Summer 2005

Peter E. Murphy


Peter E. Murphy Peter E. Murphy is the author of Stubborn Child (Jane Street Press, 2005). He is a Master Teacher for the NJ Council for the Humanities and a consultant to the Geraldine R. Dodge Foundation’s poetry program. Recently retired from teaching high school English and creative writing, he will continue to direct the Winter Poetry & Prose Getaway held annually in Cape May.
At The New Age Hotel    Click to hear in real audio

Below my balcony, bright November
warms the participants
from the Inner Work Symposium
who stretch for chi to infuse their well-fed lives.

Swaying to the rhythmic music
of traffic, they inhale New Jersey
where the euphonious Passaic
flows into the Yang Tze.  

Light breaks out of their tail bones,
rises through a forest of spines
into their brains as fifty bodies raise their arms
and rock their torsos to solve the calculus

of consciousness, the problem of gravity.
Then back, back into the ballroom
where macrobiotic chefs prepare a banquet
out of nothingness.  

The devout are ravenous to eat
what they have become and hope
it will nourish them when they sag
back into their Blazers and drive home.



Can't Dance    Click to hear in real audio

I don't speak music,
so when I try to dance
my body mistranslates
the language of rhythm
into peculiar movements.
My feet shuffle like lobsters
with bound claws.
My hips pop not flow.
My hands reach for the girl
who thirty years ago left me
passed out on her lawn.
Why do you do this, memory,
as I am starting my poem?

And in the morning her father
turned the hose on me,
threatened, if I saw his daughter
again, he'd have me shot.
I believed him.
I grew up around people
like him—crooked cops,
gangsters, bullies.
Other girls decide to sit out
this poem. They'll wait
for a poem with a guy
who can dance.

So, now the music starts
and it's as if I'm wearing ice
skates, carrying a baseball bat
instead of a tune.
It must be a Halloween party
and I'm the only fool to show
up in costume—a sports fanatic
resplendent in shoulder pads
catcher's mask, basketball shorts,
and yes, ice skates. How I got
there, how I got home,
I don't remember.
I hung out near the liquor cabinet
with Johnny Walker who removed
my mask before kissing me
on the lips, sucking my tongue.
The girl whose party
it was, what was her name?
Used to be I was the guy parents
loved, said to their beautiful
daughters, he's such a nice boy,
why don't you go out with him?
But Mama, the girls would argue,
he can't dance!  
That's how we got into this poem,

And as long as we're at it,
my Irish mama forbade me
to go out with Italian girls,
said they're all tramps and whores,
we called them "who-ers" then,
especially the ones with long hair
that swooped down their backs
like waterfalls. Trouble is,
the Italian girls were holding out
while Molly was lying
down with everyone but me.  
I spent the first years of my life
Catholic and miserable.
Time to be happy, I decided,
daring to risk eternity in hell
for a few minutes rubbing
against another body
until sparks set us aflame.
A few years later, another stupid gesture,
to be a poet rather than be happy—
I think I heard they torture poets
in countries where it matters

to be committed to something
that might punish me.
Maybe that's why I dance
as if my upper body
were staked to a block of wood.
My legs flail like the day
I stomped out a lawn fire
with new shoes.
Damn! a cop said,
I would've let it burn.  
The music ignites something
inside me. I slide. I shake
my legs in unbiological tempo.
The hungry flames.
The noisy crowds.
Hands clapping.
Louder now—
Watch me burn.



Peter E. Murphy: Poetry
Copyright © 2005 The Cortland Review Issue 29The Cortland Review