Poem of the Week, by Lisel Mueller

IMG_4241Long ago, only fifteen years after they were first discovered by farmers digging a well near Xian, I went to see the terracotta warriors. The memory haunts me. The place wasn’t well organized back then – you sort of stumbled around and then down into the ground, where the clay soldiers, thousands of them, stood at attention. Signs: “No spitting. No taking pictures. No taking artifacts.” The guy we had hired to drive us out to the site bent down at one point and scraped up some clay dust and dropped it right into my pocket. No taking artifacts, I whispered to him, and he shrugged and laughed and said, Now you’ve got some 10,000 year old dirt to take back to America. It was the soldiers that haunt me, though. Their faces, their bodies, their height and weight, the breadth of their shoulders: All different, like looking at an army of real men frozen in time. I stood looking at them, wondering about their lives. This poem by Lisel Mueller makes me remember them all over again.

Immortality
     – Lisel Mueller

In Sleeping Beauty’s castle
the clock strikes one hundred years
and the girl in the tower returns to the
world.
So do the servants in the kitchen,
who don’t even rub their eyes.
The cook’s right hand, lifted
an exact century ago,
completes its downward arc
to the kitchen boy’s left ear;
the boy’s tensed vocal cords
finally let go
the trapped, enduring whimper,
and the fly, arrested mid-plunge
above the strawberry pie,
fulfills its abiding mission
and dives into the sweet, red glaze.
As a child I had a book
with a picture of that scene.
I was too young to notice
how fear persists, and how
the anger that causes fear persists,
that its trajectory can’t be changed
or broken, only interrupted.
My attention was on the fly;
that this slight body
with its transparent wings
and lifespan of one human day
still craved its particular share
of sweetness, a century later.

 

For more information on Lisel Mueller, please click here.

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