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Jennifer Michael Hecht

Jennifer Michael Hecht is a historian and poet. She is the author of three poetry collections: Who Said (Copper Canyon Press, 2013); Funny (University of Wisconsin Press, 2005), winner of the 2005 Felix Pollak Prize; and The Next Ancient World (Tupelo Press, 2001), winner of the Poetry Society of America’s Norma Farber First Book Award and the Tupelo Press Judge’s Prize in Poetry. Her most recent nonfiction work is Stay: A History of Suicide and the Arguments Against It (Yale University Press, 2015). She has taught at The New School and Columbia University and lives in Brooklyn, New York.

By This Poet


When They Die We Change Our Minds About Them

When they die we change our minds 
about them. While they live we see 
the plenty hard they’re trying,
to be a star, or nice, or wise, 
and so we do not quite believe them. 

When they die, suddenly they are 
what they claimed. Turns out, 
that’s what one of those looks like. 

The cold war over manner of manly 
or mission is over. Same person, 
same facts and acts, just now 
a quiet brain stem. We no longer 
begrudge his or her stupid luck.

When they die we change our minds 
about them. I will try to believe 
while you yet breathe.

Grief’s Weird Sister, Gratitude

How to read a tome of Collected Poems?
Read one that pivotally changes you
and lose track of the page and title.
How to clean a house? Lose your ring in it.

Milosz not having to make peace one day
because the people are dead, nor revisit
some cities of his blood, because they are
razed. I’m still reading for that one.

If I wince that I got cuppy, said too much,
maybe years ago, sometimes the sudden
knowledge that my auditor is no longer
will come in as wistful relief, if with grief.

So I’d like to find it. This “how” isn’t
an engineering question, but angle,
here alchemically
translated to hope by way of loss.