Library of My Hands by Joseph Heithaus


Reading the poems of this moving book is like listening to the wind clink bare branches together.  This is a book that walks the line between meditation and wonder and seems to be at home in that in-between state.  Almost nothing escapes the poet’s study, from the glow of morning light to a child mouthing her first words.  Even as the poems observe the world with intimacy, there is a further wonder this book declares: that we have the intimacy of language to articulate our belonging.  One task for the poet is to summon the language necessary to persuade us that we do indeed belong to the world, despite our uncertainties and suffering.  This book, and the mind behind it, ably meets that task with perhaps the most solemn human perspective there is—affection. —Maurice Manning


  • Kind: Perfectbound
  • Pages: 138
  • Language: English
  • Date Published: June 2020
  • ISBN 978-1-948017-68-8


Out of the details of an individual life, looking at sycamores, going on a morning run, looking at paintings, the intimacies of marriage and raising children, the difficult loss of parents, the terrible early loss of a brother, Joseph Heithaus has made an excellent case for us as a compassionate species. These are intimate, well-crafted, thoughtful poems by someone we will want to hear more from. —Roger Mitchell

This book is indeed a “library” of Joe Heithaus’ poetic writing hands, but also of his inquisitive mind and his emotionally sensitive soul. From “Ode to the Letter A”  to “Beginning and Ending,”  Heithaus uses the stuff of life and legend to enchant the reader into experiencing the vulnerabilities of life through his well-crafted poetry. —Joyce Brinkman

Blessed are the hands of Joe Heithaus and the beautiful poems he has made in Library of My Hands. From lyric miniatures and epistles to elegies that are meditations on language, Heithaus transforms the mundane into small miracles. We are in the presence of a poet genuinely in love with the world and his ecstatic singing is infectious. It is the elegies in this collection that I love most, particularly “Patience” for its gentle directive for us to listen and pay attention not only to our collective grief, but to the simplest music of the word itself: “Shhh, says the word, / suffer, it says again, and pay.”  Library of My Hands is a powerful testament to poetry’s necessity in our troubled world. —Eugene Gloria


Ode to the Shoe

So who cares if you’ve lost your brother?
You are still an open mouth
with tongue and toe, lace
and heel and there is no use
lamenting his loss. You will get by
with one foot pushing you forward
with a crutch. You will still
be scuffed and polished, scuffed
and polished again. You will live
a long life looking back,
on occasion, for your twin,
sensing that absence
like the emptiness you feel
when you sit by the door
at night, lined up neatly
beside no one, only the crutch
leaning as it does against
the doorframe, only the dark
moving inside you.


Joseph (Joe) Heithaus, the youngest of six children, was born in South Bend, Indiana in 1962.  Poison Sonnets, his first book, poems from which won the Discovery/The Nation Prize, explores through the sonnet form the language and chemistry of botany, the nature of poison, and its corollary—medicine.  But the core of Joe’s work is in his attention to the details of the world around him. Library of My Hands collects his poetic meditations on light, on family, and on language itself.  While both his parents have passed away, they haunt the pages of this book and are central to his world view of wonder and gratitude.  His mother and father, each raised in large families that had sacrificed to survive the Great Depression, told stories less about their hardships and more about the modest pleasures of ice cream, canned pineapple, and Sunday drives.  His father’s career with Chevrolet took their family from South Bend to Cincinnati, Ohio; Richmond, Virginia; and Syracuse, New York, where Joe finished high school before attending the State University of New York at Albany.  After working in New York City he circled back to the Hoosier State to get his Ph.D. in American literature and his M.F.A. in poetry from Indiana University.  In 1996, he began teaching at DePauw University in Greencastle, Indiana where he and his wife have raised their four children.  His poetry and prose have appeared in many journals and anthologies including Poetry, The Southern Review, Southwest Review, African American Review, and The New York Times.  You can also find Joe’s poem “Indiana Flight” etched into a stained-glass window in concourse B of the Indianapolis International Airport and the poem “What Grows Here” on a barn beside West County Road 125 South just west of Greencastle.

Additional information

Weight 9.2 oz
Dimensions 9 × 6 × .25 in