Poem of the Week, by Lisel Mueller

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It must be awful to watch TV next to me, the way I constantly put my hands over my ears, or murmur about the specifics of someone’s voice, or the strange way news anchors inflect their syllables, or oh no oh no there’s that song again, where’s the remote so I can mute it. I am the woman you see in crowds stuffing bits of wadded-up tissue into her ears. Sound is visible to me, literally – words and music and ambient noise have shape and color and texture – and it overwhelms me.

A couple of years ago when the Painter said “Here, try these,” and put his noise-canceling headphones over my ears, the relief was so great I almost cried. The world is so full of noise. Hard to imagine what it would feel like if it were more intense than it already is for intense me. What if we could hear our own cells growing? Our consciousness expanding? The earth breathing?


What the Dog Perhaps Hears, by Lisel Mueller

If an inaudible whistle
blown between our lips
can send him home to us,
then silence is perhaps
the sound of spiders breathing
and roots mining the earth;
it may be asparagus heaving,
headfirst, into the light
and the long brown sound
of cracked cups, when it happens.
We would like to ask the dog
if there is a continuous whir
because the child in the house
keeps growing, if the snake
really stretches full length
without a click and the sun
breaks through clouds without
a decibel of effort,
whether in autumn, when the trees
dry up their wells, there isn’t a shudder
too high for us to hear.

What is it like up there
above the shut-off level
of our simple ears?
For us there was no birth cry,
the newborn bird is suddenly here,
the egg broken, the nest alive,
and we heard nothing when the world changed.


For more information on Lisel Mueller, please read her bio at the Poetry Foundation.



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