For our New York Cities

From sun’s first shine, we walk all day
through a dream surreal, our minds wander
a new world from inside windowsills.

We go to bed half asleep,
eyes defiant for the crave of news feed,
quenching our dread on the bad blood of blue light
not sent from the moon.

We are devastate-aching,
this can’t be happening,
a nation stationed inside the nightmare
of a leader unfit for awakening.

We grieve in solitary solidarity
for our country, our New York cities; their subways
riding ghosted through the choking channels of our lungs—
those throats that have known
I can’t breathe
far before our collective chests could not.

We grieve for every building of our boroughs,
from section eight to the unfinished skyscraper’s crane.
Buildings busting with bodies or abandoned by them:
bodies that dance, bodies that sleep,
bodies that virtual meet, eat and drink.
Bodies that cease.

We grieve the gravity
of having to die alone
in a city built on never having to be.

And though our bridges are orphaned arches
left to hold up the sky’s condolences,
they still do connect us.

They still do connect us.

Connect us,
to the cabin fever daughters
watching over high fevered grandfathers.
Connect us to the warrior first responders,
nurses and exhausted doctors,
the recovering sick finally taking off ventilators.

Connect us,
to the maskless, the homeless,
the hopeless, the jobless,
our locals: bars, bodegas and bath houses,
our silent Brooklyn streets empty as ancient desert streams
holding only the echoes of ambulance screams.

Connect us,
to the cherry blossoms standing guard in full blush
while cops bloom ribbons of yellow tape at their gates.

Us, connected
by airborne whispers between walkups,
of missed rhythm, longing for the public pull
of prior swagger,

us, connected
by the daydream of lawless rush hour taxis
rubbing up against each other’s paint,
kissing the ears of each other’s rearviews,

us, yearning
for the crowded irritants
of sweltering avenues
budding with beech trees and brisk walkers.

Us, missing
the middle fingers of strangers,
the playlists of basketball courts
and schoolyard sabotage,
the lights bright over Broadway,
lights low in the Bowery,
lights out at The Chelsea
where Sid did in Nancy.

Us, singing
love poems to neighbors over balconies,
from the soapbox of apartment steps,
a Cyrano of stoops.
Connected by the density of front doors,
the clanging of steam hammer pipes
running through our floors
like the floating notes of festival encores.

Us, dreaming,
still dreamers,
for every future hand
we’ll shake, dap and hold

O, how we will hold you

our eyes lifting from the drift,
breaking open, free
to a new dawning—
wake up! See!—
how we hold you, New York cities,
how we hold you, never letting go.

Used with permission of the author.

When I am asked
how I began writing poems,
I talk about the indifference of nature.

It was soon after my mother died,
a brilliant June day,
everything blooming.

I sat on a gray stone bench
in a lovingly planted garden,
but the day lilies were as deaf
as the ears of drunken sleepers
and the roses curved inward.
Nothing was black or broken
and not a leaf fell
and the sun blared endless commercials
for summer holidays.

I sat on a gray stone bench
ringed with the ingenue faces
of pink and white impatiens
and placed my grief
in the mouth of language,
the only thing that would grieve with me.

From Alive Together: New and Selected Poems (Louisiana State University Press, 1996). Copyright © 1996 by Lisel Mueller.  Reprinted by permission of Louisiana State University Press.

If a mouse makes a nest
Of one's written words,
Is there else to do but accept
The flattery?
I have deemed it wise to do so.
I have thanked him
As he scurried in and out
Of the room.
He has faced wither
With a nest of my words.
I did not suspect them
Of such worth against the cold.

This poem is in the public domain, and originally appeared in Others for 1919; An Anthology of the New Verse (Nicholas L. Brown, 1920). 

Again the glory of the days!
    Once more the dreamy sunshine fills
    Noon after noon,—and all the hills
Lie soft and dim in autumn haze.

And lovely lie these meadows low
    In the slant sun—and quiet broods
    Above the splendor of the woods
All touched with autumn’s tenderest glow.

The trees stand marshalled, clan by clan,
    A bannered army, far and near—
    (Mark how yon fiery maples rear
Their crimson colors in the van!)

Methinks, these ancient haunts among,
    A fuller life informs the fall—
    The crows in council sit and call,
The quail through stubble leads her young.

The woodcocks whirrs by bush and brake,
    The partridge plies his cedar-search—
    (Old Andy says the trout and perch
Are larger now, in stream and lake.)

