Serving House: A Journal of Literary Arts
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SHJ Issue 4
Fall 2011

[Five Poems]

Terry Hertzler

How Fierce the Sun Was

We drive through Sorrento Valley, 
Patrick and I, talking politics & war, 

the idiocy of Iraq, Afghanistan, 
as if we learned nothing from Vietnam. 

A fog bank rolls in: from a distance, 
a mountain range, peaks solid 

as the Cuyamacas; up close, 
it loses solidity, pours over ridges 

at Torrey Pines like an invading 
army—engulfs branches, flows into 

canyons in swirls of ghostly light. 
In its presence the day kneels, 

summer acquiescing. How fierce 
the sun was, battling across the sky 

in its chariot of flames, blinding 
in its certainty, now hidden, slipping 

away. The day darkens. Oleanders 
retreat in mist. How odd that mere dust 

and water can trigger such confusion. 
The world has become thin.


No-Name Poem

This poem is empty,
offers less than a new moon.
It smells of nothing
and tastes of air,
but no wind moves through this poem.
You will not hear this poem
as it leaves the room,
and if it touches you
the sensation will be of
a memory you have forgotten
you have forgotten.
You dream this poem every night.
It will change your life.


The Value of Leisure

This afternoon, sitting upstairs, 
reading Merwin’s The Vixen, 
I noticed in the sunlight 

through my window 
a million motes of dust 
in the air—but of course 

they’ve always been there, 
dancing invisibly day and night, 
particles swaying in a perpetual 

Brownian waltz that I saw only 
now, in a slant of sunlight.
So I sat for a while, watching, 

and nothing else mattered
during those sacred moments
on this small pebble of a day.


Tiny Silver Threads

Sometimes, watching a movie or leaving my apartment 
or rinsing shampoo from my hair, that feeling comes over me 
again and I have to stop, pause the DVD or just stand 

in the doorway or allow water to stream over my head 
and face, eyes closed—and I feel as if I were full of tiny 
silver threads swirling in circles, flashing in and out 

of light as they spin, and that’s all there is: thousands 
of tiny silver threads, turning and turning, and I feel 
both empty and overflowing, hollow as a city at 3:00 a.m., 

all its fervid life squirming in anticipatory dreams, and I wait 
for that bright tinsel light to come streaming from my pores, 
skin stretched and aching, and I want to touch and be touched 

again—but the moment passes and I restart the film, walk 
to my car, finish the shower, and the world, with astonishing 
indifference, spins on.


Walking Pneumonia

“For the world is the world and it writes no histories
that end in love.”
—Stephen Spender
Even sitting up hurts, stomach muscles weak 
as old rubber bands from the coughing, so 
intense at times I almost black out, throat raw 
from attempts to empty mucus-filled lungs. 
Over-the-counter drugs do nothing. I sleep 

in snatches, an hour, two, pulled from dreams 
by my body’s attempts to find air, exhausted. 
Should see a doctor, I know, but no health care, 
part-time work, day job lost to this recession 
that edges toward depression. Drove to Von’s 

this morning, refrigerator empty—not even 
bottled water—tap tasting odd and bitter 
as always. Dragged sacks of meat, eggs, 
bread, water home, body coated in light sweat. 
I lie down. My shoulders ache, and I think of 

those summer evenings in El Cajon, ex-wife 
massaging my neck, her voice in my ear: you’re 
so tight—relax, relax, fingers probing into flesh, 
daylight fading into dim purple twilight, her body 
next to mine, faint odor of sweat mixed with 

the scent that was hers alone—then another 
coughing fit jerks me almost sideways, and 
I spit up a wad of mucus, consider the bathroom 
sink, a dozen feet away—but it’s all too much,
and I lie back on my empty bed and swallow.


“...we have been born here to witness and celebrate. We wonder at our purpose for living. Our purpose
is to perceive the fantastic. Why have a universe if there is no audience?” — Ray Bradbury