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When I Am Asked

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When I am asked   
how I began writing poems,   
I talk about the indifference of nature.   

It was soon after my mother died,   
a brilliant June day,   
everything blooming.   

I sat on a gray stone bench   
in a lovingly planted garden,   
but the day lilies were as deaf   
as the ears of drunken sleepers   
and the roses curved inward.   
Nothing was black or broken   
and not a leaf fell   
and the sun blared endless commercials   
for summer holidays.   

I sat on a gray stone bench   
ringed with the ingenue faces   
of pink and white impatiens   
and placed my grief   
in the mouth of language,   
the only thing that would grieve with me.

Lisel Mueller, "When I am Asked" from Alive Together: New and Selected Poems. Copyright © 1996 by Lisel Mueller.  Reprinted by permission of Louisiana State University Press.
Source: Alive Together: New and Selected Poems (Louisiana State University Press, 1996)

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This poem originally appeared in the October/November 1987 issue of Poetry magazine

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When I Am Asked

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