Michael Z. Mueller
6AM: THE LIVING ROOM
on the face of my first dog
when we buried her out back.
what my brother's friends called her
when she got too old to run,
and her ribs poked out.
Her name was
BEFORE SHE GOES TO BED
Your mother ain't worth
a damn in the morning
my father tells me.
She stays in bed
a little longer, while
he ties a robe around his
waist, lit cigarette
the only light
inside the house until he
turns on the outside
lights to feed the dogs
and fill the cat bowl-turns
on the TV to check the weather,
then walks to the end
of the driveway in the dark,
picks up the paper,
and walks inside
to a fresh
pot of coffee.
Your mother ain't worth
a damn in the morning,
and she won't deny it,
but he doesn't know
a thing about buttons
and timers and somehow
the coffee maker starts
by itself every morning at 5am
and I've never seen
him smoke in the house
with the sun up.
WHAT'S LEFT OF THE SARGEANT
He left me and my father the name we both go by-
nights that sit on the back porch and stare off into the woods,
and sip bottles back to bed.
He left me a fist-sized gold-plated badge.
It's mine but my father kept it in the top drawer of his dresser,
with green pennies, a broken lighter, nails, dry Skoal cans,
and a faded Polaroid of his sister-
who I reckon got more than he did.
And my father-he left him a crooked shifter
attached to a rusted mint-green John Deere tractor.
Come Sunday morning, we went up to church
and he stayed home.
We pulled back into the yard and there they were-
the steady cough of the engine, dusty fireflies,
the smell of wet onions hanging in the air.
The next day, there it sat- at the end of the driveway,
with a rotting tire sitting on the seat.
The grass grew back and it stayed that way.
AS FAR AS THE FLOOR
I'd find him there
sprawled out on his stomach
pressed white dress shirt half off
yellow tie with blue stripes
he'd gotten for his birthday
knotted up on the side of his neck.
And each time I'd pick him up-
put him in bed where I figured
he was trying to make it.
He found me there
sprawled out on my stomach,
covered in red-labelled glass,
blood and fumes, and fumes
next to the leg of a stool,
with the rest of it leaned
up towards a half
Dragged me to the living
room and told me to keep
away from his tool shed.
ODE TO PABLO NERUDA'S SONNET 17: THANKS FOR EVERYTHING
I found you in a big chain bookstore
under a sign that said Poetry-
a section, I suppose, dedicated to literature such as this;
not under Neruda, but sighing in the L's.
100 Greatest Love Poems Ever Written.
I'll pay 20.98 (after tax) for a leather-
bound journal and give it to Catherine.
Write you, Sonnet 17, somewhere in the back
and read the English translation to her
when I can get her alone.
Now I wonder how many more
were torn to pieces and scattered
over the floor, near trash cans, sharing cracks
with the shards of broken lights bulbs
that stopped glowing white a long time ago.
I love you because I know no other way,
but I'll grow out of it.
I am warning you-
She says she eats the last bite yells to yell steals sheets
blames her mother throws things goes through things things
that are not hers thinks about other people lies
and among other things
shows up without calling does not answer just because that is
what she does would rather quit than lose and is not looking
for much else.
And I say-
I bet that's not the half of it.
UPWARDS OF 100
It's this heat trapped in my jeans
melting through my shirt
that makes me this way-
that makes me still.
Nothing to do but melt the ice
cubes through my forehead
lick the insides of the tray
watch the ceiling fan,
like they do in movies,
around the room.
THE LIMITATIONS OF PRAYER
It is these things that we will always wonder if anyone else know-
That we hope no one will ever know-
That we will never even return to in thought.
These moments that appear once and never again,
These circumstances that presented themselves,
These notions that formed,
These outcomes that resulted,
These things that just happened.
In these things that follow us,
That wake with us, eat with us, sleep with us, age with us, are buried with us-that were better
Left behind the counter.
These are the things that happened that make me so afraid
To talk to God.
STARING AT THE WALL
It's not just that-
that everything's broken- it's that
nothing works. The car won't turn.
The news is fuzzy.
My blurry toes are just feet,
and I'm worried that I won't ever fix these
Crusted something on the micro-
wave plate, but I can
clean that if I want to.
And these knees don't bend;-
and the other side of the room is
too far away.
but what is that anyway, but already here.
YOUR ONLY SHINY THING
THE LIZARD IN THE WASHING MACHINES
MORE LIGHT THAN WE CAN HOLD