Lisel Mueller

I don’t think I’ve posted anything of hers before, but I like the nuance and understatement of this poem.  She died in 2020, at 96.

Curriculum Vitae

1) I was born in a Free City, near the North Sea.

2) In the year of my birth, money was shredded into
confetti. A loaf of bread cost a million marks. Of
course I do not remember this.

3) Parents and grandparents hovered around me. The
world I lived in had a soft voice and no claws.

4) A cornucopia filled with treats took me into a building
with bells. A wide-bosomed teacher took me in.

5) At home the bookshelves connected heaven and earth.

6) On Sundays the city child waded through pinecones
and primrose marshes, a short train ride away.

7) My country was struck by history more deadly than
earthquakes or hurricanes.

8) My father was busy eluding the monsters. My mother
told me the walls had ears. I learned the burden of secrets.

9) I moved into the too bright days, the too dark nights
of adolescence.

10) Two parents, two daughters, we followed the sun
and the moon across the ocean. My grandparents stayed
behind in darkness.

11) In the new language everyone spoke too fast. Eventually
I caught up with them.

12) When I met you, the new language became the language
of love.

13) The death of the mother hurt the daughter into poetry.
The daughter became a mother of daughters.

14) Ordinary life: the plenty and thick of it. Knots tying
threads to everywhere. The past pushed away, the future left
unimagined for the sake of the glorious, difficult, passionate

15) Years and years of this.

16) The children no longer children. An old man’s pain, an
old man’s loneliness.

17) And then my father too disappeared.

18) I tried to go home again. I stood at the door to my
childhood, but it was closed to the public.

19) One day, on a crowded elevator, everyone’s face was younger
than mine.

20) So far, so good. The brilliant days and nights are
breathless in their hurry. We follow, you and I.

Lisel Mueller


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: Continue reading “Mueller on Monday”