“On America” and Other Poems
Trasna is pleased to announce that poet Dan Murphy will join its team of editors.
This week we feature four of his poems. Whether it’s a “rusty gate in a field of rock,” or “the cream cheese on your cheek,” Murphy explores the expansive to the intimate. There is a rhythm in his writing between the big and the small; between man and god — “between where you left your keys and astrophysics.” His poems are visual, and his voice is distinct — “a word to salt the driveway with.”
Included in this selection are two new and powerful poems: “Eviction Scene,” about the displacement of the widow McNamara’s family, and their resulting emigration; and “Man,” which takes place on a rain-soaked street in the States. Together, they are reflective of Trasna’s larger theme of exploring the connections between two countries separated by an ocean.
A moment arrives in oversleeping
when the body seems all the more tired,
when sleep itself ceases to refresh.
All that rest becomes heavy, pins
the head and limbs.
In the landscape of hunger
there’s a rusty gate in a field of rock
it’s just as painful to eat
as it is to starve.
Published in Issue 6, Panhandler Magazine
of things we don’t know,
in the slug darkness
between where you left
your keys and astrophysics.
No fingers to point
to truth or stars
or cream cheese on your cheek.
to salt the driveway with.
Or something to call
the love you once felt, still feel.
Peace and unease living
under the same sunbaked roof.
The dog’s dream kicking you.
Or the snowing static of a knob TV
as it makes an old woman glow.
Published in issue #15, Spring/Summer 2017, Sugar House Review
A squat wall borders the fore.
A patch of packed dirt and stone
leads to the parged-coat cottage
where men lean with top hats, derby hats,
caubeens and beards rolling over
their overcoats. Lined up among them
two women straighten in aprons, a priest
towers in boots; all of them set their backs
against the rough wall of the house, staring
back at the aperture capturing them as if
the past is about to be taken.
They stand ready for the party outside
our view. In the doorway and windows
trunks of sawn oak and ash are stacked
to barricade the home—eyes of heartwood
hard, unblinking—save for one square frame
where the Widow McNamara fastens
on a sill beneath an eave of thatch.
She wears dark wool, bears wrinkles like
lines of tree rings, a natural testimony.
The year is 1887; the camera must stand
on three skinny legs like a transit
surveying the lot. A large basket of peat
brims by the priest. Who am I to say
it burns with the house? That its smoke
fogs the eyes of her sons and daughters,
that its scent settles in their clothes
as they emigrate in boats toward a new century?
I cannot see a sparrowhawk circle
uncertain above a gutted ruin. Or where
she tires and rests on a fresh-cut stump.
But when I study this black & white
like a summons under my thumbs,
I smell the McNamaras just after, little ancestors
pulling marigolds by the road, bittersweet petals
blooming on their tongues to some harbor.
A cloud bursts over Broadway Street.
Through a car window, everything’s blurred—
traffic lights diffuse a rolling glow, storefronts
fog to a collection of impressions—save a man
ambling slowly, clear through the strafing rain,
a Boston Herald held above his head, news
bleeding down his face, all those story lines
that more or less the world signed off on
surfacing blackly in the path of his shoes.
A former carpenter and Golden Gloves boxer, Dan Murphy teaches writing and literature at Boston University. He recently served as Writer-in-Residence at Phillips Academy in Andover, Mass. A past Robert Pinsky Global Fellow at Boston University and a Grace Abernathy Scholar of Creative Writing at Emory University, his work has appeared or is forthcoming in Sugar House Review, The Summerset Review, The Adirondack Review, Terrain, Slipstream, and Panhandler Magazine, among others. His chapbook, The Narrow House, was a 2016 finalist in the Munster Literature Centre’s international chapbook competition. A full-length collection, Estate Sale, is currently under review.