An Alphabet of Poets – M is for Mueller



In Passing

How swiftly the strained honey
of afternoon light
flows into darkness

and the closed bud shrugs off
its special mystery
in order to break into blossom

as if what exists, exists
so that it can be lost
and become precious.

Liesel Muellerfrom Alive Together – New and Selected Poems, LSU Press, 1997

A multitude of M’s. A plethora of M’s. This 30-day task gets harder each day! So many poets I want to share. So here’s my second M selection. Liesel Mueller, now 88, Pulitzer Prize winner for Alive Together – New and Selected Poems in 1997 and a poet whose poetry so fits one of its definitions – soul-making. Mueller’s parents fledGermany with her in 1939 and she met her husband, Paul, at a college In Indiana when they were both 19.

Here below is one of her “signature” poems.  I first came across it in the 2006 anthology Twenty Poems to Nourish Your Soul selected and edited by print and TV journalist, Judith Valente and her husband Charles Reynard. I cherish this volume.

Alive Togther

Speaking of marvels, I am alive
together with you, when I might have been
alive with anyone under the sun,
when I might have been Abelard’s woman
or the whore of a Renaissance pope
or a peasant wife with not enough food
and not enough love, with my children
dead of the plague. I might have slept
in an alcove next to the man
with the golden nose, who poked it
into the business of stars,
or sewn a starry flag
for a general with wooden teeth.
I might have been the exemplary Pocahontas
or a woman without a name
weeping in Master’s bed
for my husband, exchanged for a mule,
my daughter, lost in a drunken bet.
I might have been stretched on a totem pole
to appease a vindictive god
or left, a useless girl-child,
to die on a cliff. I like to think
I might have been Mary Shelley
in love with a wrong-headed angel,
or Mary’s friend. I might have been you.
This poem is endless, the odds against us are endless,
our chances of being alive together
statistically nonexistent;
still we have made it, alive in a time
when rationalists in square hats
and hatless Jehovah’s Witnesses
agree it is almost over,
alive with our lively children
who–but for endless ifs–
might have missed out on being alive
together with marvels and follies
and longings and lies and wishes
and error and humor and mercy
and journeys and voices and faces
and colors and summers and mornings
and knowledge and tears and chance.

Liesel Mueller from  Alive Together, LSU Press, 1996

In an interview with Valente in 2003, Mueller told her that the poem Alive Together was her “happiness” poem:

It suddenly came to me in a flash, as things do, what a wonderful life I had, and if I hadn’t been the person I am genetically and I hadn’t come to the United States and I hadn’t met my husband, everything would have been different….It’s just such a matter of chance to be who you are and live the life you’ve been given.

The thought that triggered Mueller’s poem isn’t original. Far from it. But the poem is. Drenched as it is from knowledge and tears and chance.

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