Nancy Murphy / Writer

writings and performances by Nancy Murphy

How to Drive Off a Cliff


As you climb the mountainside hugging

the unguarded road, you imagine the worst.

You push on because there is an empty beach

between two rocks calling from the other

side and you want to be alone. You want to feel

honeyed sun on the top of your head as you

watch waves tap out messages on the sand.

You want to break the code. As the car

accelerates, your hands search the stitching

along the wheel, you notice the soft spots,

recall all the miles this body has taken you.

The wine colored mountains your eyes

are following on the horizon recede as you miss

the last turn and start the somersault down.

Nearby sheep graze, one locks eyes with you,

silently asks if there is something you need,

you both know it is too late. You nod

back in gratitude to the animal and let go like

you have just arranged that last pillow before

sleep. In your mouth, a familiar bittersweet,

not unlike that last sip from your morning tea cup,

a mix of milk and leaves and debris at the bottom.


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FATHER (MOTHER)


My father’s hearing is starting to go;

he chooses to miss things, refuses an aid,

doesn’t hear the 2 a.m. phone

call. I am the one who tells him


five hours later, Lee passed in the night.

I am the one who absorbs his shock

and sob. I thought he was prepared

but bad news is like that. She is the second


wife he has survived, the first my mother

twenty-five years ago. When I arrive

at his door that day, we make our usual

resemblance of an embrace,  his eighty-eight


year old frame bent into a C, keeping

his heart from me. We sit side by side on the sofa,

the vintage flowered wallpaper suddenly

alive as if communing with Lee’s wild

 garden outside the front window, the roses


bloom that week. I rub his bony back like

he is my child.  The only other time I saw

him cry, at LAX arrivals,


my daughter three weeks old, my mother

two weeks gone. Me seeing him, him seeing

mine, all that living and dying, all that

unreasonable pain.


I missed my mother’s funeral, too soon

after birth to fly. My father tells me he is the same sad

now as then and I feel betrayed. My parents

married forty-one years, isn’t time how you

measure grief? He writes a eulogy


for Lee, then falters, I agree

to stand in for him. He depends on me

that way.  I take him to doctor appointments,

repeat orders. He does what he likes, ignores


the rule about salt, declines a daily walk.

We know he won’t live forever, but jesus

he has to try. He returns home, lives with my

brother in the old house. Everyone else


helps.  Some days I feel like seaweed

come loose from the ocean floor, unmoored, 

drifting away until you can’t see me.



I am no longer the mother.

No one is the mother now.


Stoneboat Literary Journal: Spring 2019, page 14


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Anniversary


Irish rain chases us around January, climbs

into our bodies seeking warmth. 

Instead of romantic evenings,

we split packs of cough drops, turn

away in the dark; the space between us

thickens with my disappointment, gives me

reason to hold back.


We push forward on this road trip,

Connemara maroon hills bleed

into bright green fields, blue-black

north Atlantic waves. Wildflowers

find footing in forgotten soil.

There is resistance in this land,

survival, a refusal to surrender.


We stop in an ancient village, hold

hands, share a pot of tea. He pours

the milk in, then the tea. He makes mine

first every time. It’s unfair how he does that.

The silence between us softens,

almost like


forgiveness.


Glassworks Magazine – Issuu: Glassworks Fall 2019


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Year of the Snake


some nights when they sleep

he enters the room

comes between them in the bed

there is space enough,

he slides into the warm sheets

slithers over to her side

wraps around her and gently

presses her skin squeezes

the life from her,

threatens her with disaster.


she thinks this is sexy

she has no idea.


the snake stays the night wanting

her dreams, she opens her eyes

early morning   feels around

for something vaguely

unfinished

the way night stories can be,

but he is gone pulled back

to his own bed

his own woman

her thick honey hair and soft hips

waiting, wanting to bear

children, he has

made his choices, he has

spoken his vows.


let’s meet for coffee he says,

that cafe in the hills she says

but they never do.


she rolls onto her side

now listens for the alarm,

when it sings she reaches

her entire body across

the mountain of her man,

she stays there as he

awakens encircles her

she holds on to him

for dear life.


Altadena Poetry Review: Anthology 2017 


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