The Next Ancient World

by Jennifer Michael Hecht


“Jennifer Michael Hecht writes delightfully tricky poems that wildly bend the sense of our language as they swerve back and forth between the realms of the colloquial and the absurd. The result of these maneuvers is The Next Ancient World — a deconstructed soap-opera, a one-hundred-ring verbal circus, a gang of brazen, ingenious poems.”—Billy Collins, U.S. Poet Laureate

Format: paperback

Add to Cart

Out of stock

ISBN: 978-0-9710310-05 Categories: ,

“Jennifer Michael Hecht writes delightfully tricky poems that wildly bend the sense of our language as they swerve back and forth between the realms of the colloquial and the absurd. The result of these maneuvers is The Next Ancient World — a deconstructed soap-opera, a one-hundred-ring verbal circus, a gang of brazen, ingenious poems.”—Billy Collins, U.S. Poet Laureate

The Next Ancient World won the Tupelo Press Judge’s Prize in 2001 and has since won the Poetry Society of America’s Norma Farber First Book Award and the ForeWord Magazine Best Poetry Book of the Year (2001).

Jennifer Michael Hecht writes delightfully tricky poems that wildly bend the sense of our language as they swerve back and forth between the realms of the colloquial and the absurd. The result of these maneuvers is The Next Ancient World — a deconstructed soap-opera, a one-hundred-ring verbal circus, a gang of brazen, ingenious poems.”Billy Collins, U.S. Poet Laureate

hecht225Jennifer Michael Hecht earned her Ph.D. in the History of Science from Columbia University and is a Professor of History at Nassau Community College. Her works include the award-winning poetry book The Next Ancient World (2001), published by Tupelo Press, and the forthcoming history books, The End of the Soul (July, 2003) from Columbia University Press and The History of Doubt (Fall, 2003) from HarperCollins San Francisco.

Additional information

Weight .4 lbs
Dimensions 6 × .5 × 9 in


Even Eve, the only soul in all of time
to never have to wait for love,
must have leaned some sleepless nights
alone against the garden wall
and wailed, cold, stupefied, and wild
and wished to trade-in all of Eden
to have but been a child.

In fact, I gather that is why she leapt and fell from grace,
that she might have a story of herself to tell
in some other place.

Waiting to Happen

The bottom of the town might open up
or influenza. Or everybody on the planet
finds a lump. Some man might plan
even now some foreign words to live
in the future’s memory—as Kristallnacht
takes up space in ours. Saint
Bartholomew’s Day Massacre. Bubonic
Plague. Consider now the length
of good times we’ve indulged in,
consider the bliss of sullen bus rides,
the paradise of trouble on the job,
the incommensurable dream of sexual
frustration, the joy of being mad and unfulfilled,
the glory of a night alone, lonely,
watching sitcoms; left out of the world.

On the other hand, this may be remembered
as the dawn of the golden age, wherein
after six millennia of disaster followed
on disaster, forever after no disaster comes.
Then this loneliness will never be redeemed.
If we never starve this bread will never seem
in hindsight to have been a feast of pleasure
is part of what I mean. But look at the books.
Consider the odds. We will very likely starve.

Villanelle If You Want to Be a Bad-Ass
You will not be rewarded for remaining long the same.
You will, of course, be taunted if you ever try to change.
When trainers wander off, tigers, please do not stay tame.

Consistency is worse, it brings the wrong kind of fame.
The orbit of right action has a freakin’ woolly range.
You will not be rewarded for remaining long the same.

It, inertia, is a pity. It, stagnation, is a shame. Yet you
yourself preach caution as you pace your unlocked cage:
“When trainers wander off, tigers, please do not. Stay tame.”

Be a mountain if you want to, be the whole mountain range.
Will you, in turn, be hostage to your hostage on the page?
You will not. Be rewarded for remaining long the same?

You can say what you want when the angel makes you lame.
You can wrestle against water, you can rape your own rage
(when trainers wander off). Tigers, please do not stay tame.

As hard as bleeding a tree to death by cut and squeezing, change
from out of the gut of the rut’s range will be insanely hard.
But you will not be rewarded for remaining long the same,
when trainers wander off, tigers, please do not stay tame.

Trotsky’s Hand

It’s like dreaming of someone
too much while you’re away
at war; then you come home
to his fingered hat or her

faltering hemline and it’s
What the hell was I fighting

for? Just another example
of how biography works.
Your character has got
to have a narrative arc,

some drawbacks,
something irredeemably awful,

along with his or her strong
points, to be believable.
Yet we all recoil in disbelief
when anything of the sort cuts

a form into our real lives,
the life of the author. Don’t

despair! It’s just the demands
of narrative! Leda, after all,
probably never even thought
to fear anything like that.

Then one day, there it is,
the century actually over

and most of its artifacts
still entirely inexplicable.
This is no walk in the park
with spinach, Swee’pea,

I’ve got no idea where to go
for extra strength.

I guess that’s what
they’re selling.
It’s an incidental
that it cleans your laundry,

scrubs your teeth. What is of note
is that it is a source of extra

strength. Extra strength! Thank
God! That’s what we’re going
to need in case they all switch back:
the swan, the prince, the salt.

Even if you weren’t ever accosted
by a feathery god,

you take some heavy losses early on,
and that will leave feathers everywhere
for the rest of your life; as if
you were wearing an eiderdown coat;

you just walk around and molt.
As for the man in the tiara,

that’s a transformation
you never want to go through
twice, but do, coaxing every
so often your sad, damp, frog

back into his palace. Don’t
you like your scepter? Won’t

you wear your robes?
Lastly, salt. Well, who doesn’t
turn towards the sepia for a second
look; into the carousel music

and the tortured plaster horses
of the past? But this sympathy

does not imply that I want
Madame Lot back here
knitting itchy sweaters.
Let’s just try to calm down.


