Sign cover photo
  • Series: New Series 20
  • ISBN-13: 978-0-916272-96-8
  • ISBN-10: 0-934103-96-9
  • Pages: 96
  • Size: 6 x 8 x 3.25 in
  • Price: $17.50


David Mutschlecner

Sign both evokes the prophecy of an endgame and posits the possibility of enduring aspiration. Contextualized within the sacred, the sparse verse of Sign illuminates the fall of man and the repercussive realities that cloak the contemporary apocalyptic psyche, both public and personal. Steeped not so much in religion as it is in reckoning, Mutschlecner assigns gravity and a well-tempered philosophy to every word with a language that constantly contends with truth.

“The good and gladsome news in Mutschlecner’s Sign is that the ceremonies of innocence are not drowned. Rather they enjoy a continuous, lucent transformation in poems such as these. Sign is a kinetic missal of new faith and new perfections.” —Donald Revell

from “Gatherings at the Cusp”




Running through the graveyard

I saw the fanning form

of the phoenix in broken

pine sprays. And in an oil stain

a raven. Ah,

a strange place of signification.

Dreamless daylight,

Steubenville, Ohio.

It was no accident

that on that run

you hurt your hip,

and will not run again.

The wind will blow

from other lips.

You will not escape from this

so easily.




Brandon died from Ocean

as if he could see the waves

from here. In the highway’s

concrete caves,

dozens of old cans

of Aqua Net,

the dispensers bit off.

The muffled ache came clear

under the wailing headlights.

Springtime offers pasques

and autumn purple asters

wild and sudden and still

on the highway’s

dirty embankments.




I saw Eric

by Stoute’s Creek

living where

the road goes

under the water

and rises

to the next hill.

He smiled at me,

the long

cancer gone

from his body.

I forgive

you the turning

when we

were twelve

and friend-

ship starved.


Copyright © 2007 by David Mutschlecner

“Things are eroded down to the bare bone of the eye and mind: ‘Eidetic / steps / the eye / ascends.’ The line is the mind moving with deliberation, calculation. Absence is signified everywhere—from the body of his magnificent whale-like something scattered across the landscape to the gutted skulls that litter ‘The Night Watch’ and ‘In Nebuchadnezzar’s Dream.’ There is an admirable hardness to Mutschlecner’s lines, a refusal to make easy meaning, and, indeed, poems such as ‘The Night Watch’ end evocatively: ‘Ask the skull a question / All hold Golgotha in their hands’ (7) . . . . Consisting of mostly long poems divided into numbered sections, Sign invites the reader to encounter it less as a collection of discreet poems and more as a unified whole. And there is a general movement from the absences of the first section to the stirrings of grace in the third. . . . Mutschlecner is always careful and spare—admirable qualities in any poet.” —from the review in Phoebe by Joe Hall


“In the end, Sign is a personal take on theology—a way to make religion as natural and important as breathing. In ‘In Nebuchadnezzar’s Dream,’ Mutschlecner gives us this definition:

Philosophy: flour
blown into the face
of the starving man
who asked for bread.

Fortunately, Sign is much more substantial a meal.” —from the review in Rain Taxi by John Findura

David Mutschlecner author photoI grew up in Bloomington, Indiana. I have a B.A. in English from Indiana University and an M.A. in Liberal Arts from St. John’s College in Santa Fe, New Mexico. New Mexico has been my home for the last twenty years. I earn my bread in the grocery business; I feel the limits of this even as I write it. I suspect there is, for many of us, a fairly marked distinction between how we make a living and how we live in our hearts and minds. I like to think of vocation as a self-communication: what do we speak out into the world; what is it that our lives give expression to? Of course work cannot be divorced from this, but work is a small part of it; the circumscribing issue for me is poetry. My areas of interest make odd bedfellows: Thomist metaphysics voiced through Projectivism; the poets of the San Francisco Renaissance inscaped through Gerard Manley Hopkins; Roman Catholic theology expressed in contemporary art. Poetry as a breath of the Spirit goes where it wills. The free mind of the poet does the same.

One of my favorite thought-rhymes in poetry is between Walt Whitman and Robert Duncan.

Whitman: There was never any more inception than there is now.

Duncan: There is no way that daily I have not been


The admission is all.

It is in the posture of initiation that we realize inception is now. In the posture of first discoveries we find that the world is being created now. On our knees in wonder we know the eternally fresh work of the Holy Spirit. This is the posture of initiation, and its admission is indeed all, for through this posture the world in all its newness greets us. As initiates, we see that love and language come together at once; the origin of one is the origin of the other: “In the beginning was the Word.” A poetry of theophany is a poetry that embraces the thought-rhyme between Whitman and Duncan; this is the poetry I aspire toward in Sign.

Sign is divided into three sections: the biblically prophetic, the personal, and the experimental. The biblically prophetic voice is a springboard to speak into the present. These poems are, therefore, only reservedly persona poems. The ancient prophet is, again, charged with time: the metaphysical becomes existential. In the last poem of this first part, “The Angel,” the existential becomes the platonic; the speaker assumes a rather timeless, hierarchic voice. But here, as in all the poems of the first part, the effort is to shine a light, not to impose an alien form. The second grouping, a sequence called “Gatherings at the Cusp,” is more immediately my own personal voice. At times these poems seem (to me) to be knots of language that contend for the truth. But adversarial elements are harmonized by the spiritual, are inscaped through Mary in her manifestation as the Virgin of Guadalupe. The third grouping broaches, toward the end, upon concrete poetry. I am pleased that these most overt religious poems are also the most experimental. Here I want words to function physically (actually, I always want this) so that spacings present a real place, a real parting in space, for the healing Spirit. I want the poem to be a ground for sacred action. In this way “Poems for the Feast of Corpus Christi” are efforts of aspiration.

That poetry aspires is crucial to me, is absolutely central to the very idea of what poetry is. The transcendental aspects of the human person—goodness, truth, and beauty—would be unavailable without this atmosphere of aspiration whereby we live and breathe and move. Paradise is pivotal to this—the dream of Paradise, the final cause.