April 11, 2008

"Howling at the Moon" by Michael Hettich

Michael HettichMichael Hettich has published a dozen chapbooks and books of poetry, most recently Swimmer Dreams (Turning Point, 2005) and Flock and Shadow: New and Selected Poems (New Rivers Press, 2005). His honors include two Florida Individual Artist Fellowships and the Tales Prize (for Swimmer Dreams). Flock and Shadow was selected as a national Book Sense Spring 2006 Top Ten Poetry Book and he received the Tales Prize for Swimmer Dreams in 2005. Hettich holds a Ph.D. in literature from the University of Miami. He teaches English and Creative Writing at the Wolfson campus of Miami Dade College and lives with his family in Miami, Florida.

Howling at the Moon

After my doctor tells me he’s pleased

to tell me I haven’t been growing old

nearly as quickly as I had been

the last time he saw me, although I’m still

aging faster than I should, he smiles

reassuringly and says Good news:

He has new medicines that might carry me

far into the future with no real side effects

I’ll be able to notice after awhile:

After you’ve lost a certain capacity

for what we call memories in our haphazard

lexicon, he says. I’d call them figments,

or ghosts that inhabit your system and cause you

to age like some animal. He smiles.

But it’s nothing like losing your soul. I smile too,

at the mention of soul, which he pronounces like seal

in his foreign accent--a creature I’ve always

been fond of, my favorite in the zoos of my childhood.

I loved to watch them swim around their small pools,

so much that when my family set off for the lions

and bears I’d stay put with a handful of pellets

to feed them, laughing at the way they cavorted,

so sleek and cool. One summer afternoon

I saw a boy fall into the seal pool. He bobbed there

laughing nervously while the seals whizzed past,

until a zoo-man threw a rope ladder over the wall

and he climbed up, small hero, to be smacked by his mother,

so hard the popcorn she was holding in her other hand

went flying all over his head, and the crowd

that had gathered around them laughed and clapped

and the pigeons fluttered up into the sky.

By the time my family returned there was only

a puddle on the blacktop to prove my tale was true.

They made skeptical faces and called me “Seal Man,”

My brother started singing Sam and Dave’s “Soul Man”

as “Seal Man” and dancing. My mother took a snapshot

of us all smiling there. That was the year

I tried to swim too far underwater and got lost.

That was the year I forgot my other languages,

forgot my sharper senses, slept in my dreams

in the scrubby bushes at the scrappy end of town,

so different from this town, this air-conditioned doctor’s

examination room where I sit, shirt off,

strapped to chilly instruments, holding out my hand

for a prescription I will never fill,

at least not until I’ve tried sweat baths, homeopathy,

herbs and acupuncture, as I did years ago

when the noises of motors and sirens seemed louder

than I could withstand. The old acupuncture healer

stuck me with a single needle in the perfect place,

talked to me in Mandarin, which I understood

as long as the needle was in me, and allowed me

to hear entire symphonies inside my body,

loud enough to drown out every ugly sound:

Everything I looked at had its perfect timbre,

so I could make music by looking at the world.

Alarms and loud trucks, leaf blowers, commercials,

ugly loud guitars could vanish at a blink,

into beauty. So maybe I should track him down now,

old wizard, to slow down my aging; maybe

he could puncture my body to change my story

into a song I could sing again

and again with myself, in harmony, as though

I were a choir--or sing some other animal

somewhere in primeval woods, howling at the moon

until it grows full again, then sing for it to wane

into perfect darkness and its billion year-old stars.


"Howling at the Moon" by Michael Hettich was originally published in Mudlark. Throughout the month of April, National Poetry Month, poets from the Caribbean and South Florida will be featured on this blog.

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