Distant Possessions
(William Frederick Mueller, 1879-1955)
                                        The Philippines have about seven and a half millions of people, composed of races 
                                        bitter hostile to one another, ignorant of our language and institutions. Americans 
                                        cannot be grown there.
                                            —Andrew Carnegie, “Distant Possessions—The Parting of the Ways”


1. Birth


in the birth certificate there is no name only silence
beside FULL NAME AT BIRTH there is no name 
on Sep 30, 1879 a boy was born in Quincy, Illinois
the mother was 33 occupation silence her name
was Louise Berner (sic) the father was 34 he was
an Agent his name was Reinholt (sic) Muller his color was white



2. The Burning

                                        Largely comprised of language from The Quincy Whig (August 5, 1881) 
                                        and The Quincy Daily Herald (August 6, 1881)


The night before your mother died,
a meteor hurtled through the sky.
Trailing a blaze of varied hues,
it was witnessed all over the city.

A meteor hurtled through the sky.
She did not see it, though
it was witnessed all over the city.
She burned with fever, till she no longer did.

She did not see it, though:
the Mississippi, inches above the low water mark.
She burned with fever, till she no longer did.
The Singleton Park races were red hot sport.

The Mississippi, inches above the low water mark.
The sun roasted people caught on the levee.
The Singleton Park races were red hot sport.
The people were waiting for rain.

The sun roasted people caught on the levee.
The flouring mills ran night and day. 
The people were waiting for rain.
She was an estimable lady, they all said.

The flouring mills ran night and day.
Girls in pink bloomed throughout the city.
She was an estimable lady, they all said.
What do you remember from that night?

Girls in pink bloomed throughout the city,
trailing a blaze of varied hues.
What do you remember from that night,
the night before your mother died?



3. Photograph of William Frederick Mueller

                                                Germany, 1884


Beside his seated Aunt Marie he stands,
not quite five, in a dark, buttoned dress
and black tights customary for this time;
his eyes drawn, not to the camera and its curious lens,

but to some object or person to its side—
a bag? a doll? a door? his Uncle Gustav?—
a thing of sudden import, like a stream
the moment it swerves from a river, carves its own path. 

His father lies a continent away,
newly wed, his first wife—William’s mother—
three years in the grave. We don’t know why
this boy crossed the ocean without his father,

only that in a few weeks he will sail 
back home aboard the Fulda with his aunt. 
Now his hand seeks shelter in her hands
afloat the swirling flounces of her dress.



4. The Crossing

                                                1900

at ease
Pacific
the waves

the setting sun
a ripe 
dangling

fruit
come let us
catch it

with our transport 
pacify
our hunger



5. The Dance


Her fiancé (name lost) said he wouldn’t go, that he felt ill.
She wanted to dance that night 
before an audience of stars,
her hair a plume, her brown hands soft as wings.

She wanted to dance. That night,
a private dressed in uniform
saw her plume-like hair, her brown hands soft as wings
but didn’t approach, simply stared.

The private—gringo, shy—and his uniform
must have caught her eye
though he didn’t approach, simply stared:
the story I imagine has them dancing arm-in-arm.

Was it his white skin that caught her eye?
What words did they exchange that night?
That night they dance arm-in-arm
while her fiancé spies on them, like the elders in Susanna’s story.

The words are lost that were exchanged that night
before an audience of stars.
He spies on their dance in each version of the story,
waves rippling through time beginning with one lie. 



6. William’s Daughter Louisa Writes about an Interesting Experience

                                                Found in a composition dated July 25, 1924


Longing to go to Iloilo to see Papa. 
One day Mama said we would go.
I thought we would be tossed around
by big waves, that I would see nothing
but the blue sky and green sea around me.
Instead the sea was as calm as glass
save for the little waves the boat made.

When we got to Iloilo, of course Daddy
was the first one who met us. This place
suited my health, for in a month I gained
about four kilos. I was sorry when
mother said we would start for home
in the morning.
                        On our return home
the sea was rough and stormy. Seasick,
I could not see past the sheets of rain.
 
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