March 30, 2017

Ekphrastic Challenge, February 2017: Editor’s Choice


Hwy 41 by Debbie McAfee

Image: “Hwy 41” by Debbie McAfee. “Threading North and South” was written by Matthew Murrey for Rattle’s Ekphrastic Challenge, February 2017, and selected as the Editor’s Choice winner.

[download: PDF / JPG]


Matthew Murrey


31 frayed my nerves pulling
over in the middle of nowhere
Michigan every thirty miles to pour
water into the hot, leaky radiator.

45 took us south into ninety degrees
of July and a battlefield nearby
before we slipped like wounded
ghosts into Mississippi for the night.

17 was awfully pretty skirting
the river as it wound its way
from the city where I grew up
to my first home away from home.
And I never moved back.

In my twenties I headed north
and I’ll never forget my first trip
south on 41 with the oceanic
lake to my left and the giant teeth
of sky scrapers ahead. I grinned
like a kid seeing mountains
or snow for the first time.

I love the blocked, black
numbers on white shields;
they conjure up slowing down—
tobacco sheds, red bricks, a river,
a bean field, intersections and signs:
Open, Closed, Vacancy.

Sometimes it’s fences to the west,
or waking up to see what the clouds
are up to and how many miles are left.
Sometimes it’s speeding to get there
before nightfall, and hoping—that dark
or not—the lights will be on as they should be.

Ekphrastic Challenge, February 2017
Editor’s Choice

[download audio]


Comment from the editor on this selection: “A road trip embroidery deserves a road trip poem, and Matthew Murrey delivered the mood—the lonely, dull, excited, monotony of highway travel. I also appreciated how the thread metaphor only appears in the title, giving the poem an extra unspoken layer to ponder.”

December 19, 2015

Ekphrastic Challenge, November 2015: Artist’s Choice


Photograph by Meghan Tutolo
Painting by Meghan Tutolo. “Map to the Moon” was written by Matthew Murrey for Rattle’s Ekphrastic Challenge, November 2015, and selected by Tutolo as the Artist’s Choice winner.

[download broadside]


Matthew Murrey


That is the dream I had
when I was stuck in that little town,
wishfully watching planes in the sky,
thumbing the atlas all the time.

I dreamed I’d go to the purple
city and find you. I believed
that lights would turn on
in the tall buildings to welcome me.

And I did go,
though I took an overnight train
that rolled in after sunrise and took me
past the stadium and brick warehouses
and apartments with shades drawn.

And there was a river
and a bridge, and at night a yellow
brilliance at the center which I wanted
as a moth wants the light
it flings itself at over and over.
And you were there,
which is why memory paints it
so lovely, so purple, so speckled—
even prettier than it really was—

and tells a little lie about how young
the moon was, when everybody
knows it’s older than dirt
and that love is the youngster.
That was decades ago,
but I remember falling
like it was yesterday. So yes,
the night and moon were young,
and my heart waxed full.

Ekphrastic Challenge, November 2015
Artist’s Choice Winner

[download audio]


Comment from the artist, Meghan Tutolo: “It’s simple, but so honest. I like that. I like that it doesn’t have to try to reach me, true romance.” (website)

For more information on Matthew Murrey, visit his website.

June 19, 2015

Ekphrastic Challenge, May 2015: Artist’s Choice


Painting by Åsa Antalffy Eriksson

[download broadside]


Matthew Murrey


It took forever for the light
to fade. All my manhood,
that old overcoat, was gone,
and I was no more than five
setting off through the forest.

They say in a vacuum a feather
falls like a stone. They say
you see your life pass before you
when you’re at death’s door.
They say jawbone walk
and jawbone talk. They say
things I’ll never understand.

I remember a story of a tiny boy
and his two older brothers lost
in the woods. They found shelter
for a night in the house of a stranger
who kept sharpening a long knife,
who kept calling up to the loft,
“Who is awake, and who is asleep?”

I couldn’t stay awake forever.
Even here the feather finally lands
on the needled path, the heart
has a weight all its own,
and every step I take erases me
just a little more. See,
you can barely see me.
What I’m trying to tell you is
it wasn’t a light at the end of a tunnel,
and it wasn’t as scary as the scrape
of a knife being readied on a stone.
Then again, it wasn’t a walk in the park either.

Ekphrastic Challenge, May 2015
Artist’s Choice Winner

[download audio]


Comment from the painter, Åsa Antalffy Eriksson, on her selection: “This was hard. As I read through the poems, I thought it would be impossible to select a winner. Then I read them again, and again, and forced myself to drop one after the other. Quite a few of the poems made me cry—many had written about a child lost, and some of those pieces were almost too much to bear: well-written, deeply touching and evoking one of my greatest fears as a mother. Yet, I did not choose any of them for a winner. In the end, the poem I could not drop was Matthew Murrey’s ‘Teeny Tiny.’ It has a good flow and not a single weak line. It balances perfectly between narration and suggestion, presenting a sombre theme with a sort of casualness that appeals to me no end. ‘Teeny Tiny’ echoes the atmosphere and the imagery of my painting faithfully, but also adds something completely new and unexpected.” (website)

Note: This poem has been published exclusively online as part of our quarterly Ekphrastic Challenge, in which we ask poets to respond to an image provided by a selected artist. This May, the image was a painting by Åsa Antalffy Eriksson. We received 187 entries, and the artist and Rattle‘s editor each chose their favorite. Timothy Green’s choice will be posted next Friday. For more information on the Ekphrastic Challenge visit its page. See other poets’ responses or post your own by joining our Facebook group.

January 2, 2014

Matthew Murrey


Hurry, come see. He
was standing on his stubby back legs,
the concave shell of his yellow belly
pressed snug to the round rock
of her dark back.
We knew.
His little front feet were scrabbling
for a hold. His neck
was extended, stretched taut
and pulling a look of pure
lust on his face that made us—
thirteen and fourteen—laugh and snort.

We’d never seen two turtles doing it,
but there they were. Man,
he was jazzed and desperate
like he’d taken a baited hook
in the beak and was being hauled
up by the face, all that urge
dragging him out of his shell,
tugging him to stand and grimace
and grab on. We’d read somewhere
that sometimes the male will fall
backwards when he’s done,
and stuck on his back like that, will die.

I could live with that;
though I figured it’d be a long time
before I’d get so hooked. Sometimes
it seemed the want and wait
would drive me nuts.
God knows
those turtles were caught up
in the sheer, raw draw of it.
I might’ve watched and grown
hushed, like someone bedside
at a death or a birth. Oh, I did watch,
and watch, but like the dumb fuck
I was, all I managed to do was laugh.

[download audio]

from Rattle #40, Summer 2013


Matthew Murrey: “I’ve been writing with determination since 1986. In high school I fell in love with words: camping with the Boy Scouts in the mountains of North Carolina, I wanted to be Wordsworth, and while serving Mass as an altar boy, Hopkins was my hero (not a bad pair to admire!). I’ve changed a lot since then—the Boy Scouts would probably kick me out, and I kicked myself out of religion a long time ago—but I still want to convey in words what it is to be alive and human in these crazy times, and someone has to do it—so why not me?” (