Andrew Hemmert

Self Portrait with Sketchbook, Sin, and Chimenea

Smoke gropes up through the limbs
of live oaks, toward a blue
my ash-stained fingers can’t touch.
When Dad gets back from Bible study,
drops keys in the kitchen drawer,
my raw drawings already lie
scattered like pyre dust
in the yard where my Lab stashes bones.
Dad smiles as I scrub and scrub my hands.
Every night, flat naked bodies
sprout from the ground, rake their paper nails
across my bedroom window—
not wind-burdened dogwoods
pawing at something past glass.
What I made begs back in.
I clasp my hands, knowing
they want to crawl down the bed,
let in the wet air and what,
hours on hours, my mind chases
away. I close my eyes, try
to picture the neighbor’s banana tree
spilling fruit over the fence,
seeds breaking in our grass,
red ants bursting
from the earth to sneak
soft yellow back to their damp catacombs.
But all I see is the yard itself—
fire-wheel, scarlet
catchfly, devil’s paintbrush.
Every morning, hearing woodpeckers search
for morsels beyond bark,
I hear cinders
throbbing in the dirt. No.
If something throbs, it hides
under soil-colored sheets, draws my hand.

Speaking the Names of the Dead

Hard to believe the one we lost was only gone
a year—still her name spoken was like a bottle thrown
against the side of a house. That night, the forecast warned
of gusts, but we were grieving and drunk, so we wrote
her name on a sky lantern’s flanks. If there was a better place

for a launch, I can’t imagine it—from the backyard
of that waterfront home, the Skyway Bridge’s main spans
were two gold kites, and Tampa Bay was black as a new runway.
But as soon as we lit the balloon, the wind ripped it
from our hands. Her name, beyond us, careened

into the neighbor’s yard and crashed into a scrub pine.
For a moment, I wanted our grief to spread, wanted fire
to leap from the pine to a nearby roof. I wanted our loss
to crush the neighborhood into smoke. But the tree refused

to take our lantern’s flame, and the wind died down.
The lantern, pierced by branches, fell
in the bay. The paper that held her name dissolved,
and the wire frame sank into the rocks
like the spine of a fish robbed of its body.

 

 

 

 

Andrew Hemmert’s poems have appeared in Cumberland River Review, Jersey Devil Press, and Driftwood Press. He is currently pursuing an MFA in Poetry at Southern Illinois University.

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