Mueller on Monday

My New Year’s resolution this year is to read the Constitution. Both lawyers I know who have taken Constitutional Law in law school, confess to not having read it all. They’ve focused on the case law around the document, and read parts of it.  I mention this because I’d also like to be a little more timely with poetry Monday–not a resolution, but an intention.

MuellerI don’t know much about Lisel Mueller other than that her family left Nazi Germany when she was 15, but I wandered into the main Berkeley library the other day and looking for a selection of Marianne Moore (which was not on the shelf) and took out a selection of her poems instead. I found them engaging and accessible.  She will be 90 this year!

Here are a couple of short selections:

The Exhibit

My uncle in East Germany
points to the unicorn in the painting
and explains it is now extinct.
We correct him, say such a creature
never existed. He does not argue,
but we know he does not believe us.
He is certain power and gentleness
must have gone hand in hand
once. A prisoner of war
even after war was over,
my uncle needs to believe in something
that could not be captured except by love,
whose single luminous horn
redeemed the murderous forest
and, dipped into foul water,
would turn it pure. This word,
this terrible world we live in,
is not the only possible one,
his eighty-year-old eyes insist,
dry wells that fill so easily now.


My life is running away with me;
the two of us are in cahoots.
I hold still while it paints
dark circles under my eyes,
streaks my hair gray, stuffs pillows
under my dress. In each new room
the mirror reassures me
I’ll not be recognized.
I’m learning to travel light,
like the juice in the power line.
My baggage, swallowed by memory,
weighs almost nothing. No one suspects
its value. When they knock on my door,
badges flashing, I open up:
I don’t match their description.
“Wrong room,” they say, and apologize.
My life in the corner winks
and wipes off my fingerprints.


Lisel Mueller




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