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.


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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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, Fall 2019


Hear the author’s reading of “Anniversary,” recorded for 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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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

 

 

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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

whatagreatvisitgoodluckyeahitwasmomwitheverythingimsoproudofyouthankyoucallmewhenyouiwilliwillarrive

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

 

 

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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

 

 

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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

elaboration.

 

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

 

 

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Concrete Love

 

To make love in concrete

you must start while it’s

still impressionable,

before it settles. Then it will

be indelible, imprinted

on your walkway for

the world to see.

 

But if you fear close contact

cement under your nails,

you can wait for lines to appear,

cracks caused by upward

pressures, roots and such,

and assemble them to

look like love.

 

Years later, even after disasters

that rock the ground, overturn

stones, I think you would still

find it there in the rubble;

love is that kind of thing.

 

The Louisville Review, Volume 52, Fall 2002

 

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Betty, Poolside

 

She pleads with him to join her

in the water, at first lightly,

then with a rising insistence,

and he resists. She is unhappy.

It is always the same, the woman

calling the man to her, wanting

to float together in their skin,

and he on the edge of falling,

regaining footing, then diving in

when she is not looking. He is

on his own time. Betty’s beauty

strikes me and I wonder if he sees it

anymore the way the world does,

how any other man could not

say no. I learn they are married

one year now. She talks to me

in the Jacuzzi. I tell her

I left my husband because

he would not swim naked with me

in the dark in the pool behind

the fence at our house.

 

Baltimore Review, Volume VI, Number 2, 2002

 

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