ISSUE FOUR
August 1998

Michael Heller

Michael Heller Michael Heller's, most recent book of poems is Wordflow: New and Selected Poems (Talisman House, 1997).  He is a member of the faculty of the American Language Institute of New York University.
Exercise on Schiele's Die Junge Frau     Read Along with the Author


Sight is like water which to the leaf won't cling.
Yours is a young girl's thighs and ass. I am related
as rain-soaked to stone. The self is what waits.

Lovely shapes have been torn from ancient forms. Never mind
that mother suckled the past nor that father mapped days
ahead. The self is what waits, and you are a hope lodged

in time's interstices. Seeing alone invents. Breasts high, shirt sails
from head and arms, a thrown-off banner by which
the eye's conqueror makes her jest. The self is what waits.

 

 

A Dialogue of Some Importance     Read Along with the Author


One's hand. Its whole existence.
Miniscule things it seeks to grasp.

the hand that moves to touch,
lost by the mind before it moves,
so who propels it thus?

Her nipple. A crumb. The furled edge of a tissue.
Surely there is some charm to rolling bread
into small resilient balls, casting them off
the fingertips to squawking ducks.

is it only an emissary,
a move of a heart in flight,
to mark where, in outward scenery,
it seeks to lodge itself?

Often, I am swamped by incredible pleasure,
by the wild connection a thing makes between
my thumb and finger, as though desperately alive
in some galvanic dance. Ouroboros tastes his own tail,

self love? love's self?
who guides a hand knows
the horror of attached.

but I have made deities
out of the lint of carpets,
metallic granules and snotballs,
especially out of lost eyeglass screws.

 

 

"We can only wish valeat quantum valere potest"      Read Along with the Author

for AS


The dead are to be interrogated beside the meaning "sign."
One looks in vain for the words "cow," "sheep," "pig," etc.

Hahriya does not mean only "to comb," but also to touch
affectionately, to stroke, to caress, to fondle--also

to tickle and incite (and in the sexual sense to be caught
in the dreams of Puduhepa), hence we admonish our arrogance.

Much of the vocabulary consists of words hidden behind logograms,
indicative of first things, the need and desire to speak,

to bring back the body. Who to propose a given meaning and its
reliability? Confusion. The dead do not require wisdom of us.

One context would allow the meaning "to hurl, to shoot,"
others "to dismiss, to throw, to push aside (as a child)."

The word stems are clearly uncertain. Thus, in the documents
eribuski, the eagle made of gold, flies over without conjecture,

but the many-syllabled elwatiyatis, its meaning unknown,
appears in conjunction with the word for "billy-goat."

Questions remain unanswered. The void offers utterance.
Impenetrable silence is to be thanked, for kindest permission,

for deepest gratitude. We bow to time's acrid telling muteness.
Take esarasila (the context does not give meaning), but let us

ponder the syllabary of its sound on air, for we have
been given the incised stone as diadem, its word-gleam.

Esharwesk translates, not only as "blutig machen, mit Blut
beschmieren," but into English: "to become, to turn red."

Layers are many. We seek another's breath, mother to language, sound as
resurrection. With this, we are beschmieren.

That the gold eagle flies toward a reddened sky, the stem
not always clear. But better not attempt a translation?

And halkestaru, "Watch, night-watch," is actually two words.
Difficult to take any of this as causative. Still, all we
                                   
wish is that our efforts are harnuwassi, "of the birth stool."
And needless to say, one is not alone in these matters.

Laroche's French was misunderstood by J. Friedrich, then again
by Tischler, hence all is hantiyara, a place in the riverbed

where fish live, a "backwater." O Valeat quantum valere potest.
No work for the self, only lust for lost voices (add form),

fellow hapkari*.

 

* pairs of draft animals

(Akkadian terms from a review by Ahmet Unal of Hethitsch-Deutsches
Worterverzeichnis mit eimen semasiologischen Index by JohannTischler).

 

 

Michael Heller: Poetry
Copyright 1999 The Cortland Review Issue FourThe Cortland Review