February 5, 2015

Peter E. Murphy

GRAND FUGUE

After the hospital released me with a warning,
I walked around this busy city that hadn’t noticed
I’d been missing, me and my reconstructed heart,
so full of gratitude I wanted to kiss every light
that flashed GO, forgive the ones that said STOP.
And when I felt the earth throb under my feet
I remembered the subway below where commuters
were training themselves to work and what it felt
like to be that useful, which I will never be again
until my living will kicks in and a young doctor-to-be
pulls out my organs, examines them, and puts them back,
leaving one out to see if anyone notices, the way I did
in boot camp after taking an ancient carbine apart,
getting busted, threatened with court martial and firing
squad and Vietnam. The sun is working overtime,
shimmying its vitamin D all over the city. Its light
reflects off the granite walls of a magnificent building
whose cornerstone says it was born in 1844,
the year nitrous oxide was first used to sweeten pain,
though too late for Beethoven, who, enraged after
becoming deaf, drove the audience mad when he came
up with his fifteen minute car crash, the “Grosse Fugue,”
where the violin and the two violas and the cello
rip their bows across the screaming catgut
so atonally, no one wanted to listen to it.
Wouldn’t his heart break from joy if a patron set him up
at Weeki Wachee to watch through the great glass wall,
mermaids breathing underwater from air hoses so obvious
you can’t see them? His whole universe would shimmer
as waterproof women swirl through the bubbles
of the sunlit spring, smiling at him, waving their colorful
spandex tails like batons. In my anesthetic dreams,
I too breathe underwater without drowning.
I flap my arms, kick my feet, try not to remember
how blood spilling out of the body congeals
on the hospital sheets so a minimum wage worker
in the basement laundry can put a whopper and fries
on her kid’s dinner plate. There are a million birds
in this city I hadn’t heard till now, each of them tuning
their instruments, each of them singing, I am alive.

from Rattle #45, Fall 2014
Tribute to Poets of Faith

[download audio]

__________

Peter E. Murphy: “December, 1971, a month before Bloody Sunday, I was hitchhiking through Londonderry, too drunk to realize it was a war zone. When my ride ran a barricade, soldiers lifted their automatic weapons and opened fire. A week later in Limerick, I met Bahá’ís. They said it was a new religion. I said they should disband before they start another holy war. They said they were building a social order centered around world unity. I said if you believed in alcohol instead of God, I might be interested. Four months later I woke up in a gutter in Cardiff, Wales. Later that day, I attended a Bahá’í meeting in Newport, the city where I was born 21 years earlier, and enrolled. Call me corny, but it was a second birth. My experience with the Bahá’í Faith has been one of transformation, which I hope is reflected in my poems.” (website)