Joan Murray: Four Poems

Joan Murray: Four Poems
Excerpted from Drafts, Fragments, and Poems: The Complete Poetry (2018), a collection of Murray's writings edited by Farnoosh Fathi and published by NYRB Poets


The speed of planes was still upon the noon,
The whirling planet stuttered and drew up.
Reaction in all quiet corners tongued its inactivity,
Windows were slammed and men stood circles of eternity.

Words once spoken spoke themselves.
Trees lavished the hour with leaves muttering,
And arms extending scissor-clipped the wind.
Rocks blocked their way, allowed the atom to titter and be

Each misplaced was replaced once again;
If tumbling was not known tumbling was admitted;
And you were there alive, awake in your dead places,
A well patient among similar well cases

Untitled I

Even the gulls of the cool Atlantic retip the silver foam,
The boats that warn me of the fog warn me of their motion
I have looked for my childhood among pebbles my home
Within the lean cupboards of motherhubbard and clipped

A wind whose freshness blows over the Cape to me
Has made me laugh at the memory of a friend whose hair
     is blond
Still we laugh and run our hands over the sea
From the farthest tip of land to the end of the end.

I had so often run down to these shores to stare out
If I took an island for a lover and Atlantic for my sheet
There was no one to tell me that loving across distance
      would turn about
And make the here and now an elsewhere of defeat.

In my twenty first year to have the grubby hand of a slum
Be the small child at my knee knee the glistening chalk
That sails to meet the stationary boat the water sloping as
    it comes
And all the Devon coast of grey and abrupt rock

By gazing across water I have flicked many gulls from my
Shuffled small shells and green crabs at my feet
The day is cool the sun bright the piper cries
Shrilly tampering the untouched sand with delicate

Up beyond the height and over the bank I have a friend
How are your winter days and summer actions
There could be little more than a tea cup hour to make us
A mature man’s simplicity or grave child’s sweet reaction

Untitled II


I feel only the desolation of wide water,
Its back a silver dimpling from the sun.
I feel only the thrill far cry of one gull
Reluctantly chasing its shadow on the wave.
Here, like some lost strand of sea-weed
I remain within myself a sad contumely.


Mark, mark the ring of bells, the tap of wings!
Mark, mark, my eyes that turn a sad pool up.
For I remember how the yellow sand slipped
Through my fingers and the night drew a tight
Cloak warmly about my yellow sand stained skin.


O to what shame toward my own first cause,
I find that like both sea and air I am two things
Crystal and clear and at the other hand sweet mad.


There is a boat with perpendicular sails,
White as the heart of the wind.
I would ask where you blew your boat with sail
If I did not know that the seams of you were cracked.


How the gulls cover the water, the path to the sun,
How their wings drift and lift them up.
They move as simply as the rise and fall of waves
And I would move as simply as the rise and fall of

Untitled III

Here where I tamper at the inverted walls of tomorrow;
The gathering of old women about their bagpipe sorrow
In the dry room of their choice,
On each knee a cup, erotic age—virginity in each voice;
The strident tired and cryptic knitting
Clattering on and on while my fingers flitting
Over impregnable surface warm with the friction,
Callous, ice-smooth with the next day’s obscurity of action.
Here where I finger, only yesterday having thudded out
With an evil beat that leaped from extremities of doubt
Till even the head thrashed—the pauper skull
Acclaimed itself in every drum the Calaban of dull,
The height of down, the unnumbered telephone operator,
The stammering apologetic politician debater
With blown papers on an evening pier
Once having dreamt the speech and equipoise subordinately
Leave the head to its particular swimming,
The hand as fist where it belongs the finger to its skimming.
Walk the path with men and women and consult
The attitudes of little children.
Treat with gravity the statement of the parrot and the hen;
Run with your hands in pockets whistling and listen to
   sharp wisdom
From your own spontaneous play, even from
The clip of your heels under night lamps and on in the dark;
The hieroglyph trees marked thin and bare about the winter
These are tools of questioning to be met and used anywhere,
To be bumped into like workmen with thin collar high in
morning air;
Such people mistaken by the careless for the unancestored
Born of reflex, the machine with its virginity of assembled
Parts. Non-life to live birth death and food,
No choice to sense the devil or the good.
Time who pours the terrible mother of fruition,
A brisk director of pageantry, war and balanced inclination;
Narrow in sense, repetitive in ideology and plan,
Endlessly creative in detail, sparing each man
The head to dream, the brief right to turn and lift his hand;
To shout some hate, some gladness and some pain to some
About the hill and valley striding-small the moment godhead
Working the rhythm of the race over the races quieted dead.
Gathering time with all the little perceptions abbreviated
Shading their eyes and breathing jerkily in uneven rows of
    the belated,
Each calm clarity hanging its head to forgetfulness
For each drooped man and shame and each too cruel distress.
The panting over the hand loosed from the hair,
The long tempered point implies the touch from wall to air,
The surface fingering of the inexplicable. Desire
Of the infant have pulled one step but being young must
   wait to ascend the next step higher.

Donate Now


*Comments will be moderated