Home       Books       Poems                                                    Michael Hettich


  Systems of Vanishing
University of Tampa Press

Published April 2014


Winner of the 2013 Tampa Review Prize for Poetry

Though the poems in Systems of Vanishing range widely in their content and form, the collection as a whole is grounded in its focus on the disappearances occurring all around us, all the time. Some of these disappearances are natural, organic vanishings that have always been central to life; others are unnatural, grief-inducing losses we are inflicting on the world—the vanishing of species, of beauties of all kinds, and of the rhythms by which we live most fully, replaced by noise and a lust for things. But Hettich’s poems are also infused with a profound gratitude for the pleasures and graces of his life—the amazing natural fecundity that surrounds him in his subtropical habitat, and the abiding love of family and friends. These poems explore not only the extraordinary variety and magnitude of loss, but also the great power of resilience and joy.

Chase Twitchell says of Hettich and Systems of Vanishing, “(His) authority, which is both modest and absolutely genuine, compels us to follow him into some wild what-ifs, which make for an exciting ride. His elegy for a lost daughter brought me to tears. The quiet magic of these poems is stunning and profound.”


Richard Blanco calls Systems of Vanishing Hettich’s “most profound and intricate collection to date.”




  The Measured Breathing
Swan Scythe Press


Published November 2011


This award-winning book of poetry will intrigue and delight everyone who enjoys poetry. Written with a flair for language, a unique way of looking at the natural world, and a compassionate regard for human emotions, Michael Hettich leads his readers into a world that will seem fresh and new again. His is a singular voice and a welcome one!

In The Measured Breathing, Michael Hettich inhabits with great panache and perfect pitch the interior landscape of consciousness, that world in which one encounters oneself beyond language. Hettich is a cartographer of that realm in which we try on other lives until we can dress in our own skin again and vanish from ourselves for a while. Steve Kowit --jacket blurb

Mystery, these poems tell us, continues to reside at the center of everything we think we know about existence. Splendidly baffling, imagistically engaging, and full of enjoyable surprises, The Measured Breathing explores that mystery. Hettich is an earthy fabulist here, yet the poems ingenious transformations read as integral to survival. Yes, there is darkness, but it is filled with streams and underground pools of imagination. Susan Kelly-DeWitt --jacket blurb




  The Animals Beyond Us
New Rivers Press

ISBN 978-0-89823-257-8



Published October 2011


This latest collection of poems suggests that by growing more attentive to the beauty, mystery, and cruelty of nature, we can make peace with loss and with the inner world. Using natural imagery and the disjunctive ease of jazz, Hettich imagines a way through isolation, longing, and haunting unexplained loss.

"His poems are finely observed, precisely felt, and they bring magic to the domestic life, the real magic of language that has power to transform a world."  -- John Dufresne







  The Flood
Floating Wolf Quarterly

Kindle Edition


Published December 2011

Once I Had a Breath

Once I carried a breath inside me
until it became its own small world

where another person lived
as someone like myself
if my body were a breath.

There was a field with trees,
and the air beyond my breath
was so clear it was nothing,
like time. And I didn't
have to see through it
to see.

The air was my eyes,
and the river that wound
through the grass was brimming
with secrets I thought
I might know if I lay down

and let it flow across me
for a while.




  Like Happiness
Anhinga Press


Published October 2010


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     

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

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


  Many Loves
Yellow Jacket Press


Published Spring 2007



Middle Age

I opened my grief, the secret life explains
as though it were a trunk of old clothes
found in someone's attic, fashions my parents'
parents outgrew






  Flock and Shadow:
New and Selected Poems
New Rivers Press

ISBN 0-89823-227-9
195 Pages, $13.95

A Book Sense Spring 2006
Top 10 Poetry Book


Published October 2005



Several Kinds of Privacy

The salt marsh whispered in the rising tide
and brisk wind of late fall, as afternoon
grained into dusk and then real dark before
day should have ended. Walking home from school,
I wanted to linger at the edge of that marsh
and listen for the small birds nesting in the matted grass
just beyond the tide. I loved the sound
of wind through the high-tide grasses. I loved
the funky salt and oil-smelling water, and although
I yearned to stay, to listen to the evening,
I turned and headed home, down the unlit street,
through the remnant woods, singing softly as I walked....




