Nancy Murphy / Writer

writings and performances by Nancy Murphy

Summers of College


In summers of college I carried

trays of food or two coffee cups

in one hand or four platters

up my arm. A short polyester tan

colored uniform melted

to my newly bloomed body as I pinballed

around the packed Pennsylvania diner

from table to minestrone soup

to rice pudding, and finally

to the narrow opening of counter

where the club sandwich platters

appeared with young Greek

cooks holding on to one end only

releasing when I made eye

contact, wolves hungry for American

girls. Those days I blushed easily

but no one noticed, the kitchen

was always steaming, the heat

made us all a little uncivilized.


Sitting at the counter Eddie watched

me as I poured his coffee, called me

college girl, tried to tease a smile.

His truck driver compact body, black

curly hair and warm browns

for eyes, a slight chip on a front

tooth. He knew it

was a summer thing, picking me

up in his car the size of Montana

taking me nowhere and everywhere.

The slide into heat and sweetness like

the slowest quicksand. He knew

there is a time and there is a place

for some things and they don’t

go beyond that, as if surrounded

by barbed wire, electrified. He knew

he would not be visiting me

in the fall at the liberal

arts college in upstate NY.

I sensed he was right but argued

anyway, like a child that just has

to ask. But anything

less seemed cruel.


Altadena Poetry Review: Anthology 2018






airport saturday night 7:45 pm


like a hospital waiting room, airport departure wings are full of

small talk and long silences and what sits underneath.  I see

parents sitting on either side of me at the gate

philadelphia, back when you could do that kind of thing

i always protested

they always insisted.


now I follow my honey blonde college girl around

bradley international terminal, clinging to the

seconds before she succumbs to security,

asking questions that don’t matter with urgency

do you have something to read?

she raises her hand slightly to stop me, blinks affirmatively.


we’ve already said as much as could be said

considering. she is the age when I started to

know myself. I remember so well I think

she is me, when she lets me into her worries

I remember too well: we share the same nervous system,

I feel her burdens like they are my own

mostly I am relieved she trusts me again,

I am redeemed after the silent years, the secret

years, the scary years.


north gate now, I let her release me first from

our embrace, our parting words stumble out jaggedly


then I watch as she moves forward into the jaws

of the larger world,  she doesn’t turn back

until the last second, knows I wait for this

final crumb–the one who leaves has all the power–

she raises her hand birdlike and smiles without teeth, but her eyes dance

when I play my part as the pursuing suitor waving with all of me,

I watch the hem of her trench coat follow her around the corner.


Altadena Poetry Review: Anthology 2017





A Midtown Street, Thursday 2:30 pm


Today I passed the middle of my life exactly.

It’s my call: we all pick our time of death.

It struck me undeniably like the way some

know the death of a loved one or that

they have cancer. I am Janus

looking forward and backward, sad for

what I leave, yet pulled ahead to what is

possible. Some things just can’t be transferred.


How to mark this midpoint, to linger

and savor or rush through so as not

to get caught up in the fabrics

in the doorway between then and now.


If your only fault is that I may never write

a poem about you, well, that may be

surmountable. You may have other things

I need. I need help crossing this street,

I fear carnage. Do this one thing and I

will stay in your bed all night even when

I want to roam at three a.m., find my keys

and cry in the car, missing the one before

the one who changed me irreversibly

who bound me to him with secrets.

I know it will fade, everything fades

and everything is permanent. Everything.


Eclipse, A Literary Journal, Volume Fourteen, Fall 2003





Baby Love

The large coach bus pulls into Framingham station and I’m excited. I lived in this town from ages 1 to 4 and I’ve never been back. But I remember it vividly, the layout of our house, the picture window to the left of the front door where my mother combed my hair while my friend waited outside. I remember the kitchen fire, the little bus to preschool, the fall in the sandbox, which was quickly followed by my mother pouring something from a blue bottle into my eyes as I lie screaming on a table.


But this trip is not to see my extended family in the Boston area or my hometown but rather to visit my boyfriend Brian’s daughter and her husband and their two little girls, the youngest one being only 8 weeks old. They live in a town about 15 minutes away. We exit the Boston Logan airport bus, walk out to the pick up circle and find Jessica there with the new baby on board. The baby is adorable and I jump into the back seat to sit next to her, her big eyes watching me as I start speaking ‘baby’. You know, “hello, well hello sweetie, aren’t you the cutest little button, aren’t you, aren’t you? Yes you are!”


