Another Time —Michael Hettich
For years, most of my hungers were mute
though I understood what they needed by the way
they moved around inside, running up and down
my backbone, fiddling with the flow of my blood,
flinging their arms out wide
and singing. Eventually, like tadpoles grow into
frogs, they drew back into the landscape
of who I think I am. Of course other hungers
grew up then, like weeds: I woke in a room
with wide-open windows; a breeze was blowing
the curtains, and I could hear someone singing
downstairs. When I opened the door
I found another door there. A phone was ringing
from some other room. The day smelled like flowers,
so I stood at the window and called out in a language
I didn’t understand yet. And no one came for years.
The Lucky One
Summer evenings, when thousands of fireflies
rose from the cool grass, we’d catch them in jars
that made them suddenly ordinary.
Sometimes, when we killed one by mistake,
our mother would save it for later, after
we’d gone to bed. She’d study it then
at the kitchen table, glasses perched
at the end of her nose, squinting as she leaned close,
then looking up to blink and sip
her nightcap, while our father listened
to Monk or Bud Powell, loud when he was
a little drunk, which made us children
hold our pillows tight to our heads
and wake up grumpy next morning.
In those days ragged men haunted the trains
that ran between the city and the suburbs.
Sometimes one of them would sit down beside me
to tell me his stories, and though I’d pretend
to be reading intently, I’d listen, innocent
boy that I was then, privileged kid
who’d never be drafted, or forced to sign up
for anything, really, I didn’t want to do.
Later, as I lay in bed, I’d listen
to the animals I imagined were moving through the dark,
timid creatures who knew how to vanish
from the day like a man might vanish from his own life.
Sometimes, unable to sleep, I wandered
outside and stood there as though those night creatures
might approach me, open the doors of their houses
and invite me inside until morning.
Warm afternoons, our father threw a tennis ball
out into the harbor for our black Lab, Charlie,
until Charlie’s mouth was bleeding, and our father
was laughing in exhaustion—still Charlie begged for more.
He barked as swans flew over that harbor,
touching the tips of their wings sometimes
to the dirty water. That was the year
a girl I’d had a crush on was infected when she dipped
her feet in that water and died, before
she made it to the hospital.
And if I woke up
sometimes in the middle of the night to Charlie’s
moaning in his sleep, and woke my brother
in the bunk above me, and we slipped into our sister’s
room to make sure she was fine, and if
we moved down the hall to our parents’ bedroom,
stood still there and listened to their breathing,
what more could we do to protect them? Sometimes
my brother slid into bed beside me
and we listened to each other’s breathing as we slept.
Sometimes in the morning, still groggy, we tried
to tell each other what we’d dreamt, whatever
snippets we remembered, if we remembered anything,
but more often we got dressed in silence.
Patrick T. Reardon