Like Happiness by Michael Hettich


Van K. Brock Florida Poetry Series (2010)

Line by line, poem by poem, book after book, Michael Hettich is one of the few indispensable poets currently at work in America. His persona, vividly alert in a subtropical landscape where the imagination holds it own against the knots and crosses of life, never reduces the world to a formula, poetic or otherwise. Instead, he breaks through, his innocence grounded by experience and with a childlike sense of wonder, into a world "bigger than we are, like happiness, and full of/ fish that live nowhere else." Like Happiness is amazing work. I'm filled with gratitude for it. -- Alan Davis, author of Alone with the Owl and Rumors from the Lost World

Michael Hettich's poems are like grace, like gifts, like the natural world made Technicolor, like Technicolor making the natural world.  He is a master of the simile, and in Like Happiness, he harnesses a specific and collective memory, the power of myth and allusion, like no one else.  His poems give his readers a deep happiness, an earned happiness, a happiness decided upon with clarity and wisdom. -- Denise Duhamel

In Michael Hettich's stunning Like Happiness, we find the long-suspected and telling balance between all that is transitory: that which is contained in the human house -- cherished yet unknowable hearts -- and the unseen beyond our embrace in nature -- fish carried by dark ocean currents, distant animals howling at the moon. Such vision is hard-won. Yet Hettich not only accepts each moment's inevitable promise of loss, he affirms those evanescent joys we've lost sight of, or no longer trust -- childhood, marriage, family, the dream of love. How marvelous to read a poet whose deeply human voice reminds us that poetry itself is so very much like happiness. -- Richard Jones

Michael Hettich's poems resemble half-remembered fables or lyrical dreams, animistic dramas played out in moonlit meadows, domestic interiors that shimmer like velvet jewelry boxes. Wisdom and enchantment are his calling cards, and he strews them about with purpose, like Hansel and Gretel marking the path home through the forest. Like Happiness is a beautiful and haunting book. -- Campbell McGrath


The Funeral

Today I am walking around our town,
down to the waterfront, up the hill to the small church 
that looks out across the harbor, and into the chapel 
with its wonderful stained glass windows
and its one clear window with the stunning view

where I sit down a moment to cool off and whisper
a prayer for the small scorned creatures, the ones
no one appreciates, the roaches and termites,
the fire ants and slugs, though I don't much admire
these creatures either and have trouble finding
the appropriate words. So I just sit still

and try to hear the seagulls way down in the harbor, 
and listen to the pigeons in the rafters, as I watch 
an old woman in black shuffle slowly down the aisle.

She leaves a trail of perfume that reminds me of something. 
Suddenly I'm trying to remember where we've met, 
yearning to make some sort of contact, 
though she has her back to me, and she's dressed all in black, 
kneeling now, way up front,

as other people enter the chapel, all of them
dressed in mourning, fragrant with that perfume.
So I get up and walk out of the church instead of crying.

Outside it's too bright. Old people are feeding 
pigeons in the park; the cafes are crowded.

As I pass The Fat Baguette, someone calls 
the nickname that defined my childhood, the one 
I tried for many years to deny and then forget, 
the name no one's called me since high school, and I look up 
reluctantly from the newspaper I'm carrying

to see her, the girl I've thought about so often
all these many years, suddenly transformed 
into a middle-aged woman, still beautiful, 
sitting there alone, standing now and smiling 
as she waves, wearing black, which makes her look even

more lovely, lovely against the sea
of bright summer colors, the tablecloths and flowers, 
the garish tee-shirts of the tourists drinking 
pitchers of beer and laughing with raucous
good humor, saluting this most auspicious day --

I approach this woman I once loved and tell her
that's not my name now, sit down beside her, 
order coffee, and ask whose funeral we're going to, 
though of course I know the answer. And she starts laughing

as though I've told a joke -- you mean mine or yours? -- 
holds up her cup for a toast to our health,
asks me my new name, who I am these days,
and starts to cry softly, like a whisper.


The Stranger

You wake before dawn beside someone
you don't recognize, a dark woman who snores
from her belly as though she were churning inside.
It alarms you at first, though you're drawn
to the shape of her ears, to her neck, the way
her long black hair drapes across the pillow,
and you move over a little, naked and cool
under the covers, you nudge her so you can 
observe the other parts of her body more closely. 
The room is still half dark, so you listen to the tick- 
tock of your wind-up alarm clock, which tells you
this is the bedroom you've slept in for years,
every evening winding that silly contraption 
she gave you before you were married--so you would 
remember her love each time you wound it 
and set the alarm. Or else it will run down
she'd said, and stop somewhere in the middle of the night,
and you'll just keep sleeping
But who is this woman beside you?
Could this be your wife? She's beautiful, maybe 
as lovely as your wife is. And when you get up 
and wander through the bedroom, you notice that everything's 
just as you left it, familiar as your own 
middle-aged body: the old dog asleep 
on his towel in the corner is the same mutt you bought
for your children when they were just children; the house 
is full of your children's absence as you roam,
picking up books and notebooks and trinkets 
they've left behind on their visits. But it's still too early
to get up. You're tired. You should go back to bed,
lie down beside this beautiful woman 
who will become your wife again
in a few hours when the alarm pulls you
from dreams back into the man you've been 
for so many years now it's hard to remember 
who you were before you became him.

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