July 14, 2013 in Features

American Life in Poetry

Ted Kooser U.S. poet laureate, 2004-06
 

Here’s an observant and thoughtful poem by Lisel Mueller about the way we’ve assigned human characteristics to the inanimate things about us. Mueller lives in Illinois and is one of our most distinguished poets.

Things

What happened is, we grew lonely

living among the things,

so we gave the clock a face,

the chair a back,

the table four stout legs

which will never suffer fatigue.

We fitted our shoes with tongues

as smooth as our own

and hung tongues inside bells

so we could listen

to their emotional language,

and because we loved graceful profiles

the pitcher received a lip,

the bottle a long, slender neck.

Even what was beyond us

was recast in our image;

we gave the country a heart,

the storm an eye,

the cave a mouth

so we could pass into safety.

Poem copyright 1996 by Lisel Mueller from “Alive Together” (Louisiana State University Press) and reprinted by permission of the publisher. American Life in Poetry is supported by The Poetry Foundation and the English department at the University of Nebraska-Lincoln. We do not accept unsolicited manuscripts.

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