Michael Hettich

Michael Hettich recites his poem at “Poetic Palate” at Margulies Collection (Photo © Maria Victoria Biancardi)

The Pure Necessity
By Michael Hettich

–for Richard Blanco & John William Bailly

When I’m asked about what I think when I look at a painting,
  I can only answer that I don’t think at all…”
–Imi Knoebel

…the way the river rises
while we’re sleeping, and floods our bedroom–and carries
our house out into the current, into
the deeps, where the ancient creatures live;

                                       the way we fall asleep together every night
to a moaning train or a cop show; the way we wake up
many years later
                                                                              to the bird no one has named
knocking its head at our window:

                                                                                                        Your memories
live beyond your body, and prove to the trees
                      there’s really no such thing as dreaming–

just as there might be nothing called wind
if you’re moving inside it.

So take this bone, this human fibula, to gnaw
                          instead of growing old like an idea; break
this raw bone, then bury it under your belt
or boil it for years, until someone calls it soup
and you’re free of pretending yourself into another,
and you’re free to climb those secret stairs, up into the clouds
to explode there like rain,
and make the river rise:

You think yourself raw and find only one answer:
refuse to even think about angels wearing coats
                    of wax or lard, the Great Mother your image
of what is so real it lacks meaning:

                                         The first trees
were prayers he explained to us then, whose leaves
were pressed into oil and charcoal.

They contained a secret knowledge only angels ever spoke:

flat men on a balcony facing away,
into the sun — to accelerate the transformation
that makes nothing solid, but real.  

Dear Angels,

I know you as wonder, objects the mind
intuits from its past lives, like the sensitive touch
                                          of this hand, or sunflower stalks—a massive wall
built of old train ties—sleepers–their bodies
still potent with their living oils, a green-dust smell, the lives

those trees lived for centuries, the oxygen they made.

Each time we see them, a spark of ancient flickers,
and each time we see them the breezes come alive
between us, as when we really see

anything, we come alive again

in the pure necessity of mind we call soul
                                        so we can forget it, embarrassed at the word—

and this is what we humans do—attend to our own minds

     as a means forgetting, of letting go
of the big world of rocks and angels and trees,
shapes that sing like magic wands
             or sparklers children swirl like halos
                                         around their heads, as the evening settles down—

or maybe that’s just bees buzzing through the trees,
reminding us always

of honey.


In a room of rubble and brittle light,
            I suddenly know things I’ll never understand:
each moment is an animal, leaping sunlight
                            to give us these bodies. You touched me. I opened

a window and was suddenly
            lost outside

so I sang as a way of hiding in the words
              until my first parents were forgotten, my father
              who danced like a breaking wave, and my mother
                             who hung her dresses in a closet and sealed
               the closet, painted it as though it was a wall

and walked away. But I was still inside–

and so I understand the rubble we must crawl through
                                          to make the world again, as the moon grows full
above us, and hangs like a blister while we sleep,
dusting everything with its ashy light,

as dresses rise up like wings into the darkness
inside us, full of satellites mapping out our landscapes

as though we weren’t real at all, and plotting out our minds.


Michael Hettich has published over a dozen books and chapbooks of poetry, most recently Systems of Vanishing (2014), The Animals Beyond Us (2011) and Like Happiness (2010). A new book, The Frozen Harbor, was published this past summer. His work has appeared in such journals as Orion, Ploughshares, Prairie Schooner, TriQuarterly and Poetry East. He has collaborated widely with visual artists, musicians and fellow writers. Systems of Vanishing won the 2014 Tampa Review Prize and The Frozen Harbor won the David Martinson/Meadowhawk Prize. Hettich has also been awarded three Individual Artist Fellowships from the Florida Division of Cultural Affairs.

This poem was debuted at the FIU Honors College‘s “Poetry Art Community” at Margulies Collection on 6 April, 2018.

The Margulies Poems
Richard Blanco
Michael Hettich
Caridad Moro-Gronlier
Nikki Moustaki Brandt
Carlos Pintado

Back to Poetry Art Community at Margulies Collection

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