Serving House: A Journal of Literary Arts
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SHJ Issue 3
Spring 2011

[Three Poems]

Michael Hettich

The Lesson

We all know stories of people who’ve turned into things 
like trees, who woke up as an insect or a bear,
a river or a whole field of flowers.
And of course we’ve heard stories of people turned to ashes
and snow—snow falling, snow covering the ground
in deep drifts we could tunnel through, almost disappearing there.

One winter the snow was so deep in our town
we had to climb out our windows and up 
to the surface, a vast expanse with just 
the top branches of a few tall trees sticking through. 

If we fell through the crust, we might tumble through the white
too deep to climb back out. There were birds in mid-flight there
and dogs standing still, as though the snow had caught them
in a flash. But when the snow melted, years later,

everything returned to normal, though the rivers 
were swollen at first with dogs and debris. 
There were ponds in the woods for a few weeks; they became 
fields of flowers when they vanished, full of buzzing bees 
which taught us something else, something harder.

—Previously published in Interlitq, Issue 13 (November 2010)


As Children

We thought our hair could grow backward, down into 
our bodies, to curl up in there—a good place 
for the animals to nest. They purred, like the tomcat 
we had then, who sat on my chest and made 
my whole body tremble when I petted his belly. 

So I lay there on my back with that cat purring loudly
and imagined those creatures venturing out 
to explore the stillness of the snowy woods. 
And then I’d be asleep with that cat still purring 
on my chest, stretching and flexing its claws, 

jumping off with a thud, which woke me for a moment,
to hear my parents lumbering downstairs, 
loudly pontificating, sometimes listening 
to music—wild music full of genius 
I couldn’t ignore, even then. My body 

would be lying in bed, and I would be there too,
and the night would be chilly when I opened the window
as though to climb out, and I would feel the hair
growing inside me, like mushrooms in the woods 
when the snow slipped away. I could smell the wild flowers 

only faintly, but their scent intoxicated something 
that defined me to myself, that entered my body 
until I was no longer only what I would be
but what I was then and had been, which is where
everything must rest, at last. Except this trembling.


The Colorblind Man

I drove by a parking lot full of black birds
on my way to the beach for a swim. Black birds 
were floating in the waves, just beyond the breakers
where the water gets deep. There was no one else

at the beach, so I took off my suit and swam naked
which was a great relief. The black birds flew up 
into the sky as I swam out. There were other birds 
in the sky, almost out of sight, circling. They were black too.
My body felt pale in the cool water, which was clogged

with seaweed filled with small eels, which tickled
harmlessly. And as night fell, bodies 
started moving through the water, brushing my legs 
and making me sing, which surprised me. But no one 
could hear and the bodies were bumping against 

my nakedness as though we’d been friends once, long ago,
as the black birds started landing on the beach, huge flocks 
that huddled up among themselves and seemed to fall asleep
while the night grew more solid around us.


“...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