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PETER MURPHY: 5 POEMS

SCHOOL | THE PERFORMANCE | JACKPOT: ATLANTIC CITY
| MISS BESIEGED SARAJEVO | THE STUBBORN CHILD

Peter Murphy
[Photo Credit: Kit Frost ©1999]

Peter Murphy was born in Wales and grew up in New York City where he operated heavy equipment, managed a night club, and drove a cab. His poems have appeared in numerous journals including The Anglo-Welsh Review, The Atlanta Review, The Beloit Poetry Journal, Commonweal, The New York Quarterly, The New York Times, Witness, and Yellow Silk. His essays and reviews have been published in The American Book Review, The Corporation for Public Broadcasting Teachers, Digest, The Shakespeare Quarterly, The Teachers & Writers Guide to Frederick Douglass, World Order and elsewhere. He is a consultant to the Geraldine R. Dodge Foundation's poetryprogram and has been an educational advisor to five PBS television series on poetry including "Fooling with Words" with Bill Moyers which was recently broadcast. Murphy has received awards and fellowships for writing and teaching from The New Jersey State Council on the Arts, the Corporation of Yaddo, The Folger Shakespeare Library, The National Endowment for the Humanities, The Virginia Center for the Creative Arts, and the White House Commission on Presidential Scholars. In addition, he was the first recipient of the Robert Hayden Poetry Fellowship at the LouhelenBahá'í School in 1986. Murphy lives with his wife and daughter, a mile downwind from Atlantic City where he teaches English and creative writing at the local high school. He is the founder/director of the Winter Poetry & Prose Getaway, held annually in Cape May.

SCHOOL

She makes it through history before her water breaks

in science, is refused a pass, so she runs

to the girls' room with the teacher chasing,

calling for security.

 

Giving birth in a corridor, she can't be moved,

so they hold the bell to keep the hallway traffic

from grid-locking around her.

There are fights that want to break out

that will have to wait, and drills

and quizzes and experiments with fire,

and the rolling tongues of thirty odd languages.

The pressure of blood surges through arteries

as the load listens to gravity, drops

from the girl's belly.

 

She lies on the floor while a tribe of administrators

holds her hand, braces her head, catches the crown

of this new child that they must take in,

who has shown up crying, unregistered, and without ID.

[published in Spelunker Flophouse, Winter © 1998]

THE PERFORMANCE

 

When the biologist came to lecture the class

of substance abusers, he brought with him

a smelly bucket of human brains to use as a prop.

Firm as small basketballs bloated with formaldehyde,

the brains swarmed together in their sea of preservatives.

When the professor picked one up and passed it

around, some refused to touch it, backed away

as if they would catch on fire.

When he lifted another that was slit in half, he joked

about schizophrenia, got serious about trauma,

strokes, other accidents that shut down the traffic

between the two hemispheres.

 

The students were quiet, sober. Even the shortest

attention span endured the lecture, absorbed the warnings.

When he asked for questions, the students said nothing.

The brains were also silent.

They were too exhausted from their day at school.

They wanted nothing but to drift like fat carp.

No more handling by the living, the at risk, the addicted.

They wanted to be left alone, to kick off their shoes,

to have a brewskie, and go back to sleep.

[published in Witness, Vol. XII, #1, ©1998]

JACKPOT: ATLANTIC CITY

 

The man who exposed himself stood like daybreak

in the hotel window overlooking the Boardwalk.

He had lost everything in the grand casino before his arrest.

The dealer warned him not to touch the cards,

but the man persisted, rubbed the tips

of his fingers over the laminated queen,

the reluctant deuce, one last chance to beat the house.

 

The man who exposed himself doubled down,

blew his hand and was broke. He tossed his last chip

to the dealer, left the gaming hall for his room

where he removed his clothes and pressed himself

against the cold glass.

 

As the sun rose, the man who exposed himself

touched its ruby crown, shuffled his deck and dealt himself

a winning hand, a hand so full, the cop who came

to pick him up muttered to his partner, Jesus!

He must have been holding it in for years.

[published in Many Mountains Moving, Fall ©1998]

MISS BESIEGED SARAJEVO

(May, 1993)

 

Imela Nogic, 17, blonde and shrapnel scarred, embraces

her runners up and smiles a flare-bright smile.

Although she has won, she is afraid her boyfriend

will think her dirty for prancing in the swimsuit.

Although she has won, she is afraid.

 

Imela Nogic, 17, would love to compete for Miss World,

if only her boyfriend and her father would not object,

if only she could leave her city of snipers and shells.

She carries no flowers as she limps down the runway.

She unveils a banner, "Don't Let Them Kill Us!

 

Imela Nogic, 17, says "Plans? I have no plans.

I may not even be alive tomorrow. Behind her,

judges sit with Uzis between their legs.

They have no talent to decide in Sarajevo, no evening gown.

No prize. The audience breaks into silence.

[published in Commonweal, October 24, 1997]

THE STUBBORN CHILD

--after Grimm

 

His mother had taken him into her grave

where he continued to fidget. Quiet down,

she yelled, or we'll get no peace here too.

But his arms kept lifting and falling

and his legs moved back and forth in perpetual dance.

 

The boy wanted to please his mother who loved him,

who always gave him the best of what she had.

But he could not find comfort in her grave

and continued to maunder through those sleepless years,

his skinny chest surging as if it were still a home to breath.

 

You're not dead yet, are you little boy? she screamed

and smacked him with her bony hand and chased him

with a kitchen knife around their small compartment.

She shoved him with her thin right arm so hard

he popped right out of the grave

 

he had been trying to live in, and lay weak,

half blind and covered with earth.

The dead smells on his skin made the small boy dizzy.

When he tried to walk, he fell, and he cried

each day for years to live without stumbling.

 

He does not mention any of this to his daughter

who sleeps her stubborn sleep each night

as he stands in her room and prays through her

restless years, waving his arms above her,

sweeping and stirring the immaculate air.

[published in The Beloit Poetry Journal, Winter 1990/1991]

5 poems Copyright © 1999 by Peter Murphy. All rights reserved.

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