I forgot how much I love baby talk! I know it’s annoying to listen to, but babies really like it.  She perks up and opens her eyes wide and starts moving her little rosebud mouth as if she is holding up her side of things. She is positively cooing, I even see a little smile start. I feel like a superhero. Back at the house now, I offer to hold her. I actually don’t know what I’m doing, it’s been 25 years since mine was a baby, but our plan to visit was accompanied by an offer to help out and do whatever they need so I can’t show any insecurity. The handoffs are a bit tricky, but then some things come back, support the head, rock back and forth, baby talk, oh and singing. The great thing about singing is that you don’t have to be good, you don’t have to know the words, in fact, you don’t even have to sing a real song, you can even just hum. Row row row your boat, merrily merrily…


I try to remember holding my own daughter when she was this small and it’s hard to picture it. I know what she looked like but I can’t see myself there again, I seem like another person. What comes through in my bones though is this memory of attachment and devotion, and responsibility. And fear. I ask Jessica when we are out walking, “Are you sure she can breathe in that carrier? Maybe check again.” And I hear myself asking other silly questions like, “she just drank one ounce from the bottle, should I try to burp her now or wait til she finishes all of it? Or half of it?” When she starts fussing and then crying, I panic that I have lost my magic touch with her, she feels my stress! I must relax, I must lower my heart rate, she’ll feel that. Yes, there we go. Baby meditation.


I see myself now as the worried parent that I often was, and how hard that must have been on my daughter. I never had that second child where you could start to ease up. I have often thought that I would enjoy grandchildren one day because I would be more relaxed this second go around. But holding this vulnerable little being now only reminds me how dangerous the world is. Maybe it won’t be so easy when it’s my own daughter’s baby I’m holding.


This visit is like a trial run for being a real grandmother. I’m only a pretend grandmother here. We are not blood. And Brian and I are not married so they want the children to call us Grandpa and Nancy. It’s strange to have a boyfriend called grandpa, which makes me wonder anew, at what age does calling someone your boyfriend sound a little ridiculous? I think it’s now, it’s when that someone can also be called grandpa. So from now on he is just Brian.


I’m not ready to be a grandmother. I think my daughter is still a few years away from having children so I’m safe for now. It feels like another level of old. I’ve already hit 60, this is the next step. I know someone can be a grandmother at 40 but it’s still generally associated with being old. As Brian says, his grandchildren are pushing us off the planet to make room for themselves. Our days here are numbered. Well that’s comforting.


During the week we are visiting, I fall in love with this new baby. And Jessica and I bond over that. As we give her a bath one day, we laugh together at her funny expressions of surprise and wonder as we take turns washing and rinsing her tiny body. Later Jessica shows me pictures she has taken of the baby, who is in the room, on her phone until her husband says, “Ok, I think you’re going a little overboard now!”


“No, not at all,” I say. I am genuinely enthralled, and I also want to support her. She should be overboard about her baby. And that’s something I imagine a mother would always share with a daughter, being crazy about the baby.  But I’m not a substitute mother for Jessica. Her own mother came out for the first couple of weeks to help.


My mother was planning to come out for the first weeks to help me too, she was so excited for her first grandchild and I was so in need of her help. But she had some complications from a chronic health condition in the months leading up to the birth of my daughter and then unexpectedly died a week after she was born.  My early baby days were a bittersweet mix of devastating grief and deep love and joy.


Before we leave Boston, we drive down the street my father remembers as the one we lived on in Framingham.  He doesn’t remember the number and nothing looks familiar of course. It’s been almost 60 years! But I feel happy to be here like some part of my mother is still here on this street, a piece of her life. I remember her telling me once that her mother didn’t come out here to visit much and she felt a little abandoned. My grandmother was a loving woman who just had too many children, 11 in total, and my mother was the quintessential middle child. I was the oldest of five children born in six years. It sounds like utter chaos, which is what I remember a lot of growing up, but she said those baby years were the happiest years of her life.


I was the same way, despite my grief, despite my worries. I had waited a long time to have a child, I didn’t even want one until I was into my 30s. I had to fight my husband for it, then my biology and then later lost my marriage but I was wildly happy in motherhood.  I used to say, ‘I love to complain.’ Meaning I loved all of it.


When I think of sharing this new baby time with my own daughter one day, I know I won’t really care about being labeled grandmother.  But I wonder if it may awaken new feelings of loss. I won’t truly know what I missed until I experience it. Yet by giving my daughter what I didn’t receive from my mother, I am closing this broken circle. And the new life is what pulls us along as it sparks new love in us.  There is always a way to heal.





Making July


The way my mouth must move

to make the word July

the oooh curl of lips

and push of air followed

by the open-mouth roll of tongue

ends in an expression

that could be mistaken

for the way I look

when your hands calm

the outside of my skin.


This all started in June

and now the low fruit ripens,

falls onto ground carpeted

with faded jacarandas.

Alone in my bed I feel peaches

open, I hear plums softly

thud on the path between

our houses.


Mosquitos sing low in my ear

Like a persistent lover, like

a warmth from my depths

that won’t let me sleep.

Tonight I will rise, open

screen doors without regard,

find you on my porch

with no further



The South Carolina Review, Volume 35, Number 2 (Spring 2003)