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By Lisel Mueller

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)

Poet Bio

Lisel Mueller was born in Hamburg, Germany in 1924. She has had a career both writing poetry and translating. She attended the University of Evansville and did her graduate study at Indiana University. She has taught at the University of Chicago, Elmhurst College, and Goddard College. She has also worked at as a social worker, a receptionist and a library assistant.

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