Poems by Leah Mueller

“Rituals of Gravity”
             By Leah Mueller

“Fruit! Fruit!”

screamed my toddler son
from the back seat of
our 23-year-old Volvo.

The car barely ran,
but every day I drove it
from Port Orchard to Seattle

and back again, to work
for minimum wage
in a posh daycare center.

The pastel classroom
overflowed with the spoiled
children of downtown yuppies
who made more in a month
than I did all year.

Near the Narrows Bridge
stood Tacoma Boys—
a cavernous warehouse filled
with discount fruits and vegetables.

High above the building,
an apple-shaped helium balloon
twisted and swayed
in the chilly breeze.

Someone had painted
a cheerful but demonic smile
across its vinyl surface.

When we reached the bridge,
my son always hollered,

“Don’t fall in!”

It was our ritual.

Each evening, we floated
above the world,
yet gravity held us together.

One day, the apple disappeared.
The sky hung vacant, fruitless,
as we waited for a replacement.

Our journey became ordinary
and devoid of fruit magic,
yet even now, I keep
looking for that balloon.

“The Great Equalizer”
             By Leah Mueller

Sometimes, breakfast
is too difficult. Chewing seems
a useless ordeal. All that movement,
and for what? Liquid meals
are meant for the elderly,

yet I love smoothies—thick,
creamy concoctions with
broccoli greens, spirulina,
fresh fruit and almond milk.

I feel superior to folks who
start each day with an Egg McMuffin,
but I’m not supposed to admit it.

Like everyone else, I am
shoring a collapsing building,
propping myself up with vitamins

for a few more years. In the end,
the smoothie and the McMuffin folks
will lie down in the same trenches.
Meanwhile, we all need to eat breakfast.

“Outside the Cage”
             By Leah Mueller

My mother’s favorite polar bear
sat on an artificial iceberg
surrounded by bags of popcorn,
half-eaten hot dogs, and candy wrappers.

She always bought an ice cream bar
for the bear, who looked baffled
by the proliferation of gifts,
stacked in front of him
like a perpetual holiday.

In 1965, nobody knew
about animal welfare, or nutrition.

When you went to the zoo,
you brought treats for the animals,
like you were visiting friends at lunchtime.

My mother didn’t care whether the bear
ate the ice cream in her presence
or saved her gift for later—lapping
chocolate remnants from concrete,
savoring melted vanilla on his
firehose of a tongue.

Five years later, the rules changed,
and no one could feed the animals anymore.

It seemed cruel to deprive them
of junk food—just another sign
that the world was becoming authoritarian,
and of course it was, but in ways
that had nothing to do with ice cream.

The polar bear never noticed
the absence of treats. Gliding
through ice water, he pretended to fish,
then climbed to his perch and basked
in the radiant Chicago sunshine.

If he dreamt of Arctic landscapes,
he gave no indication.

The bear lived in a world beyond
the confines of cages, but those
on the outside never learned how.

- Leah Mueller’s work appears in Rattle, NonBinary Review, Brilliant Flash Fiction, Citron Review, The Spectacle, New Flash Fiction Review, Atticus Review, Your Impossible Voice, etc. She has been nominated for Pushcart and Best of the Net. Leah appears in the 2022 edition of Best Small Fictions and was nominated for the 2024 edition. Her two newest books are The Failure of Photography (Garden Party Press, 2023) and Widow’s Fire (Alien Buddha Press, 2023). Website 

Copyright©2024 by Leah Mueller. All Rights Reserved.