“The Laughter of Women,” by Lisel Mueller


The Laughter of Women

The laughter of women sets fire
to the Halls of Injustice
and the false evidence burns
to a beautiful white lightness

It rattles the Chambers of Congress
and forces the windows wide open
so the famous speeches can fly out

The laughter of women wipes the mist
from the spectacles of the old;
it infects them with a happy flu
and they laugh as if they were young again

Prisoners held in underground cells
imagine that they see daylight
when they remember the laughter of women

It runs across water that divides,
and reconciles two unfriendly shores
like flares that signal the news to each other

What a language it is, the laughter of women,
high-flying and subversive.
Long before law and scripture
we heard the laughter, we understood freedom.


From Alive Together; New and Selected Poems (Louisiana State University Press 1996).

Reprinted by permission of the publisher and available for order here.



Lisel Mueller (1924-2020) was a German-born poet and translator who wrote in English and published her first book of poems, Dependencies, when she was 41. Among her other collections, The Private Life was the 1975 Lamont Poetry Selection, The Need to Hold Still received the 1981 National Book Award, and Alive Together: New & Selected Poemswon the Pulitzer Prize. Her honors also included the Carl Sandburg Award, the Ruth Lilly Prize, and a National Endowment for the Arts fellowship. She lived for years in Lake Forest, Illinois. You can read more of her poems here.


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