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Laura Mullen: California Poets Part 7, Three Poems

Laura Mullen

July 1st, 2024

California Poets: Part VII

Laura Mullen

Three Poems

Void Fill


At rest. Litter. To be

Discarded: the heaped

Packing materials—

Rolled, crumpled—

Scattered across

The floor, rustle

In the draft under

The open window.


I moved. And now

All this is what? Trash

With only a vague re-

Collection of what was

Held in place in the dark:

Some stiff, crinkled

Phrases about…what?

Vanished care, now

Negative space.


Worthless, they still

Seem to be about to try

To say something: Yes

But? Or else (a whisper)—

Was I a forest once?

Crumpled up, and

Flattened out: Was I

A part of something

Larger, gorgeous,

Living and (a breath)—



“When I think of what we

Did for so many years

Just to survive, I shiver,”

Someone murmurs—

I heard my own voice

(This) out of the detritus

Stacked in the corner…

To “rustle” is also

A verb for theft. I saw my-


Self in these wads of dirty

White stuff overflowing

The dumpster: look

At the lined and

Roughly smoothed-

Out skin below my

Chin, around my eyes,

And mouth. Here’s what


I am now on my

Way to the land fill

(Think of a forest): part

Of what served to make

The heft and shift a bit

Less catastrophic,

Pushed into the corners,

Compressed around

Fragilities that seemed

So important, once,

To protect. It makes


Me shiver: I did whatever

I could to make sure what

Mattered stayed intact in

The hectic passage from

One place to the next—

Despite the speed

And roughness

Of the transport...


The arms I used

To hold you now

Hold nothing—I

Wrap the empty air

And careless silence

Around myself.

Modern Poetry


1.      Little bits of hope little bright bits small change


Scattered flashes of light “this” purchase as if

Will change it  will      right     meanwhile


The shut door silence or throb of muted

Into headache bass someone else’s loud


Vivid free anger pounding someone else’s

Hours of starlight you can’t live on that planet


Burning door broken scrolling alone with everyone

“Maybe this” maybe this time maybe this


Glitter sleep thin sorry don’t listen

Toxic neat these white abilities


Pretend to care forget this

Little bright scatter of wishfulness the rest


Of the world exists to support winking

Out “To something else. Its past…” It’s



2.      White Phosphorus Reading by His Own Light


The dark page is the page not

Funded by AIPAC the dark page

“Difficult” is translated from

Arabic the poem is proof

Of a humanity endlessly dis-

Trusted “He knows what it is

That he expects” an occupation

The page which introduces

A new subject is blank or his

Gaze with its delivery

Of weapons empties it the end-

Lessness of our ability to kill

We call “the greenness

of the night” white

phosphorus sticky

hard to extinguish

burns down through

bone and reignites

look realist into

The smoking wound

Where he who still believes

He knows best fathers

Forth a “fusky alphabet”

Of silences



3.      The poem of the money in the act of finding


What will suffice.

Another Art


The art of cleaning isn’t hard to master: so many YouTube videos explain it—right?—

the message is your mess is no disaster.


Clean something every day. Pick up the duster!

Attack the ghostly mice under the bed, and fight

entropy and time to show what you can master.


Then practice cleaning farther, cleaning faster, closets, toilets, minds: any spaces where the light, As we say, don’t...—some dirt can really spell disaster.


I cleaned my mother’s clock and then got trashed, or

polished dusk-tinged memory to gleaming night:

This Life-Changing Magic isn’t hard to master.


We wiped out a few cities, distant ones. And, vaster,

held theft—with murder—up as a God-given right,

clear whatever chaos followed wasn’t our disaster.


And if, in “putting away” and “throwing out,” we gesture

toward prison and the grave, our hands stay lily white.

You see? The art of cleaning isn’t hard to master, though nothing does the trick like (Light it!) a disaster.



Author Bio:

A Rona Jaffe Award recipient and a National Endowment for the Arts Fellow, Laura Mullen’s poetry has been anthologized in collections from Norton, Wesleyan, and elsewhere. Her poetry collections and hybrid-genre works have been published by the University of California Press, FuturePoem, and Otis / Seismicity, and Solid Objects—and elsewhere. Her collaboration with composer Nathan Davis—"a Sound uttered, a Silence crossed"—had its premiere in La Jolla, and has been performed at Notre Dame and Williams College. A collaboration (Verge) with John David O'Brien was published in 2017, and her translation of Veronique Pittolo's Hero was published by Black Square Editions in 2019. Her ninth collection, EtC, was published by Solid Objects in 2023. 


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