For A Thirteenth Birthday
You have read War and Peace.
Now here is Sister Carrie,
not up to Tolstoy; still
it will second the real world:
predictable planes and levels,
pavement that holds you,
stairs that lift you,
ice that trips you,
nights that begin after sunset,
four lunar phases,
a finite house.
I give you Dreiser
although (or because)
I am no longer sure.
Lately I have been walking into glass doors.
Through the car windows, curbs disappear.
On the highway, wrong turnoffs become irresistible,
someone else is controlling the wheel.
Sleepless nights pile up like a police record;
all my friends are getting divorced.
Language, my old comrade, deserts me;
words are misused or forgotten,
consonants fight each other
between my upper and lower teeth.
I write "fiend" for "friend"
and "word" for "world",
remember comes out with an "m" missing.
I used to be able to find my way in the dark,
sure of the furniture,
but the town I lived in for years
has pulled up its streets in my absence,
disguised its buildings behind my back.
My neighbor at dinner glances
at his cuffs, his palms;
he has memorized certain phrases,
but does not speak my language.
Suddenly I am aware
no one at the table does.
And so I give you Dreiser,
his measure of certainty:
a table that's oak all the way through,
real and fragrant flowers,
skirts from sheep and silkworms,
no unknown fibers;
a language as plain as money,
a workable means of exchange;
a world whose very meanness is solid,
mud into mortar, and you are sure
of what will injure you.
I give you names like nails,
walls that withstand your pounding,
doors that are hard to open,
but once they are open, admit you
into rooms that breathe pure sun.
I give you trees that lose their leaves,
as you knew they would,
and then come green again.
I give you
fruit preceded by flowers,
Venus supreme in the sky,
the miracle of always
landing on your feet,
even though the earth
rotates on its axis.
Start out with that, at least.
Lisel Mueller's Other Poems
Read this poem in other languages
This poem has not been translated into any other language yet.
Comments about this poem (For A Thirteenth Birthday by Lisel Mueller )
- Finnish, Leslie Philibert
- Life shall turn, hasmukh amathalal
- Introverted Victims, Aisling Chia
- No Sheep to Count, Aisling Chia
- Sunset, Kwai Chee Low
- The Immigrants, Romella Kitchens
- Dream of Music, Kwai Chee Low
- An Ode to Coffee, Kwai Chee Low
- ! Forum Personas (PH Forum Commentary), Alice Vedral Rivera
- Songs and Music, Kwai Chee Low
Poem of the Day
- The Road Not Taken, Robert Frost
- If You Forget Me, Pablo Neruda
- Still I Rise, Maya Angelou
- I Know Why The Caged Bird Sings, Maya Angelou
- Phenomenal Woman, Maya Angelou
- On the Ning Nang Nong, Spike Milligan
- Invictus, William Ernest Henley
- Annabel Lee, Edgar Allan Poe
- Fire and Ice, Robert Frost
- A Thought, Robert Louis Stevenson
(March 26, 1874 – January 29, 1963)
(4 April 1928 - 28 May 2014)
(12 July 1904 – 23 September 1973)
(1 February 1902 – 22 May 1967)
(31 May 1819 - 26 March 1892)
(31 October 1795 – 23 February 1821)
- Heather Burns
Edgar Allan Poe
(19 January 1809 - 7 October 1849)
(10 December 1830 – 15 May 1886)
William Butler Yeats
(13 June 1865 – 28 January 1939)