Now I think of him walking the length of a train
that moves through a landscape he’s never seen before.
I watch as he leans to look out, or balances
between the cars to catch a glimpse
of that unfamiliar country. Then he turns and walks
back to his seat, past the forward-looking faces
of the strangers who pretend not to watch him.
And when the train sighs and pulls into a station,
after many days, he steps down, crying,
forgetting the suitcase full of his diaries,
records of the precious lives he lived where he’s come from,
that country whose name he’s already forgotten.
The sidewalk gleams like a river on a sunny
afternoon as he walks beyond the houses
to the fields where crows are ripping off the clothes
of the old men propped up on scaffolds, the old
straw-filled geezers who were hired to scare
the birds off and are clearly not doing their jobs.
Maybe he can go out and lift them from their racks
and maybe he can climb up there himself, to see
if his body might be any more effective than theirs.
After all, he came here to be useful.
One morning she knew how to speak whatever languages
anyone else was speaking, wherever
she travelled, whomever—whatever—she spoke to.
Eventually these languages grew cramped inside her.
They rubbed and jostled each other. Their friction
started to burn off the secrets where she’d lived
until smoke filled the sky of her memories; fire
burned down the house of her earliest days.
In the front yard, her parents floated up and away
like ashes, to drift down in a distant country
with another language, where a girl like she had been
woke up to an ordinary day and knew
something was wrong. Still, she lay there a while
listening to her mother putter in the kitchen
and her dad whistle softly as he headed off to work.
Michael Hettich is the author of a The Mica Mine, which won the Lena Shull Book Award from the North Carolina Poetry Society and was published in 2021. A “new and selected” volume is forthcoming in 2023 from Press 53. website