O’re the brown leaves, the forest floor,
    With nut and acorn scantly strewed,
    The small red people of the wood
Are out to seek their winter store.

To-day they gather, each and all,
    To take their last of autumn suns—
    E’en the gray squirrel lithely runs
Along the mossy pasture wall.

By marsh and brook, by copse and hill,
    To their old quiet haunts repair
    The feeble things of earth and air,
And feed and flutter at their will.

the feet that roved this woodland round,
    The hands that scared the timid race,
    Now middle in a mightier chase,
Or mould on that great Hunting-Ground

Strange calm and peace!—ah, who could deem,
    By this still glen, this lone hill-side,
    How three long summers, in their pride,
Have smiled above that awful Dream?—

Have ever woven a braver green,
    And ever arched a lovelier blue
    Yet nature, in her every hue,
Took color from the dread Unseen.

The haze of Indian Summer seemed
    Borne from far fields of sulphury breath—
    A subtile atmosphere of death
Was ever round us as we dreamed.

The horizon’s dim heat-lightning played
    Like small-arms, still, through nights of drouht,
    And the low thunder of the south
Was dull and distant cannonade.

To us the glory of the gray
    Had still a stranger, stormier dye,
    Remember how we watched the sky
Of many a waning battle day,

O’er many a field of lass or fame—
    How Shiloh’s eve to ashes turned,
    And how Manassas’ sunset burned
Incarnadine of blood and flame.

And how, in thunder, day by day,
    The hot sky hanging over all,
    Beneath that sullen, lurid pall,
The Week of Battles rolled away!

Give me my legions!—so, in grief,
    Like him of Rome, our Father cried—
    (A Nation’s Flower lay down and died
In yon fell shade!)—ah, hapless chief—

Too late we learned thy star!—o’erta’en,
    (Of error or of fate o’erharsh,)
    Like Varus, in the fatal marsh
Where skill and valor all were vain!

All vain—Fair Oaks and Seven Pines!
   A deeper hue than dying Fall
    May lend, is yours!——yet over all
The mild Virginian autumn shines.

And still a Nation’s Heart o’erhung
    The iron echoes pealed afar,
    Along a thousand leagues of war
The battle thunders tossed and flung.

Till, when our fortunes paled the most,
    And Hope had half forgot to wave,
    Her banner o’er the wearied brave—
A morning saw the traitor host

Rolled back o’er red Potomac’s wave,
    And the Great River burst his way!—
    And all on that dear Summer’s Day
Day that our fathers died and gave.

Rest in thy calm, Eternal Right!
    For thee, though levin-scarred and torn,
    Through flame and death shall still be borne
The Red, the Azure, and the White.

We pass—we sink like summer’s snow—
    Yet on the might Cause shall move,
    Though every field a Cannæ prove,
And every pass a Roncesvaux.

Though every summer burn anew
    A battle-summer—though each day
    We bane a new Aceldama,
Or some dry Golgotha re-dew.

And thou, in lonely dream withdrawn!
    What dost thou, while in tempest dies
    The long drear Night, and all the skies
Are red with Freedom’s fiery Dawn!

Behold, thy summer days are o’er—
    Yet dearer, lovelier these that fall
    Wrapped in red autumn’s flag, than all
The green and glory gone before.

’Twas well to sing by stream and sod,
    And they there were that loved thy lays—
    But lo, where, ’neath yon battle-haze,
Thy brothers bare the breast of God!

Reck not of waning force nor breath—
    Some little aid may yet be thine,
    Some honor to the All-Divine,—
To-day, where, by yon River of Death,

His stars on Rosecrans look down—
    Or, on the morrow, by moat and wall,
    Once more when the Great Admiral
Thunder on traitor fleet and town.

O wearied heart! O darkening eye!
    (How long to hope and trust untrue!)
    What in the hurly can ye do?
Little, ’tis like—yet we can die.

This poem is in the public domain.

Spades take up leaves
No better than spoons,
And bags full of leaves
Are light as balloons.

I make a great noise
Of rustling all day
Like rabbit and deer
Running away.

But the mountains I raise
Elude my embrace,
Flowing over my arms
And into my face.

I may load and unload
Again and again
Till I fill the whole shed,
And what have I then?

Next to nothing for weight,
And since they grew duller
From contact with earth,
Next to nothing for color.

Next to nothing for use,
But a crop is a crop,
And who’s to say where
The harvest shall stop?

This poem is in the public domain.