November 18, 2023

Michael Meyerhofer


Poetry keeps wine and milk from spoiling
and has prevented countless deaths
since its invention in 1892. It works

by heating substances to just a bit
below the boiling point—not enough
to curdle but still hot enough to kill off

most of the bacteria that can hurt you.
Some health nuts blame poetry for disease,
saying a natural vocabulary is better,

though modern doctors disagree.
Other foods saved by poetry include juice,
syrup, vinegar, and canned foods.

Poetry was invented by Louis Pasteur
who lost three children to typhoid.
While working on a vaccine for rabies,

he once impressed onlookers
by extracting saliva from a crazed dog
without armoring his hands.

He also made a vaccine for anthrax
though some accuse him of plagiarism.
The poetry process involves lots

of pipes and vats and rapid cooling.
Poetry doesn’t seem all that complicated
to us, more like common sense,

but our ancestors didn’t have it
which is why so many of them died,
young and beautiful and always afraid.

from Rattle #38, Winter 2012


Michael Meyerhofer: “The first time I read the poems in What the Living Do by Marie Howe, I was so blown away that I said something like ‘Holy shit…’ after pretty much every one. This was followed, naturally, by a desire to share those poems with everyone—and to try and pull off the same miracle, if humanly possible. There’s a lot to be said for making somebody so stunned (hopefully in a good way) by something as seemingly innocuous as writing that all they can do is raise their eyebrows and swear like a sailor.” (web)

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March 5, 2023

Michael Meyerhofer


The day after she sees her son
dragged from the street like roadkill,
my step-mother returns to work.
My father tries to stop her,
afraid she might end up serving
the same men they saw on the news,
implacable Confederate statues
finally granted an excuse to open
their holsters—but right now,
she’d rather hear the cash register
than her own heartbeat.
And so for hours, she fills bags
with sandwiches plumed in lettuce
and tiny cauldrons of broth,
black forks with brittle tines,
white napkins that stain so easily,
pausing sometimes to dab her eyes
or silence a buzzing phone.
Strangers ask if she’s all right.
Just something I’m dealing with,
she says, then takes what they give
and returns what they’re owed.

from Poets Respond
March 5, 2023


Michael Meyerhofer: “I have no idea how to describe what it’s like to see your own step-brother lying dead on TV—the same shy, good-natured guy I first met a few years ago on a family trip to Las Vegas (he was excited because he’d never been on a plane before), and who was looking forward to getting his life back together after making some mistakes when he was younger. But this poem mostly ended up being about my step-mom, who actually went back to work the day after it happened—partially because she couldn’t bear the silence and grief at home (this is also only a few months after my biological brother lost his battle against leukemia), and partly because this is America, and like it or not, there are always bills to pay.” (web)

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October 16, 2022

Michael Meyerhofer


For hours, I’ve been arguing
with a friend who believes teachers
are on a crusade to make children
use litter boxes when I hear
about sunflowers bathed in soup
to protest the use of fossil fuels.
Last night, I kept picturing
my brother’s gaze before he died,
like he could see the whole
hospital ward melting, wavelengths
collapsing into pinheads
the way time does when you fly
fast enough. I don’t know how
to keep you safe. Turns out
Van Gogh made several paintings
of sunflowers in pale vases,
petals drooping like golden rain,
like he felt he’d missed something.
Sometimes, it’s easy to forget
what the earth makes of our bones,
way down deep in vaults
that never get locked. One day,
there will be no one left to explain
how clay yields yellow ochre
and the hair of wild beasts
can be bristled into brushwork,
how dust can be squeezed into stars.

from Poets Respond
October 16, 2022


Michael Meyerhofer: “This ended up not making it into the poem but lately, I’ve been watching this series on YouTube that goes over every eon of our planet’s history, highlighting which species survived various climate disasters and which ones didn’t—as well as (in some cases) which species appears to have caused the very event that led to their own extinction, and how that same event might be viewed as a fortuitous by whatever species took their place. The older I get, the more it feels like every idea needs to be intertwined with its opposite. We’re right to place all this importance on our own survival—not to mention our artwork—but for me, some of that urgency also comes from the admittedly trite realization that all of this will be over soon enough, so we’d better cherish it while we can.” (web)

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August 31, 2021

Michael Meyerhofer


I still remember reading how
sailors used to flip giant tortoises
onto their shells and stack them

like living TV dinners
in their dank ship-bellies for weeks,
months, butchered as needed.

We ask so much of stomachs.
We want our knives to stay sharp
but conscionable in their cutting,

noble somehow as they slice
clean through all that red under-silk.
In one story, Christ transforms

the sea into a graveyard
just to feed people who forgot
to pack a sack lunch.

