American Life in Poetry

by Ted Kooser, U.S. Poet Laureate, 2004-2006

The Illinois poet, Lisel Mueller, is one of our country's finest writers, and the following lines, with their grace and humility, are representative of her poems of quiet celebration.

In November

Outside the house the wind is howling

and the trees are creaking horribly.

This is an old story

with its old beginning,

as I lay me down to sleep.

But when I wake up, sunlight

has taken over the room.

You have already made the coffee

and the radio brings us music

from a confident age. In the paper

bad news is set in distant places.

Whatever was bound to happen

in my story did not happen.

But I know there are rules that cannot be broken.

Perhaps a name was changed.

A small mistake. Perhaps

a woman I do not know

is facing the day with the heavy heart

that, by all rights, should have been mine.

 

Reprinted from Alive Together: New and Selected Poems, Louisiana State University Press, 1996, by permission of the author. Poem copyright 1996 by Lisel Mueller. This weekly column is supported by the Poetry Foundation, the Library of Congress and the Department of English at the University of Nebraska-Lincoln. This column does not accept unsolicited poetry.

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