Swimmer Dreams
Turning Point

Winner of the Tales Prize

Published in 2005



Planting The House

This man and his wife, happily married
for over thirty years, planted a garden
of herbs and berries and hummingbird flowers
down the middle of the mattress of their raft-size bed.

At night they slept amidst the vines and flowers
||and let night creatures crawl across their bodies.
They let the garden spread; they wanted to see
whether it would cover their mattress and extend

to the floor, to the walls of their room, whether
birds might land there, whether they could attract
butterflies and bees. The husband put a bird feeder
in the tomato patch and a bird bath on the bench

at the foot of their bed. These old .people whose children
had moved away, had married, had lives in distant cities
started making love again, started sleeping deeply,
started dreaming vividly and remembering their dreams...



  Stationary Wind
March Street Press

Published in 2004
59 pages, $15

ISBN 0-9745909-0-8


Trees Filled With Hair

Then someone built a new kind of tree
that produced a new kind of fruit completely
unlike any other.

The fruit looked like some kind of skeleton.
We pulled the bones off to eat it.

That tree grew anywhere; that tree had leaves
that looked like eyelashes and seemed sometimes
to blink in the sun. That tree smelled like something
we'd loved once and lost, and now had found again.

Birds that were new to our region began
to land in that tree and sing in voices
that sounded like babies crying in the night
and woke us. We wanted to get up and comfort them
but they were only birds, and we were weary.

So we closed up the house, and we told each other stories
of who we'd been before, and who we'd been before that
and who we'd been before before, and so on through the night.


Behind Our Memories
Adastra Press

Published in 2003
26 pages, $10

ISBN 0-938566-93-8


Behind Our Memories

When doctors cut open this old man to fix his heart
they found a tree, just behind the breast bone,
thick and leafy, full of insects,
animals and birds. 

And when they dug deeper they found not just
the one tree, but a whole forest full of flowers,
rivers and animals they’d believed extremely rare,
even extinct. They discovered they could wander
into this forest, just by pulling back
the dead man’s chest like a door, ducking,
and stepping in...

  The Point of Touching
John LeBow, Bookseller

Published in 2002

26 pages


The Point of Touching

One night, long after the children and I had fallen asleep, my wife lit candles in every room of our house, took off her clothes, and went outside, naked, to sketch charcoal impressions of the candle-glowing house full of sleepers and light she loved. And then she took a scissors and cut a lock of hair from each of us—me, our children, herself—and buried our hair at the drip line of our gumbo-limbo tree. She played her cello then, in our candle-lit living room, until dawn yawned at the windows, and then she blew out the candles, came to bed, and slept like a leaf flowing down stream, and slept like words in some forgotten language. When she woke, at noon, there was no one home to talk to, so she never told us anything—except in the way she touched me anywhere that evening, the way she kisses me some nights: with a yearning that makes me stop growing older for a few moments, reverses the direction of my blood, yes, and makes me glow. And that’s the point of touching, isn’t it? To make our bodies real? Things like that are sometimes closer than the world, closer than our words, closer even than ourselves. So other nights I stay up beyond anyone, pacing the sidewalk like the good husband I am, back and forth, back and forth—until I finally wear away and vanish, like light itself, like life, or like fragrance from the drowsy flowers growing butterflies and honey bees, growing webs and brighter hues around our gumbo-limbo tree.

  Greatest Hits: 1987-2001
Pudding House Publications

ISBN 1-58998-097-2

Published in 2002
23 pages, $8.95


Modern Dance

He listened to his wife move around the house
humming as she banged things, as she opened doors,
stepped in and closed them behind her, to emerge
from other rooms, muttering in various languages.
He imagined, as he lay there dosing, that his wife
was painting their windows black, so she could
tell him some difficult secret, so she could
take off her clothes beneath her clothes,
ask for something that way, silently.


Singing with My Father
March Street Press

Published in 2001
31 Pages, $9

ISBN 1-882983-66-1



Midsummers: The Sound

                             -for my father

Many summers, around mid-July,
when the days were stifling, hazy and still,
the cul-de-sac of harbor we lived beside
filled with thousands of slack-gray, foot-long
fish, mossbunkers, chased in by the bigger
open-water blues. The mossbunkers pressed into
the harbor, thrashing against each other
for space, until their thrashing depleted
the water of oxygen; then they gasped
to the surface, twisted in circles, slapped
the water with their tails, turned belly-up
and died. The bluefish slashed at them then
until their entrails curled out into the water...


