Nancy Murphy / Writer

writings and performances by Nancy Murphy

Know My Tree

Know My Tree


A tree is a prayer without words, without reason, without apology. Yet
not without sound,        I hear

a low whirr when I am close to a willow,         I see the medicine of its
knowledge dance under dark

purple bark.      I trace the lines of its hands to the ends of the limbs I
want to climb,      watch

how leaves confetti in the breeze,        an explosion of spring greens and
saffron

yellows against an afternoon indigo sky.          I want
to       rest,        hang from my tail,

sleep and eat
like an animal.
I want to know
my animal. I want
to know my god.
I want to know
my       tree.

I need to be
washed in a rain
of forest, cleansed
of my faults,
my failings,
my falsities.
All the moments
I could have
done better.

We are all
standing under
some tree,
of life,           of death,
of transformation.
How thankless
I’ve been! I wish
to save a tree
to save myself
to save
the world.
I don’t know
where to start
so I will just
start with this
tree      under a black
sky       believing in the sun.


Telephone, April 2021


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Field of View

-after “Christina’s World” by Andrew Wyeth

I am a stretched canvas. My mother’s
yearning background color. Dress dusty
 
pink the color of my first ballet slippers,
hair putting up a fight. Thin black belt around
 
my nickel of a waist, it takes me years
to become a body. Walking even longer.
 
The field is everything to me. The way sunlight
wakes up the colours, the way the hint
 
of a road slices space into before
and after, the way home keeps moving
 
away. Collapsing onto the grass,
oblivious to how it can stain you,
 
mark you as a child. When do we start
seeing the world as wider than we can
 
hold? I paint myself away from the edges
of the picture, on another coast, different
 
weather. I paint the story of my mother
and what she wanted. I remember when
 
she gazed on me, and when she gazed not
on me. I carry hollowness into the rain.


The Ekphrastic Review, July 2020


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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.


Sheila-Na-Gig, Volume 3.3, Spring 2019


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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


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