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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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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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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