Poem-a-Day Friday: Thomas Heise


Several years ago, Chris bought me a couple of books of poetry for Christmas. They were both new poets (their first books) and Chris had read an article recommending them. At some point I read Thomas Heise’s book Horror Vacui. I know this because my ugly boy-handwriting is scratched all over several pages in pencil. I picked it back up this week after it has sat on the shelf for years. It’s completely new to me. How did I wait so long to read this?

I wish I could tell you something about Thomas Heise. I know nothing: about his writing, about his other work. But I can tell you that I’ve connected to several of his poems this week. Here’s one of them. (Before you read this, it’s good to know that ” Pieta”–Italian for “pity”–is a Michaelangelo sculpture of the Virgin Mary cradling the dead body of Christ.)

My Pieta

by Thomas Heise

He held me bone-tight. He held me backward.
He held me high with the bellows
to smoke the beehive, hanging delicate
as a lung in the branches and bleeding
a half-gallon of honey while he held me. He held me
in the bathtub, scrubbed ashes from my small tongue.
He held me in the pond of this hand,
as if I were a tadpole, and wouldn’t let go.
He held me hostage. I would hide
in the dumpster. Under the rain bucket
during thunderstorms. Holding my breath
among the lawn statues of gnomes and giant toadstools
until he found me, held me, walked me home.
When I fell asleep in the attic, he would carry me down
and sing to me. One winter he held a rope, lowered me
by the ankles to the well’s bottom.
I ascended upside-down through the dark thermometer
with a blood orange in my teeth. He had a beard
of new snow. I held cold to his pant leg
while our dog leapt and snapped at a sound
in the air only he could hear. When I fell
in love, he reached out to me and held me down
when she slinked away on our dirt road alone,
sheepish, depressed. He held me as the constellations
mingled through the torn curtain.
A beanstalk sprouted through a hold
in our above-ground pool. A band of raccoons
commandeered the upstairs and stared
at us as he held me in his reading chair.
He grew older, he held my ear
to his artificial heart on a daily basis.
He grew sick, he held me like a suckling child.
We grew smaller and smaller and would crawl
after each other through tall grass growing through our carpet.
The walls of the house fell away.
We curled in a bird’s nest. I could barely hold
his tiny thumb in my fingers.
We felt a shell growing around us.
The dog was barking.
And then rain, we could hear it tapping,
we held each other, then a blast
of hot light roared through.



Filed under Poetry

4 responses to “Poem-a-Day Friday: Thomas Heise

  1. This is absolutely beautiful. Oh, what a wonderful start to the day, coming across this charming piece of poetry. I think i’m going to read some more of Mr. Heise. Thanks for posting!

  2. I just pulled up some biographical information on him. In the last question of this interview (link: http://www.sarabandebooks.org/wp-content/uploads/2009/07/Thomas_Heise_author_interview.pdf), Heise discusses the death of his father as being one thing that informed his poems in this collection. Maybe the father is the “he” in this poem? Although the “he” does seem like he could be God.

    • Thanks for looking into that, Lyndsey. If you pick up the book, it’s really clear that the poems are about his father and his father’s death. I think this poem is both about the father/son relationship and intentionally about God as well. The ending seems so mystical, right?

  3. Teffer

    Oh, how wild! Thomas Heise was my poetry prof last year (at McGill). He’s a bit of an enigma, but a very kind man and good teacher. I don’t think he’s a Christian, but the poem is no less wonderful for that.

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