Mudlark Poster No. 116 (2014)

Rhythm of Delirium
by Roger Mitchell

A Perfect Stranger | Beautiful River | Having to Have
Lesser Stichwort | The Lady in the Liquor Store
Mother, Who Was Everything to Us | Candles

A Perfect Stranger

My exhilaration is always the same
driving down the road. It’s as though
I can finally unfurl  myself
to the weather, the accidents
of happening, like meeting someone—
a perfect stranger will do.
We ask each other how the other is,
and we both say “fine.” We are fine.
It was only a few months back
that I discovered cherry birches.
They grow on my neighbor’s land,
this a neighbor I’ve never met,
and the cherry birch a tree
you might also say I never met,
despite its growing along the path
I walk almost every day.
Cheered forward on the simple business,
the complicated overcoming,
of hours, of days, each one of which
is like no other, each a small grain
of some fortuitous immersion,
we say goodbye, the stranger and I,
not really believing in the strangeness.
It was the leaf of the cherry birch
that made me stop, a lance-like spear tip,
exaggerated shoulders at the stem,
but, too, its slenderness and the dark,
shiny, “nearly black, smooth” bark,
as D.C. Peattie describes it
in his book on eastern trees.
OK, immersion, but in what?
Air seems a likely substance, air
that is everywhere, even the ground,
under the ground, where it is pressed
tight to a leaf, a molecule of water,
the shadow of a perfect thought.
The cherry birch “loves the ancient
forest loam, likes to have lady fern
and maidenhair around its feet.”
A perfect stranger, it’s leafless now.
Along its branches the swelling starts.

Beautiful River

One day a man pulled up alongside me,
anonymous at seventy miles an hour.
I was flying down the interstate, full
of a misery I couldn’t name or find a way
to shake. He cut in front of me, so close
I added curses on him to the ones
I was casting wetly to the world at large
from my tiny red Toyota. In Ohio
on the interstate, somewhere in the lull
of the landscape between Columbus 
and Dayton, corn on every side, the flag
of my personal self-regard flew upside
               It may not be clear, but I don’t want
this to be about me. It was in Ohio,
after all. Beautiful river, the natives,
the ones we shoved aside, once called it.

Everyone knows we’re not paying attention
to our own demise. Or, we are, but we don’t
know what to do, what to keep or throw out.
But the man who pulled up alongside me
at seventy miles an hour and then drove
directly in front of me, looking at me
in his rear-view mirror, smiling at me,
took the self right out of me, spoke to it
in a language now native to this place,
one conducted solely with the face, 
and then gave it back about ten miles later
when he sped up and disappeared.
merde, I probably said, to all that corn
by the side of the road. We are not that
far away from whatever we can’t seem
to locate in our language, though I couldn’t
come up with it then and still can’t. What is
human concern for itself as the other 
called these days, flashed by rear-view mirror
at speeds approaching a gale force wind?
Beautiful river, maybe. Holy merde. 

Having to Have

Messy thing, the self. One has to have one.
I watched someone have hers taken away.
It took years. She had to watch, too, from inside.
When the body decides to open
the spigots, release the crystals, one can,
at the least, talk to it, call it by name.
But when the mind begins to leak, loses
its lover, the tongue, yet forces one to watch,
the best she can be is tolerated,
or worse yet, wept on like an open grave.
We buried her above ground, as if to say,
you may not have her, who did not save her,
though who we were talking to, it wasn’t clear,
and couldn’t be reached or even named.

                            In memoriam B.C.G.		

Lesser Stichwort

Little flower that eludes my brain,
you’re the one my mind can’t hold the name of
more than a week or so,
not much longer than you hold on to life.
Every year you die,
and every year your name dies in my mind.
In spring I see you floating over the grass again
like stars in a first universe,
the one just up from mud.
Forgive me for having to look you up again.
Memory’s enemy or her consolation,
I’m not sure which,
reminding us that once
there was nothing to remember,
no name, no book. 
Everything was everything back then.

The Lady in the Liquor Store

I saw her at the clinic first,
trying not to see me. Perhaps,
like me, trying not to be there, 
where they don’t hesitate to blurt
out which bit of your wiring sizzled, 
which chip blew. Someone has moved
into the empty house next door,
except that it’s not next door. It’s
downstairs, the attic, the basement.
A bat got in at dusk. Even 
it doesn’t like it here, hangs up
behind a curtain or bright mirror.
Maybe if you don’t breathe, it will
do what you want it to, not say
anything, pretend it isn’t
frightened, small, here, a living thing.
Hello again, I said. She smiled,
fist locked on the neck of a bottle.

Mother, Who Was Everything to Us

and made us feel that nothing could come near
that we would not be able to describe
or talk to, catch the rhythm of in phrase
or look, and charmed even the stoniest
reluctance out of its hole, but with a glance 
of disapproval threw over any
uncareful inclinations common to dogs
and children a pall. For them she had great fear
that they might never know the mystery
she made apparent only. Once, though, she broke
her own rules, spoke roughly of one she loved.
The broken child she must have known herself
came back, and though it sent itself away,
as a mother might, we said, no, no, come back. 
But it had no place to be in that world.


The last few leaves cluster at the top
of the highest branches of the poplars
like shivering immigrants
waiting for the last ferry to take them
off the island, except that the next thing 
is the sky, which is deep, 
and the ferry might not come,
and so they will have to swim.
They are not sure they know how,
and so make a small flame
at the top of the tree waving
stiff little village handkerchiefs
to the rhythm of delirium.

Roger Mitchell is the author of eleven books of poetry, most recently The One Good Bite in the Saw-Grass Plant. His new and selected poems, Lemon Peeled the Moment Before, was published by Ausable Press in 2008. The University of Akron Press published his two previous books, Half/Mask, in 2007, and Delicate Bait, which Charles Simic chose for the Akron Prize, in 2003. Mitchell spent the largest part of his working life in southern Indiana where he directed the Creative Writing Program at Indiana University and for a time held the Ruth Lilly Chair of Poetry. Other recognition for his writing includes the Midland Poetry Award, the John Ben Snow Award for Clear Pond, a work of non-fiction, two fellowships each from the Indiana Arts Commission and the National Endowment for the Arts, the River Styx International Poetry Award, and Ren Hen Press’s Ruskin Art Club Award. He was a 2005 Fellow in Poetry from the New York Foundation for the Arts. Recently he completed a biography of the Indiana years of the poet Jean Garrigue. He and his wife, the fiction writer Dorian Gossy, live in Jay, New York. You can catch up and keep up with Roger Mitchell at You can order his books there too.

Copyright © Mudlark 2014
Mudlark Posters | Home Page