A tern chick takes a tumble,
meets a solar eclipse with teeth.
Sometimes, it hurts to be here.

from Poets Respond
August 31, 2021


Michael Meyerhofer: “This ended up not making it into the poem but when I read about this, I immediately flashed back to another story from nearly twenty years ago about Kumunyak (‘Blessed One’), a Kenyan lioness praised in newspapers for adopting and safeguarding baby antelope. Specifically, I remember the consternation the article’s author felt when one particular baby antelope died (presumably of natural causes) and the lioness who had previously been protecting it immediately changed gears and ate it (hunger is hunger, after all). If horror and beauty are the two seemingly opposite threads from which nature is woven, those threads crisscross constantly. Maybe that’s true of society, too.” (web)

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April 25, 2021

Michael Meyerhofer


My friend sends me the video:
lions kneeling at a watering hole,

chins speckled in blood,
just trying to rinse it all down

beneath a sun that whitens
anything it can’t burn.

Then this turtle paddles up
and starts licking their beards,

their jaws, like it can’t stop
tasting another’s hunger.

For a moment, tongues wrestle.
Then, somehow, it happens:

the terrapin swims clear,
lions exit on claws like triggers,

and it costs us nothing to forget
what graffities the dry grass—

the zebra with its torn flanks,
the sentence of bleached bones.

from Poets Respond
April 25, 2021


Michael Meyerhofer: “Like countless other Americans, I was struggling to wrap my mind around everything associated with George Floyd’s death and the Derek Chauvin trial—all the outrage, the sadness, the history, the nuance—when totally out of nowhere, I had one of those weird moments where you encounter a completely unrelated story and they kind of blend together, clarifying each other in a way that’s almost impossible to put into words except through poetry. Once I felt that connection, the trick was trying to shove my own ego off its soapbox and just let the poem do what it wanted, since this seems like one of those moments where it’s more important to be a camera than a commentator.” (web)

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May 9, 2020

Michael Meyerhofer


I was twenty-two, white, in love
that day I wasn’t shot for trespassing.

It happened nearly two decades ago.
We started out in the backseat

of her parents’ oxblood Subaru,
heading back from the country club

with bellies full of prime rib
and vegetables I could not name.

Then her father touched the brake,
pointed to a mansion being built

beyond a phalanx of dogwoods,
timbers stacked like wine-washed

bones on a generous plot of Iowa soil.
The crews had already gone home,

just some golden tape left behind.
So we pulled over, got out, explored—

her father darkly pinstriped, her mother
sporting a heavy rosary of pearls.

Before long, neighbors spotted us
and waved, smiling from their houses.

Unfazed, my girlfriend and I
slipped away and touched primally

in what might have been a stranger’s
future bedroom, its walls unmade.

After a great while, we reunited
beside half a staircase. Her parents

forgave our absence with a shrug
and the suggestion of frozen yogurt.

On the way back, I could smell her
on my fingers, which made her blush.

Meanwhile, her parents shared
daydreams of their own mansion

with taller floors and windows,
thicker drapes to block the sunset.

from Poets Respond
May 9, 2020


Michael Meyerhofer: “When I read about Ahmaud Arbery, murdered for supposedly looking in the window of a house still under construction, I immediately flashed back to a time when I’d done something similar (though actually a lot more obtrusive) without suffering any consequences whatsoever. There were four of us that day: my girlfriend and me, plus her parents. However, because all of us were white, and her parents also happened to be wealthy (as evidenced by their clean new car and formal attire), no one in the neighborhood batted an eyelash. To be honest, I might never even have given that incident a second thought if I hadn’t read about the circumstances behind Arbery’s murder. Given my own impoverished childhood, I admit that I sometimes chafe at the notion that I’ve benefited from white privilege. That’s the biggest hallmark of white privilege, though: those who benefit from it rarely even know it’s there, until something happens that makes the double standard impossible to deny.” (web)

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November 24, 2019

Michael Meyerhofer


Schoolkids all over the country
keep pace with TV cameras

by practicing a new word—impeach
even as a dozen time zones

from the leaning pillars of democracy,
unseen for decades, a silver-

splashed deer with fangs
tiptoes out of the undergrowth

and presses his nose to the lens,
two unlit moons kissing

in the wild gaps between rivers.
Why should these days matter?

Bones are just the bones
of whatever else came before:

a quickening of dust into rock,
into fire, into blood, then

a softening of God into rain.
See how each drop opens

like luggage, how a heart can only
be a heart if it dies screaming?

Meanwhile, the chevrotain
moves about on hooves

so thin, the mind recalls
the ankles of a ballet dancer,

the stick-limbs of a cave painting.
Even those fangs, used

to fight over mates, only led
to a thickening of muscles

around the throat. We repeat
what we know. Each generation

an untamed refrain you need
not sing, unless you want to.

from Poets Respond
November 24, 2019


Michael Meyerhofer: “This poem came about after interrupting a long day of watching political analysis videos by reading about an extremely rare animal photographed in the wild for the first time, and those events seeming strangely related in a way I couldn’t logically articulate.” (web)

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