Now we will count to twelve
and we will all keep still.
For once on the face of the earth,
let’s not speak in any language;
let’s stop for one second,
and not move our arms so much.
It would be an exotic moment
without rush, without engines;
we would all be together
in a sudden strangeness.
Fisherman in the cold sea
would not harm whales
and the man gathering salt
would look at his hurt hands.
Those who prepare green wars,
wars with gas, wars with fire,
victories with no survivors,
would put on clean clothes
and walk about with their brothers
in the shade, doing nothing.
What I want should not be confused
with total inactivity.
Life is what it is about;
I want no truck with death.
If we were not so single-minded
about keeping our lives moving,
and for once could do nothing,
perhaps a huge silence
might interrupt this sadness
of never understanding ourselves
and of threatening ourselves with death.
Perhaps the earth can teach us
as when everything seems dead
and later proves to be alive.
Now I’ll count up to twelve
and you keep quiet and I will go.
—from Extravagaria (translated by Alastair Reid, pp. 27-29, 1974)
Via On Being
By Kelsey Block
“Even if there was a tornado outside, nothing could keep me from sharing the work of Lisel Mueller.”
Linda Nemec Foster, Grand Rapids poet, joined the Center for Poetry during the annual Read a Poet, Write a Poem workshop. Foster studied under German-born Poet Lisel Mueller as a master’s student at Goddard College in Vermont in the 1970s. Since then, Foster has published several books of poetry; her most recent is Talking Diamonds: Poems.
Participants in the workshop read excerpts from Mueller’s book and composed poems emulating her style.
Center for Poetry Director Anita Skeen said she loves to teach Mueller’s work.
“You can explain everything you need to know about poetry using Lisel Mueller,” she said.
Haeja K. Chung, a regular participant in Center for Poetry events, feels the beauty of Mueller’s work lies in its accessibility. “She speaks to me, she speaks for me, she inspires me to write,” Chung said.
The title poem of Mueller’s book, “Alive Together,” captures her unique humanitarian consciousness, Chung added, saying that “Mueller is a poet without borders of any kind.”
Former U.S. Poet Laureate and Pulitzer Prize winner Philip Levine recently passed away. Born and raised in Detroit, much of his work centers around the reality of blue-collar work and workers, and he was dedicated to “find[ing] a voice for the voiceless.” Today, we celebrate this exemplary Michigan poet and present “Belle Isle, 1949″ as our Poem of the Week.
Belle Isle, 1949
by Philip Levine
We stripped in the first warm spring night
and ran down into the Detroit River
to baptize ourselves in the brine
of car parts, dead fish, stolen bicycles,
melted snow. I remember going under
hand in hand with a Polish highschool girl
I’d never seen before, and the cries
our breath made caught at the same time
on the cold, and rising through the layers
of darkness into the final moonless atmosphere
that was this world, the girl breaking
the surface after me and swimming out
on the starless waters towards the lights
of Jefferson Ave. and the stacks
of the old stove factory unwinking.
Turning at last to see no island at all
but a perfect calm dark as far
as there was sight, and then a light
and another riding low out ahead
to bring us home, ore boats maybe, or smokers
walking alone. Back panting
to the gray coarse beach we didn’t dare
fall on, the damp piles of clothes,
and dressing side by side in silence
to go back where we came from.
Via Poetry Foundation