Published in Panhandler Issue 6
Daniel Conor Murphy lives with his wife, Alison, and his dog, Sammy, in Somerville, Massachusetts. His poems have appeared in the Lullwater Review, Alloy, and the Blue Collar Review. As an undergraduate, he was a recipient of the Abernethy Scholarship for Creative Writing at Emory University, a Boethe Scholar for Writing at Marlboro College, and finally earned a B.F.A in poetry at Emerson College. He pays for his Guinness working as a carpenter, political machinist and musician.
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.
Irish Coffee in Winter
The mat is wet, ice melting off our boots.
A stream, stretching from the threshold of his door
along a path to the cast-iron radiator,
loiters in a dimple of linoleum.
He sits, my father, tender elbows propped
at the kitchen table, wiping the fog from his glasses,
his back weary from years of launching snow
with a velocity I could never measure.
I watch him pour gold into his coffee, reacquaint
with old friends of snowy, Saturday mornings:
a cigar rolling between forefinger and thumb,
thick dog-ears opening a book, a hard scone on a napkin,
crumbs dropping, all gestures of peace
now that the storm has passed. I look out
the picture window, the one we hung together,
hung when I was still learning how to hold
a hammer, plumb the jamb, how water finds
its own level. I see in that thick white outside
a blanket, a fresh coat of paint, the page corrected,
a splash of cream to temper his coffee, or
the color that now frosts his brows and beard.
I turn to my own mug, to the steam rising from it,
a warmth I grip and deliberately sip to savor,
as if there’s a bottom to this feeling.
The Hook and Fight
At the kitchen table he takes his knife, methodically
butters the last two heels of bread,
places one slice of ham and one piece of cheese
between them. This is the first time
I meet her grandfather.
He has a gentle face, I think, with thick glasses
resting on the bridge of his nose,
and is easy to smile, even when he hasn’t
heard the joke. I try to keep things light,
and we do, until we find ourselves in the sand of Japan.
In Okinawa he readied: tied,
retied his boots, ran his bayonet crosswise
along a whetstone, grit his aching teeth,
their off-white shining through
the coal-colored night of a Pacific sky.
Hearing the ocean’s edge
lap against the embattlements,
he felt the same calm from his fishing days:
the peaceful wait
before the hook and fight, the relative stillness
measured in the littleness of ripples,
how the knots he tied
seemed to slow time, as he quietly counted
the twists of filament before a looping through.
He waited with patience and was blessed
with fine catches, like his bride who waited, too,
in a tenement they hadn’t the time to make their home.
Every day in that sand there were reminders of the mill town
he’d left—the steel would fill the air like rain,
some of it probably shrapnel of shells
forged in his own Pennsylvania town. Ask him
about it now, and it’s likely you’ll have to ask again—
the downpours of mortars
as deafening as they were. You ask,
and the little man who had trained in the jungle,
who waited those long days before the planned Invasion,
tilts his bald head forward, enough for you to see
the face of someone who doesn’t often return
to the yielding terrain of those beaches,
to the thunder of arms, to the smell of spent powder.
You ask and he pauses, his attention wandering like
the great-granddaughter in view, who runs and falls
for the joy of it. A slight smile rises and fades
as he explains, pointing, “Little Boy allowed me this little girl.”
I peer into his living room, where his daughter,
his wife, and three granddaughters sit—
one thick with milk, one big with child,
one sweet to marry me. I gaze, can’t say if,
in some atomic way, I owe this to the bomb.
As he breathes deeply and his eyes pool,
I lure our talk to calicoes and stripers.
He shifts and stirs in his seat, gets to his feet, begins
washing dishes by hand, the loud faucet steaming.
I watch him gently brush and soap with one hand,
a foam tool plunging in and out of bubbles.
As he washes, a small glass slips from his fingers,
drops into a large pot dead-straight,
creates a wake that brims over and a splash
that shoots up and out. Unflinching, he damns it
to hell, squeezes the water from his shirt.
February 24, 2010
On the tenth anniversary of you hanging yourself,
I’ve gone back and forth on what gift
might suit the occasion, having
resigned that cards are hardly written
to compress this kind of feeling.
Today in class—all these years and I’m still
in school—we were shown
a picture of a lynching,
a black man hanging from a branch
he didn’t choose.
Tonight, I sat down
with Cambodians, shared
Hennessey and beer—talked
vodka, politics, and the Khmer Rouge.
We ate sugared plantains—far from the killing-
fields—peeled oranges and chewed slices
as juice dripped from our lips.
How sweet they tasted—how pleasing
their ripeness, to have been picked or picked up
at just the right time.