ordinary Day

I wake up in a sleeping bag beside my father
at the edge of a snowfield in the mountains 
he was never interested in, preferring to play tennis
or walk along the beach. But here he is snoring
beside me, smiling in his dream, looking younger 
than I feel this morning, to be honest, though the day
is beautifully crisp and cool. He’s been dead
for almost twenty years now, so when I slip 
from the bag I really don’t worry too much 
about waking him. I leave him there, smiling in his dream,
pull on my clothes, make some tea, and set out—

and soon enough my wife is walking next to me
pointing out the edible plants though she left me 
last year, or the year before. She took all the kids 
we’d been thinking we might have someday, and she took
the dog I loved so. But here he is now, 
bounding up, old Otis, rolling in the patches 
of snow in the shadows of the trees. I toss him 
a snowball and he leaps for it, laughing as only 
a dog can, infectiously. And so I’m laughing too,

even as I realize how badly lost I am
as I step off the well-plotted path, to climb down 
to a meadow where a score of vultures feasts 
on an elk whose antlers look as large, from this distance, 
as a tree. They will strip the bones bare, but the skeleton 
and antlers will lie there in the grass that’s darkened 
and matted like a wound now, while I wonder what a dead father 
dreams and call out to my wife to  come back 
and help name our children; then I whistle 
for my faithful old dog, who seems to have disappeared, 
so he’ll bound through the trees slobbering with joy 
to see me, his master. Or because he’s smelled those bones. 


                   ... is this our body?
                                      — Gary Snyder
We were sitting in the windowless, air-conditioned classroom,
under the buzzing, too-bright fluorescent bulbs,
discussing contemporary poetry, specifically 
Gary Snyder’s “The Bath,” that hymn 
to family nakedness, the body, this earth
and the star-packed sky, and when I turned out the lights—
just to see if that might kick-start the conversation, 
as darkness often does—it was shockingly, palpably
dark, a crate sealed tight for shipping,
a collapsed cave in the side of a winter 
mountain, except for the on-off light 
on the computer, as though the night sky 
had been emptied but for one distant planet, 
perhaps our only hope. Is this our body? 
one girl, who’d hardly ever spoken, 
even when I’d called her name, asked then 
of everyone sitting in the darkness, and another girl 
said wow. Some others started humming. And when 
I switched on the lights again, everyone sat there 
squinting like half-grumpy, near-sighted newborns 
just woken from their naps, whose diapers needed changing, 
impatient for their mommies, with their swollen, milk-gorged 
breasts, to realize they were waiting there, starving.

The Mica Daughter

Sure, we could ask our true selves to slice open 
the clouds hanging in our closets, and let 
the memories of summer afternoon thunderstorms 
sweeten our shoes; we could throw open our windows 
to let the waves rush in;  sure, we could awaken 
the surfboards sleeping in their narrow cots  
and ride from wind to breeze to breath—

or we could practice the instruments we’ve never 
mastered: tweezers and dental floss, toothbrush 
and broken-toothed comb; we could learn how to stroke  
harmonics by grooming our middle-aged physiognomies
if it weren’t for afternoons like this one, when a man 
called father gets caught in the window, and fades 
into something like the skin of our eyes as we watch 
the trees fill with dusk and the cars move their passengers 
up and down the streets, when we can’t help seeing
a crow who looks like our mother out there
nodding at the window. But then she’s just a stump
by the time we arrive. It’s like the smell of glass
in winter, a mirror filled with frozen rain,

as the brother, our brother, holds something like a howl
inside his shadow.  Soon enough he’s only
the smell of a tooth buried under a pillow
by a wolf-child with an old soul, the son who sings
pop songs backward and is chosen as a holy man
by his crossing guard, his teachers, and his friends, yet his friends 
are afraid of the charms he weaves with the wind 
to make himself something like grass-kneeling-down, 
long hair of the bodies imprisoned underground, 

as you are imprisoned in the girl of this family, 
Sweet Sally of the Rocks, who glistens like mica 
and breaks things to mend them, to break them and mend them 
again by stitching or gluing, staples 
or nails. When you clap she’ll vanish. But listen: 
truly she has never been; truly, she is mica 
at the center of our days, that sharpens our bones 
and lights those faces in the photograph albums 
we consult to remember our lives, until eventually 

we’ve misplaced what glinted. And then we’re just lost light. 

Michael Hettich’s most recent book of poetry, Systems of Vanishing, won the 2013 Tampa Review Prize in Poetry and was published in April, 2014. Other books include The Animals Beyond Us (New Rivers, 2011) and Like Happiness (Anhinga, 2010). In addition to Mudlark, his poems have appeared in such journals as Orion, Ploughshares, Poetry East, Prairie Schooner, Alaska Quarterly Review, and Notre Dame Review. He lives and teaches in Miami. His website is

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