American Literature, by Lisel Mueller

Poets and storytellers

move into the vacancies

Edward Hopper left them.

They settle down in blank spaces,


where the light has been scoured and bleached

skull-white, and nothing grows

except absence. Where something is missing,

the man a woman waits for,


or furniture in a room

stripped like a hospital bed

after the patient has died.

Such bereft interiors

are just what they’ve been looking for,

the writers, who come with their baggage

of dowsing rods and dog-eared books,

their uneasy family photographs,


their lumpy beds, their predilection

for starting fires in empty rooms.

From “Alive Together,” by Lisel Mueller (Louisiana State University Press: 223 pp., $23.95). Reprinted by permission. Mueller is the winner of the 1997 Pulitzer Prize in poetry.