In the Mountains – by Michael Hettich

Summer evenings, we walk the dirt road
to a place where the trees have been cut back

so we can see the mountains
rising in the distance
as if they might stretch themselves, finally, and stand up

to face us, these mountains that have stood since before
there was any such thing as human.

Then we walk a bit further, into the darker woods.

Sometimes, before I fall asleep
to the rhythm of her breathing, I yearn to get up
and step outside
to the night creatures singing
such intricate rhythms I might even seem
to disappear inside them–like we seemed to disappear

years ago, high in the Rockies, when,
literally out of the blue, hail
started to pelt us, buckshot, as the temperature
dropped from July to November. We were suddenly
chattering cold, crouching beneath
a scrawny lodgepole pine, frightened

and laughing. And when the hail stopped:
snowball-sized ice cubes across the open ground.

As they settled and started to melt, they sighed
like a distant breeze, though nothing was blowing.
In fact, the whole landscape was perfectly still.
So we held ourselves still too, and listened.

Lost in conversation, we walked across a pond
of slushy ice, past midnight,
at the ashy end of winter.

When we stopped for a moment to look up at the stars,
something in that gesture—the tilting of our heads—

caused the ice to crack. We fell through, first
her, then me, laughing. The pond
was shallow, and the night was silent

so we stood there, up to our knees in the freezing
funky water, and named the constellations
we thought we could identify. Teeth chattering,

we pointed up into the sky, debating what we saw.

Sometimes we sing despite ourselves, to feel
the echoing ache in our bodies

while outside a gentle wind carries
the scent of something
that reminds us of something

we loved, a perfume that makes us feel

we could reach out and touch what we’d lost, all those people
and dreams, all those other stories
wandering off, even now, toward evening—

sometimes glancing back, never waving.

Michael Hettich’s most recent book of poems, The Halo of Bees: New and Selected Poems, 1990-2022, was published in May, 2023, by Press 53. His work has appeared widely in journals, and he has won a number of awards for his work. He lives with his family in Black Mountain, North Carolina.