Sleeping with the Lights on
Pudding House Publications

Published in 2000
25 Pages, $8.95

ISBN 1-930755-06-6

Amazon. COM

The Longest Train in the World

The longest train in the world takes all night to pass.  It is full of oddly-shaped boxes and cattle lowing at the moon. Commuters in their cars, heading home from work, are backed up to the horizon, miles beyond miles. The train moves slowly. You wonder who she is who sits in the car beside you, swaying back and forth to music from the radio. So you slide over into the passenger seat, open your window, and lean out: Excuse me, would you like to come into my car and talk, I think we might be here awhile. Smiling, she obliges. And soon the train appears to be a river and your car seems exquisitely comfortable; the full moon shines down on you, young lovers making music in the living dark, smelling each other up and down, making the air inside your old car thick with funk and deepest body oils. And when the longest train has passed, finally, you step out into the morning and walk hand in hand, half-dressed, hardly talking, abandoning your cars to the middle of the road, abandoning the narratives your lives have written up till now.


Many Simple Things
March Street Press

Published in 1997
20 Pages, $7

ISBN 1-882983-37-8


amazon. com


One Language to Forget With

I came home one day and found our bed had vanished.
In its place was a plot of wildflowers all blooming
and my husband in the center of them, working at the ground
as though he were engaged in some hobby, like building
model trains or folksy little wooden toys
for our grandkids. He was kneeling there wearing a straw hat,
singing under his breath, squinting as though
the sun were bright, though he was in the house,
of course, in our bedroom. We're not so young
anymore and you can be sure I'm not going
to sleep on some couch in my living room, so I
clapped my hands, I called out. And he turned, smiling
with that inflated, self-involved sense of his own
goodness, and told me young guys from some group
of shell-shocked veterans had needed a mattress­—
so he'd given it all, mattress, bed frame, bed­—
for good Karma, he said. Good Karma! ...


Immaculate Bright Rooms
March Street Press

Published in 1994

ISBN 1-882983-15-7

39 Pages, $6

amazon. com


Some Nights

when the moon is a knuckle in the dark, I kiss
my children sweet dreams, flick on their Little
Mermaid nightlight, deadbolt their doors, 

and walk out beyond the dens
       of stiletto-heeled somnambulists,
out beyond the camps
       of the leather-bellied hip-hop dancers,
out beyond fish-breath, Styrofoam, funky
seaweed, families of migrating hollow-boned,

past-life misogynists, sock-smellers, phosphorous,
a universe of duct tape, dealers in cat-gut,

spider-web wound-staunchers, reed blowers, musicians
of the human bone, families of the human bone,

stories which feel themselves vanishing, uncles
who have already vanished into memorized pop songs,
blossoming raven-haired heifer women, gasoline­....



A Small Boat
University Press of Florida

ISBN 0-8130-1015-2

Published in 1990

56 Pages, $

amazon. com


In a town at the base of a hill, hidden
under tall grass, nestled in the roots
of a blossoming fruit tree two boys play catch.
Each time they throw they grow older, taller,
more like their fathers, and each time they catch
they grow young again. The sound of the ball
in their mitts, no steady rhythm,
wakes sisters from windows, from flowers, and soon
the girls are running bases between their brothers,
who throw the ball higher as their sisters
run faster in their white dresses, blurring
into one girl, who turns as she runs
out of her breath, into butterflies and tiny birds
that fly in circles around the boys' heads
and away across the endless fields.







Looking Out
Moonsquilt Press

Published in 1981

Out of Print


Summer Rain

Today you drifted away as though
our bed were the dock I saw a man dive off
once and swim without looking back
far out, into the current's
propellers and swirl.

                    Because I was looking
across the channel at the jets rising
like nonsense from behind the apartments I didn't
notice until

he was beyond help, and by
the time I'd called out he'd become indistinct­—

and I thought: Why gesture and look like a fool,
they'll never find any trace. So I stared
hard at the buildings, the jets and the boats,
and as I did so his image grew clearer.
I remembered how he'd undressed before jumping in,
how he'd folded his clothes; there were his clothes:
suit, shirt, tie folded neatly
on the bench beside me; and as I felt

the material, still
staring out,
I remembered the tune he'd sung under
his breath. We've sung it. I remembered a name,
a family, bits of a childhood, so
I took off my old clothes, changed into his
and thought of the shade your eyes would turn, deep blue,
when you saw me in a new suit
as I walked home through the summer rain.