Nancy Murphy / Writer

writings and performances by Nancy Murphy

Poem that Wants to Inflict Harm


(after Jordan Smith, “Poem after Peire Vidal”)

See how these hands warm and open.
You just have to think of me.

I don’t know the difference
between light and warmth, nor

why it matters. By light I mean
your eyes, the way I dissolved.

By eyes I mean yes. You loved
me for that. Fire is unreasonable

the way it spreads itself around
selfishly. Flame is a state of body too.

You were once the stars to me,
mostly unseen, far away, a glow

from another time. I was unafraid
of your danger, it stuns me to think of it.

I only knew to not look directly
at your eclipse, to glance down

and to the side, like the way one drives
at night to avoid oncoming headlights.


 Anacapa Review, Volume 2, Number 1 2024


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A Piece of the Calm


(after Mark Strand, “A Piece of the Storm”)

From the California sky, silver sun slides into the kitchen
between the slats in the window shades. It taps on the table,
not impatiently. It doesn’t wait for me to notice, it is beyond
needing things like that from the world. I am reading the news
of the day, weeping, sipping breakfast tea from the other side
of the world, English tea is really from Assam, Ceylon,
Darjeeling. How I miss the mystery of the old names.
Sunlight tiptoes closer. I suddenly feel watched, look up,
light upon fuzzy headed treetops in the yard waltzing
with the glimmering from above. Doves are fluttering
their adoration for each other. I pour from the half full teapot.


 Blue Heron Review, Issue 15, Fall 2022


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Dimming


Let me tell you about leaving,
how it was almost
easy. Sometimes a mandarin
is so ripe that its skin wants
to be peeled, falls away
as your fingers get close,
pockets of air under the surface

waiting for release. I was ready
like that, open to other
hands, mouths, scents.
I feared being skipped over,
not picked in time. Frostbite.
At first it was a long December
then it was spring

in my step, everyone noticed.
Still I buried a guilt that
I could have done better,
that I had no right
to ripen. I had a secret
tally of faults that I used
against myself like a rainstorm.
I made judges out of accidental
men, took punishment
hungrily.xxxxxxxxxxUntil

it was enough. Only then
could I let myself look
back, see how smugly
we walked the streets
of Philadelphia, rapt,
wrapped around each other.
Then baby daughter
mornings in the corner
condo, LA beach sun
streaming in, smells
of talcum. Remember,
I said almost. We were once
a light, he and I.
What did we know
then of dimming?


 SWWIM Every Day, September 19, 2022 


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How Isolation Is Like Summer


Remember the slow heaviness of August
in Albany,
the 60s, sixth grade
everything exhausting
from humidity,
excessive greenery suffocating,
days stretching in our hands like
the wonder of boardwalk
taffy that never breaks, it just gets thinner
‏‏‎ ‎‏‏‎ ‎‏‏‎ ‎‏‏‎ ‎‏‏‎ ‎‏‏‎ ‎‏‏‎ ‎‏‏‎ and thinner‏‏‎ ‎‏‏‎ ‎‏‏‎ ‎‏‏‎ ‎‏‏‎and thinner.
Remember when effort was pointless,
when summer kept us
low to the ground, sitting in the art
of doing nothing, tree filtered sunlight
moving across our freckled faces
as we spoke
quietly, like whispers might keep us
cooler.
Picture us young, self-contained, still
whole. Breathing the not knowing
of life like
it was our daily bread.


Oh the trouble with looking
for things, what you find.
This impossible brokenness of
motherlessness,
how that grief lies in wait for you,
coiled, attacks only in self
defense, no one wants
to be forgotten. Memory
is a mother.
Is all this time on our hands
keeping us safe
from ourselves?
Maybe we need
to reopen, I’m dreaming
of a long drive to the mountains,
any mountains.


 Aurora Poetry, Vol. 4, July 2022 


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Aftermath


After my mother died, I left my husband.  

He had always been a rock  


but I stumbled upon someone more  

like fire, and I needed to ignite,  


breathe into the blue edge of a flame,  

find myself in what remained.  


It’s Friday night, I slice into red peppers. 

My new man scorches them on the grill  


along with sweet corn, chicken in dried  

thyme, Spanish olive oil. Together  


ten years and I still call him new. 

This is just how I talk, tell myself I’m free,  


remind myself that I could be reduced to ashes  

again. Sometimes I’m afraid that only burning 


can purge this longing, for all that’s lost,  

for those careless nights and all that blazed.  


 Montana Mouthful, February 2022 


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Sometimes a Wild Saint


        After Tom Hiron, Sometimes a Wild God

Sometimes a wild saint will storm in while
            you’re at the stove
searing steaks,
            tapping smoked paprika
                        onto sweet potatoes. She’ll start

a fire in the blue room, open the best

Burgundy                    without asking,
crank up

the Stones. Sometimes a wild saint
is not exactly
            drunk, (but not undrunk)

maybe beyond

drunk like I was
in my twenties after work

in bars with married co-workers.
I’m not here to confess,            I’ll just say

I have seen how things can break

down, how anything can be
forgiven, how miracles are            not
that rare         really.

Sometimes a wild saint

is such a martyr, deadly
serious.           But I’m

not going to fall
into that deep

well of belief again, the longing
that follows, all that embarrassment
            when god doesn’t show up
                                    in time.

Sometimes a wild saint
will remind us that there will be summer

again, that I will be able to go underwater
            and feel cool on my entire head
                        and not even care
if my hair                      ever
            dries.


Gyroscope Review, Issue 21-3, Summer 2021


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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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