Poem of the Week, by Lisel Mueller

IMG_2176Once, when he was about eight, my son looked up at me and said, “Mama, what if we’re all characters in a book, and someone is writing us right now?”

Once, before the scale at the Y was digital, I stepped on it ready to maneuver the sliding weights, only to find that the unknown woman who had stood on it before me weighed, to the ounce, exactly as much as me. 

Somehow those two memories are connected, and somehow the poem below brings them back to me. I don’t understand why we are here in the world, or what the meaning of our lives is. I don’t understand why life is so unfair. Sometimes I wonder if there is a shadow Alison in a nearby, invisible world, living an alternate Alison life, and if she has the answers I don’t. 

 

In November, by Lisel Mueller

Outside the house the wind is howling 
and the trees are creaking horribly. 
This is an old story 
with its old beginning, 
as I lay me down to sleep. 
But when I wake up, sunlight 
has taken over the room. 
You have already made the coffee 
and the radio brings us music 
from a confident age. In the paper 
bad news is set in distant places. 
Whatever was bound to happen 
in my story did not happen. 
But I know there are rules that cannot be broken. 
Perhaps a name was changed. 
A small mistake. Perhaps 
a woman I do not know 
is facing the day with the heavy heart 
that, by all rights, should have been mine.

 

For more information about Lisel Mueller, please click here.

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Poem of the Week, by Lisel Mueller

Screen Shot 2018-04-05 at 8.44.54 AM

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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Poem of the Week, by Lisel Mueller

Screen Shot 2018-04-05 at 8.43.51 AMRough, rough week. Children torn from their parents at borders, the suicides of loved people who projected happiness, the cruelty of our elected employees and the ongoing and unfathomable cowardice of their minions who stand by, watching our democracy crumble. Last night I scrolled through poem after poem, looking for one with clear eyes and a level gaze, like this one below. A poem that sees the situation for what it is and imagines it as it can be. Time for us to be the goddesses who remake this world. 

 

The End of Science Fiction
     – Lisel Mueller

This is not fantasy, this is our life.
We are the characters
who have invaded the moon,
who cannot stop their computers.
We are the gods who can unmake
the world in seven days.
Both hands are stopped at noon.
We are beginning to live forever,
in lightweight, aluminum bodies
with numbers stamped on our backs.
We dial our words like Muzak.
We hear each other through water.
The genre is dead. Invent something new.
Invent a man and a woman
naked in a garden,
invent a child that will save the world,
a man who carries his father
out of a burning city.
Invent a spool of thread
that leads a hero to safety,
invent an island on which he abandons
the woman who saved his life
with no loss of sleep over his betrayal.
Invent us as we were
before our bodies glittered
and we stopped bleeding:
invent a shepherd who kills a giant,
a girl who grows into a tree,
a woman who refuses to turn
her back on the past and is changed to salt,
a boy who steals his brother’s birthright
and becomes the head of a nation.
Invent real tears, hard love,
slow-spoken, ancient words,
difficult as a child’s
first steps across a room. 

For more information about Lisel Mueller, please click here.  

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@alisonmcghee

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.

Poem of the Week, by Lisel Mueller

What the Dog Perhaps Hears
– 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 click here: http://www.poetryfoundation.org/bio/lisel-mueller

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