When Stalin took power
he had Trotsky erased
from the photographs.
Sometimes, you can still see

a floating hand. Left behind.
So disembodied as to be

almost meaningless. We try
to ignore it, floating there
in history. We get to work.
There is something to be said for that.

You can’t really expect me
to roll around naked in a garden

letting Trotsky’s severed hand
float around my body,
knowing my body better
than any lover, his soft,

soft-focused, probing hand.
Yet, how can we do anything

serious with that thing hovering
overhead? A woman working
at a table in the park swats
away the tickling hand

of Trotsky, and intones
as if to all of history:

Not now. Trotsky’s hand,
abashed, moves on
to pick some flowers.
So much is gone that

what is left is inexplicable
without memory, and memory

is painful and very difficult
to explain. Which isn’t
to say I mind Trotsky’s hand

snapping its fingers
and flapping itself like a bird

above my desk or would rather
have him back, extant,
yammering about world socialism
and complaining about

the samovar: Is this thing cold again?
So, is this more of a lament

than a complaint? Sure.

But it is always there. This
burden of history is not a bird
but a hand, its wrist a tiny cloud.

It’s very quiet. It fills the quiet sky.

Please Answer All Three Of The Following Essay Questions.

What would it take to make you
what you truly want to be and why will no one
cooperate with you on these visions you have
of yourself, when it would be so easy for them
to finally acknowledge that you are the demon
ruler of this island world and that all we eat
here is pickled herring that we harvest
from sycamore trees in the plenitude
of summer and load into mason jars for the lean
months of the cold? Do these men and women,
your subjects, fear you more than they love you?
And what is it that they fear? Use a logical
proof; show your work.

If someone wanted to make you
slap them, hard, would it be better for him or
her to say that your father didn’t like to hear you
sing, or to say that your mother purposefully pricked
her finger and bled into the coleslaw she brought
to the physics-department picnics every year
because, despite her smile and gala disposition,
she had no taste for any of it, not for your father,
nor for you, nor for the logic of time and space
and so she made them drink her sorrow
with their cabbage? Explain your answer.
Are you aware you can not save anyone from dying?

Why do you waste so much time considering
the juxtaposition of the perceived endlessness
of a moment and the micro-elapsement of a year?
Clearly there is nothing you can do about it and yet,
overcome with love for your friends and family
you neither run to them constantly and weep for them,
kissing their cast-off running shoes like a minor apostle,
nor do you refuse to answer the question “how are you”
ever again, certain that you don’t know what it means?
By now you must recognize that rational
truth is unbearable and impossible to live by
and that everything possible and bearable is,
of necessity, a logical mess incorporating lies as well
as contradictory truths. And yet you just go along, making phone calls, hanging curtains, letting the slanting sun before twilight
shift your thoughts,
riding the subway, sweeping the hallway,
and you watch TV, don’t you, and go to the bank, eat
ice cream, call the cable guy, why do you do it
when you are so keenly aware of the impossibility
of your goals given the obdurate
resistance of such material? Try
to answer as completely as possible; time.

Swamp Thing

Apparently you’ve got to be
vulnerable if you want
anything to happen,
and on the other side of it
you’ve got to be unfathomably
strong in order to get by.
In order to get through the attacks
and rejections occasioned
by vulnerability you’ve got to
be almost invulnerably
strong. It’s a difficult road map
to fold, friends. The shifts in logic
are very subtle, they have
to do with generational time
and we don’t have that
kind of time lying around
in the store-room, we’ve got
to get it on special order,
which means you’ve got to
read about a thousand books.

So, to review, the inner life
is lousy with affection
for the outer life which seems
like a sweet, dumb child
that has somehow survived
a week alone, lost in intemperate
circumstance, an actual swamp
in the Bayou, and our inner life
wonders, how did that stupid
child I love so tenderly
and with so little outward show
of derision possibly survive out there
where the possibility of being eaten
by a crocodile is very real,
grabbed by snakes, being bitten by endless
mosquitoes, and drowned, let alone
freezing, let alone starved.

Survival experts opine
that your idiot outer life
survived in the Bayou
because it never thought
to panic, it never noticed
that it was a time to give up.
Our inner life wonders
how this naïve assumption
of existence is communicated
to the crocodiles and the snakes
but the survival expert is gone:
wanted to be the first one
out of the parking lot, just
in case. I guess I understand.

How did it ever get construed
that the child of us is inner? It’s
the outer that always has to be told
to take that out of your mouth.
I’ve got something twice as inner
that sits quietly writing her book.
Perhaps our outer self ate algae.
Bumble bumble, the deadline
for the grant is long past, long past,
but some part of you writes
for guidelines. I realize that the
deadline is past but I want to
express my desire to have applied.
This is not what the survival
expert had in mind.

Staring out the window
towards First Avenue, the inner
self lectures. Vulnerability,
it explains to the outer self,
is a difficult mess. Yes, apply
for the grant but not when the deadline
is so long past. As for asking your lover
to move in, perhaps you remember
your stay in the swamp? The yellow
eyes of those who see when you
are nightly blinded? The leg-less
finesse of the serpents? The tug
of vines? Well, who am I to caution
your affections. By now the outer self
is on the phone, making the arrangements,
not particularly concerned;
eager for all of it. Hoping to win
grants for which it never applied
and sliding down some secret
handrail, open-armed, wide-eyed,
into the din of life. Apparently,
it is crazy in love, and reckless
with the customs of survival.