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Steve Mueske: Two Poems

The Poet Writes About Finding a Lottery Ticket in a Junk Drawer | The Birds at the Grain Elevator

The Poet Writes About Finding a Lottery Ticket in a Junk Drawer

—"NJ Man mails in lottery
ticket in the nick of time"

—Los Angeles Times
Before the poem gets written, he tacks a newspaper clipping with the headline,
"$45,999,999.66 after postage", on his monitor. He looks at it for days, trying

to find a way in, but he's flustered by all the nines. They seem to be marching in a line,
like fascists or chorus girls. It would be nice to begin the poem with the ticket, nestled

among the pizza coupons, recipes, and old batteries, but he fears the ticket would
have to be anthropomorphized, and all he can picture is a fat man in a hammock.

He could, of course, start off with the man who bought the ticket, who walked around
for days, weeks, even months not knowing how rich he really was. But then the poet

wants to know what it was that made the man remember the ticket, and if he'd got any
overdrafts while having the GDP of a small nation at home in his junk drawer. Was it hope?

Fear? Worry? Perhaps it was merely a flash of revelation, as one might have
at the gas station, remembering a load of socks left in the dryer. He could read

the article, of course, but he is a poet, and poets are strange folk. This poet, who believes
in the fortuitous intersection of craft and luck, is no exception. He's a self-made sort of chap

with a history of affectation. More information would only infringe on his right to dream
out loud. "$45,999,999.66 after postage"- that's an awful lot of 9s, and still he hasn't

begun the poem. Perhaps he could try out one of those post-modern poem-about-the-
making-of-a-poem sort of approaches. No, he decides, he doesn't have that sort of skill,

and gets depressed. On the bus ride home, he imagines Billy Collins writing
at his breakfast table and Thomas Lux saving tarantulas in his pool. He is tormented

by the vision of Sharon Old's sister peeing on her, the tyrant. When he gets to the image
of Rilke's panther pacing behind a thousand bars, he is jarred out of his trance. It reminds

him of his own work, in a gray cubicle next to a window that overlooks a dumpster. Once
again, he realizes he's lost track of the subject, a lottery ticket worth 50 million dollars.

50 million dollars—holy shit, that's a lot of scratch, brother. The poet looks at the gray sky
outside the bus window, the very one that's been hectoring him all day, and thinks

about the nature of inspiration. He pulls out his notebook and writes down a list of images.
He titles this list, "Before the poem gets written." Strangely enough, this is the very thing

he needs. It is not long before his hands are fluttering down the page as though searching
for something, a fat ticket, perhaps, lazing in a junk drawer with a glass of rum punch

and a coterie of expired coupons. Meanwhile, the woman on the seat next to him keeps
glancing over, trying to decipher the strange concatenated strings of letters, symbols

and arrows scribbled all over the page. The poet, in too deep, now, to see her wrinkled brow,
senses her stare and wonders if he's making strange noises again, or if he smells bad.

He looks at the page, knowing the trance is broken. Troubled by the sheer amount
of crossed out words, he softly closes his notebook and begins to fantasize about the awards

he will win and the gracious way he will thank the muse. "Yes," he says, "yes" and "yes,"
perhaps a little too loudly, for the woman has turned to look at him again, the woman, that is

who smells like heaven and must dream of a literate lover. "I'm a poet," he explains.
"That's nice," she answers, and secretly rolls her eyes. The poet turns to look out the window,

wondering what there is to eat at home, and if the cat has shit on the rug again. Now,
if only someone would throw him a lifebuoy. He's drowning, too, and all he has are words.

The Birds at the Grain Elevator

Fling the emptiness out of your arms
into the spaces we breathe; perhaps the birds
will feel the air with more passionate flying.

—Rilke, The First Elegy
the birds at the elevator have stopped thinking
altogether, not
that birds are inclined toward thought,
naturally, but I wonder,
watching them given over to the art
of play,
how it is that they can become
a dandelion in the wind
an atomic cloud or a hive of bees
if not for some grander design.

it is
as though this were the very definition of being
alive in the sun
and these shadows,
even these anti-bird dots
cast on long slender silos
wiggle and vibrate
in a frenzy of collapsing and expanding
circles of pleasure.

there is something about freedom here
and something about cycles
and nature
and the impending sense of winter

this is the dance
this is the throb and pulse of the heart
this is the exercise of the chambered muscle and the eye
this is all giving-over-completely-to-the-spirit-of-the-wind.

when one tires,
they all flock to the top and become
an audience eager for entertainment,
while another flock of birds,
mad for flight,
enter the maelstrom
and roll like a wave or a roller coaster eating
up the paint-chipped wooden rails
on that last stomach flipping curve
toward home.

Poet's Biography:
Steve Mueske is the editor of three candles. His poems and stories have appeared in print and online in Water-Stone, ArtWord Quarterly, The Wisconsin Review, The South Dakota Review, Poetry Magazine, ForPoetry, Mobius, SalonDAarte, Southern Cross Review, Carve Magazine, Stagger and elsewhere, with pieces forthcoming in Recursive Angel and Rattle. He makes his home in Burnsville with his wife, two daughters, and two cats. He has an unhealthy addiction to chess and can sometimes be found hurling epithets at his cyber opponents in the wee hours of the morning.

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