In memory of my parents

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.

Note to Poetry Out Loud students: This poem begins with an epigraph that must be recited. Omitting the epigraph will affect your accuracy score.
  • 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)

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