Lisel Mueller

I was born in a major European city and lived there until the age of 15, when I came to this country. Though my family landed in the Midwest, we lived in urban or suburban environments. It was only after my husband and I built our house in Lake County, Illinois, near Libertyville, that my consciousness changed. On the first morning in our new home I woke up to the mooing of cows. Cows under my window, thirty-five miles northwest of Chicago! But there they were, rubbing against the fence that separated our one-acre lot from our neighbor's 200-acre estate, and they were Holsteins, the only cows I knew from vacations in the flat North German countryside of my childhood. That was my initiation, and after 40 years in this house I know what time of day it is by the way the light slants. I am intimately familiar with the names and habits of the wildflowers and the birds that live in our hawthorns and aspens. We all live together, in the world and in my poems.
- Lisel Mueller

 


Another Version
by Lisel Mueller

Our trees are aspens, but people
mistake them for birches;
they think of us as characters
in a Russian novel, Kitty and Levin
living contentedly in the country.
Our friends from the city watch the birds
and rabbits feeding together
on top of the deep, white snow.
(We have Russian winters in Illinois,
but no sleighbells, possums instead of wolves,
no trusted servants to do our work.)
As in a Russian play, an old man
lives in our house, he is my father;
he lets go of life in such slow motion,
year after year, that the grief
is stuck inside me, a poisoned apple
that won't go up or down.
But like the three sisters, we rarely speak
of what keeps us awake at night;
like them, we complain about things
that don't really matter and talk
of our pleasures and of the future:
we tell each other the willows
are early this year, hazy with green.


SCENIC ROUTE
by Lisel Mueller

For Lucy, who called them "ghost houses."

Someone was always leaving
and never coming back.
The wooden houses wait like old wives
along this road; they are everywhere,
abandoned, leaning, turning gray.

Someone always traded
the lonely beauty
of hemlock and stony lakeshore
for survival, packed up his life
and drove off to the city.
In the yards the apple trees
keep hanging on, but the fruit
grows smaller year by year.

When we come this way again
the trees will have gone wild,
the houses collapsed, not even worth
the human act of breaking in.
Fields will have taken over.

What we will recognize
is the wind, the same fierce wind,
which has no history.