Michael Hettich – The Prayer

Hettich LE P&W July 2024

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Live Encounters Poetry & Writing July 2024

The Prayer, poems by Michael Hettich.

The Prayer

Lost, driving through the night woods, though mist
that made the road almost
impossible to see,

you came to a break in the trees; the mist
opened to a meadow
where horses grazed

off in the darkness. You pulled yourself out
of the car, walked to the fence to sing
softly across the meadow, and felt

you were nothing at all but song: you seemed
to disappear into the smells of the grass
and breeze as the massive, almost invisible

creatures moved toward your voice
and outstretched hand through the darkness.


Sometimes when I walk around the house singing
in my musical-theatre style
of willful jollity, my wife becomes annoyed,
as I would be annoyed if she did the same, which
she doesn’t. So for a while I shut up
when I hear myself rising to the chorus of “Hello
Dolly,” though before long, despite
my best intentions, I forget myself and start
singing that old chestnut I just heard at the supermarket.
In truth, most of what I do or think
is at least half unconscious. I rarely notice
the owl swooping silently across our back yard
to grab the squirrel as I doze and read my book.
Deer step from the woods into the sun
of our garden unnoticed, until I yawn
and they run off in a blur. Even then I’m half-asleep.
When my brother was deaf and living alone
in the apartment he died in, that looked out across
the Hudson to the Palisades, I decided I deserved
to sleep late, after all. I needed to let myself
relax and wake to a big old-style breakfast
instead of flying north to be with him a little while.
He loved watching seagulls and pigeons from his window
and he loved to converse, in his wild disjointed way,
with the neighbors in his building, though they mostly tried
to avoid him: he was lonely and wanted just to keep
talking on and on while they stood patiently
having to pee, or holding bags of groceries.
It was hard to understand what he was saying
about sailboats, stray cats, or waking with his brother
in the middle of a summer night, to walk across the cold grass
and look up at the full moon, hugging his older brother
to keep warm, and talking about werewolves.


A man and woman, not old but deeply
tired, walk down a basement hallway,
holding each other with breath and being,
both of them frightened, the woman in pain,
walking erect, as the nurse opens
a door, ushers them in, and asks
if they might need a blanket or a glass
of water—anything at all. She smiles
and begins to ask questions. As she writes,
she stops to look into the woman’s eyes.
Then she leans out and gently touches the woman
on the arm, pats it softly, and smiles.
She looks right into this frightened woman’s
face, whispers be well, and smiles
again, as the doctor walks in, nods
to them all, sits down, and begins to explain,
slowly, so they fully understand
what is to come, and how it will change things
in the short run and the long. Then he too
smiles and nods as they thank him, turns
and leads them back into the hall, and out
into the huge bright world, where they stand
blinking and dazed for a moment. Then
they get in their car and drive home.

© Michael Hettich

Michael Hettich has published over a dozen books of poetry, the most recent of which, The Halo of Bees: New and Selected Poems, 1990-2022, published in May, 2023, won the Brockman-Campbell Award from the North Carolina Poetry Society. A new book, The Poet Speaks, a collection of his interviews with poets, is forthcoming from Hole in the Head Press. His awards include The Tampa Review Prize in Poetry, The Hudson-Fowler Prize, The Lena M. Shull Prize in Poetry and a Florida Book Award. He lives in Black Mountain, North Carolina.

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