The Need to Hold Still

Lisel Mueller • 1980

A couple knock-my-on-my-ass poems that outweigh some of the second-half duds. Mueller has a command of voice — calm, wise, and yearning — that I truly wish I had.



My next poem will be happy, I promise myself. Then you come with your deep eyes, your tall jeans, your narrow hands, your wit, your uncanny knowledge, and your loneliness. All the flowers your father planted, all the green beans that have made it, all the world’s recorded pianos and this exhilarating day cannot change that.
The genre is dead. Invent something new. Invent a man and a woman naked in a garden, invent a child that will save the world, a man who carries his father out of a burning city. Invent a spool of thread that leads a hero to safety, invent an island on which he abandons the woman who saved his life with no loss of sleep over his betrayal. Invent us as we were before our bodies glittered and we stopped bleeding: invent a shepherd who kills a giant, a girl who grows into a tree, a woman who refuses to turn her back on the past and is changed to salt, a boy who steals his brother’s birthright and becomes the head of a nation. Invent real tears, hard love, slow-spoken, ancient words, difficult as a child’s first steps across a room.
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