names :: lisel mueller

A few names tell it all,
the whole incredible history
of one generation, mine;
names that we cannot manage
with a drum-roll, like Waterloo,
nor pitch to the eloquence
of tragic Gettysburg.

Hiroshima sticks in our throats;
we choke on the bones of Buchenwald,
spit out the stones of Berlin.
Who says Vietnam
burns his tongue,
and Mississippi, o Mississippi
scrubs out our mouths
till we cry mercy.

sometimes, when the light :: lisel mueller

Sometimes, when the light strikes at odd angles
and pulls you back into childhood

and you are passing a crumbling mansion
completely hidden behind old willows

or an empty convent guarded by hemlocks
and giant firs standing hip to hip,

you know again that behind that wall,
under the uncut hair of the willows

something secret is going on,
so marvelous and dangerous

that if you crawled through and saw,
you would die, or be happy forever.

a nude by edward hopper :: lisel mueller

        for Margaret Gaul

The light
drains me of what I might be,
a man’s dream
of heat and softness;
or a painter’s
—breasts cozy pigeons,
arms gently curved
by a temperate noon.

I am
blue veins, a scar,
a patch of lavender cells,
used thighs and shoulders;
my calves
are as scant as my cheeks,
my hips won’t plump
small, shimmering pillows:

but this body
is home, my childhood
is buried here, my sleep
rises and sets inside,
desire
crested and wore itself then
between these bones—
I live here.

the blind leading the blind :: lisel mueller

Take my hand. There are two of us in this cave.
The sound you hear is water; you will hear it forever.
The ground you walk on is rock. I have been here before.
People come here to be born, to discover, to kiss,
to dream and to dig and to kill. Watch for the mud.
Summer blows in with scant of horses and roses;
fall with the sound of sound breaking; winter shoves
its empty sleeve down the dark of your throat.
You will learn toads from diamonds, the fist from the palm,
love from the sweat of love, falling from flying.
There are a thousand turnoffs. I have been here before.
Once I followed the thread unrolled by a voice
and when I returned my nails had grown into claws.
Once I fell off a precipice. Once I found gold.
Once I stumbled on murder, the thin parts of a girl.
Walk on, keep walking, there are axes above us.
Watch for the occasional bits and bubbles of light,
birthdays for you, recognitions: yourself, another.
Watch for the mud. Listen for bells, for beggars.
Something with wings went crazy against my chest once.
There are two of us here. Touch me.

romantics :: lisel mueller

       Johannes Brahms and
               Clara Schumann 

The modern biographers worry
“how far it went,” their tender friendship.
They wonder just what it means
when he writes he thinks of her constantly,
his guardian angel, beloved friend.
The modern biographers ask
the rude, irrelevant question
of our age, as if the event
of two bodies meshing together
establishes the degree of love,
forgetting how softly Eros walked
in the nineteenth-century, how a hand
held overlong or a gaze anchored
in someone’s eyes could unseat a heart,
and nuances of address not known
in our egalitarian language
could make the redolent air
tremble and shimmer with the heat
of possibility. Each time I hear
the Intermezzi, sad
and lavish in their tenderness,
I imagine the two of them
sitting in a garden
among late-blooming roses
and dark cascades of leaves,
letting the landscape speak for them,
leaving us nothing to overhear.

in november :: 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.

brendel playing schubert :: lisel mueller

We bring our hands together
in applause, that absurd noise,
when we want to be silent. We might as well
be banging pots and pans,
it is that jarring, a violation
of the music we’ve listened to
without moving, almost holding our breath.
The pianist in his blindingly
white summer jacket bows
and disappears and returns
and bows again. We keep up
the clatter, so cacophonous
that it should signal revenge
instead of the gratitude we feel
for the two hours we’ve spent
out of our bodies and away
from our guardian selves
in the nowhere where the enchanted live.