People whose lives have been shaped
by history—and it is always tragic—
do not want to talk about it,
would rather dance, give parties
on thrift-shop china. You feel
wonderful in their homes,
two leaky rooms, nests
they stowed inside their hearts
on the road into exile.
They know how to fix potato peelings
and apple cores so you smack your lips.
The words start over again
hold no terror for them.
Obediently they rise
and go with only a rucksack
or tote bag. If they weep,
it’s when you’re not looking.
To tame their nightmares, they choose
the most dazzling occupations,
swallow the flames in the sunset sky,
jump through burning hoops
in their elegant tiger suits.
Cover your eyes: there’s one
walking on a thread
thirty feet above us—
shivering points of light
leap across her body,
and she works without a net.
Lisel Mueller, “Virtuosi” from Alive Together: New and Selected Poems. Copyright © 1996 by Lisel Mueller. Reprinted by permission of Louisiana State University Press.
Source: Alive Together: New and Selected Poems (Louisiana State University Press, 1996)