• Leah Mueller

Selected Poems by Leah Mueller


Photo Source: Flickr


Why do you disappear

for days at a time?

My texts go unanswered,

my computer refuses

to speak your name.

You surface later,

ask how I’ve been.

I’ve been waiting

for you to answer

my texts and emails,

but I don’t tell you this:

instead we talk like nothing

is out of the ordinary,

like betrayal doesn’t

lie ahead like an off-ramp

to a ghost town, long since

deleted from the map.

We’re on the highway

for a while longer,

provided I keep

my foot on the gas.

You stare at the center line,

memorize your story

for the third time that day.

The plot is close to perfect

but sometimes you

forget the words.

You vanish, and my calls

and texts go unanswered,

my computer laughs

whenever I check my email.

No one is ever

ready for betrayal,

neither the betrayer

nor the betrayed.

That sucker punch to the gut,

smash and grab of the heart.

Our exit appeared

much sooner than expected.

The objects in my mirror

are already far away,

though you pretended

they were closer.

Why do you disappear

for months at a time?

Weeks stretch ahead

like miles of freeway.

I’ll need to turn around

and find the exit ramp

I forgot to take years ago.

Next time when you appear

at the side of the road,

I’ll remember to keep

both eyes on the center line.


The terror lies inside my own body:

sneak attack of illness, pain’s strike inconvenient, springing like a monster from the depths. Upright, I make plans. For vacations. For dinner. For the rest of the day. Suddenly the wave: age and neglect rise together to engulf everything, render my desires useless.

Ribcage holds fast, clutches anger like a blanket. I never learned how to walk away from explosions, when to catch and release. The face of rage seems kind, benign as it jabs, then comforts. My body only its vessel: growing steadily slower, weaker in the face of oxidation.

I’ll lose the battle eventually. Until then, I assemble my flimsy arsenal of weapons: spring water, the pills I can’t afford without insurance, my bottle of apple cider vinegar. The mother lives at the bottom, promises to be my ally. Not like my mother, who still lives in my left kidney. Not like the sting of my bladder as it releases streams of urine. This mother’s bitterness brings healing, not more of the same. This mother breaks the rage into smaller stones.

My passage of release is narrow, too miniscule for its contents. I will make it wider.

I have always known that water heals everything, yet I deny myself hydration.

That will need to change.

Outside my living room window, groups of children play softball, jog around the bases without effort. They can never imagine how it will feel to turn sixty.

I listen to their swell of voices and remain inside, waiting

patiently for the kidney stone to grant me a second chance, at least for another few decades.


One summer, I painted

the Desiderata on the walls

of a deserted Civil War mansion.

My best friend was visiting

from California. We swam in the pool

and played tennis at the edge of town.

At night I stole furtive glimpses

of her long body, dark hair

piled on top of her head

and carefully secured with bobby pins.

She slept in a folding cot

at the edge of my mattress,

rolling and tossing in the Illinois heat.

We talked feverishly about our virginity--

how we might lose it, and to whom.

She was convinced I’d surrender mine first.

We nabbed containers of powdered paints

from my mother’s kitchen cupboard,

carried warm water in jugs for blocks,

laughing at our cleverness.

The building’s crumbling walls

were defaced with coy obscenities:

“Meet me here at 10 PM.

Wear cut-offs and nothing else.

Blow me.” Carefully, I painted

red and green and brilliant blue

over scrawled pictures of erect penises,

copied words from the sacred text

about disenchanted love, perennial as grass,

and decorated the gaping edges of holes

with flowering vines and sunrises.

My best friend’s artwork

was always more fluid than mine,

her hands steady while she dabbed

a tiny paintbrush on dirty plaster.

As vivid color stretched across the walls,

more girls paraded to the mansion,

carrying brushes, markers and glitter.

Each of us either copied a line

from the text or devised our own quotes.

I branched out to TS Eliot verses,

since I had painstakingly memorized

“The Love Song of J Alfred Prufrock”

several weeks beforehand.

The aged building overflowed with words.

A reporter from the small-town paper

photographed our artwork,

somehow capturing its brightness,

even in black and white.

She took pictures of my friend and me

standing in front of our paintings,

both of us looking solemn and deep.

She asked why we decided

to decorate a decaying house

that had stood abandoned for years.

We wanted to transform ugliness

into beauty, bring dignity back

to the majestic structure.

She nodded at us sagely,

though she didn’t really understand,

and wrote a nice puff piece

that ran two weeks later.

By then, my friend had returned to California.

Two days after the story broke,

I eagerly climbed the broken stairs

to the mansion’s second floor,

but our paintings had been destroyed.

Someone had smashed holes

in the flowers and sunrises,

and written obscenities next to the quotes.

It took great determination

to destroy the work

we had spent so many days creating.

That person needed to bring

a combination of rocks and hammers

to the top of a collapsing staircase

and attack a wall repeatedly.

The colors and words made him furious.

My friend sighed when I told her,

and said, “Well, that’s just how

people are, I guess.” It was easy

for her to be philosophical, since

she was two thousand miles away

and couldn’t see the destruction.

She was always more lucky than I.


I don’t know why people

have so much trouble sleeping.

I could fall asleep

this instant if I wanted.

Instead I am compelled to sit

upright, moving my hands

on cheap plastic keys.

The Sun has emerged

after six months of rain,

but I should still be listening

to soothing roof music. Instead,

Sky shoves hard against my eyes,

demanding wakefulness.

I savor my last minutes in bed,

resent the intrusion of light,

fight the war against inertia.

Blood pressure is always

highest in the morning,

fear piled high like stacks of bills.

Sleep brings respite,

seductive possibility

of second chances. My body

knows it must lie quietly,

allow the darkness to come in:

that dress rehearsal

for letting go of everything.

Leah Mueller is an indie writer from Tacoma, Washington. She is the author of two chapbooks, “Queen of Dorksville” (Crisis Chronicles Press) and “Political Apnea” (Locofo Chaps) and three books, “Allergic to Everything”, (Writing Knights Press) “Beach Dweller Manifesto” (Writing Knights) and “The Underside of the Snake” (Red Ferret Press). Her work appears or is forthcoming in Blunderbuss, Summerset Review, Outlook Springs, Crack the Spine, Pure Slush, Atticus Review, Your Impossible Voice, Sugared Water, and other publications. She was a featured poet at the 2015 New York Poetry Festival, and a runner-up in the 2012 Wergle Flomp humor poetry contest.