August 24, 2022

Abby E. Murray

A NOTE FROM YOUR FRIENDLY POETRY INSTRUCTOR

You think you can’t write about a mud puddle?
YOU CAN WRITE ABOUT A MUD PUDDLE.
Whattaya think you can’t write about that puddle
for? Huh? You think people gonna say some shit?
Gonna call your poem trash? Gonna call you trash?
Say old water lying in the dirt is too boring for a
poem? WELL THEN HOW COME YOU CAN
SEE A BRIGHT YELLOW DAFFODIL SHINING
ALONE ACROSS ITS CALM-ASS SURFACE LIKE
A NEW PLANET RIGHT THERE IN THE DIRT?
HUH? HOW COME? IT’S A GODDAMN
MOMENT, THAT’S WHY. IT’S A REMINDER
OF HOW SMALL WE ALL ARE BUT ALSO
HOW LARGE AND IT’S 100% YOURS TO
REMEMBER SO I SAY YOU CAN WRITE IT.
When have you ever written a poem and somebody
said it was trash? Even thought about it being trash?
Huh? Whattaya mean they have? WELL FUCK
THEM! YOU THINK THOSE PIECES OF SHIT
ARE OUT DOING THE HARD WORK MAKING
POEMS WHEN THEY’RE TOO BUSY BLAB-
BING ABOUT YOURS? NO! YOU TELL THEM
TO SEE ME FOR A GODDAMN ATTITUDE
ADJUSTMENT OR SHUT THE FUCK UP. You
write that poem about the mud puddle AND your
tiny big luminous daffodil self and you share it
anyplace you please because nobody’s gonna say
shit unless they say IT’S A GODDAMN WONDER
YOU WROTE IT AND YOU KNOW WHY?
BECAUSE IT’S TRUE, THAT’S WHY.
 

from Rattle #76, Summer 2022

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Abby E. Murray: “I write poetry because it is the only thing I have been able to take with me everywhere I’ve been sent. I also enjoy it. As Marvin Bell said, I write poems ‘because it feels so good.’” (web)

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July 24, 2022

Abby E. Murray

FUNNY HOW

When some Americans hear
about a man-made calamity
 
unfolding in Britain, it takes
a hot minute to remember
 
there is no such thing as
a country that is simultaneously
 
one sovereign nation
and your sophic mother:
 
older than you and, at one time,
so powerful you didn’t realize
 
she was human. For example,
on the morning after
 
Boris Johnson’s hair
became Prime Minister,
 
you opened the newspaper
like it was your front door
 
and you’d just heard
shave & a haircut
 
knocked into it at 3 AM
only to find your mom there,
 
drunk, puking violently
into the potted fern.
 
Had it been anyone else—
a neighbor, a friend,
 
even a stranger—
you would have known
 
how to act right away,
but because it was who it was,
 
you stood and stared,
uncomprehending.
 
It took a full year of following
British government proceedings
 
to recognize the same
carousel music that plays
 
in the U.S. Capitol, a tune
we’ve egotistically grown to think
 
originated in the States,
another invention
 
of our founding fathers,
our long dead brothers
 
whose courage compelled us
to test whether farts are flammable,
 
whose bravery urged us
to rollerblade off the roof
 
of the garage as soon as
we were allowed to play
 
unsupervised. Even now,
on our shared and ferociously
 
warming planet,
a heat we continue to kindle
 
while knowing it will consume us all
surprises me by turning up
 
in London, where it is unanticipated,
brutal, and the seeming fault
 
of a belligerent sun,
as if the disappointed parent
 
of my country as I know it
was still somehow above
 
climate change until now,
until my child mind
 
perceived her here
on the front page of the Times,
 
unable to work or get out of bed
for anything other than water.
 
The first time I saw
my own mother sweat,
 
I marveled at how she still
smelled only of lotion
 
and Calvin Klein Eternity,
as usual, her glow unlike
 
the pubescent body odor
I seemed to carry just by waking up
 
and living. It wasn’t until
my thirties that I began to tell
 
myself—sometimes out loud—
that my mother was capable
 
of the same recklessness I was
because I needed to believe it
 
in order to know independence,
needed to say it
 
to that part of me who,
no matter how old she gets,
 
still just rolls her eyes,
slams the door in my face.
 

from Poets Respond
July 24, 2022

__________

Abby E. Murray: “I was talking to a friend the other night about how, whenever anything painful or sad happens on a national scale in Britain, there’s a part of me that is, for a fraction of a second, surprised—like I’ve grown to expect ineptitude and blatant disregard for humanity in the U.S., and seeing it in Britain is about as unsettling as seeing my mother drunk (which is, for the record, about as likely as me seeing the Queen herself show up at my house in the wee hours, blitzed). Even heat waves brought about by man-made climate change, which affect us all, are being spoken about as wholly unanticipated in Britain. So I’m kind of making fun of my sense of problematic surprise, even as I move to correct it.” (web)

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February 8, 2022

Abby E. Murray

THE RIGHT TO JOY

It happened: I stepped
outside on a Tuesday
morning and, noticing
cloudlessness over the city,
the hydrangea happiness
of all that blue, I began
to doubt my delight,
suddenly aware of what
I turned away from
in order to turn toward
comfort. I called LeAnne,
thousands of miles away.
Just as I suspected: it was
raining where she was,
the sky dull as pencil lead,
the nights oozing past
on rivulets of fog.
Her last memory of a sunset
was two weeks old
and she was getting ready
to go for a walk anyway.
I hung up and refused
to enjoy the daylight
I hadn’t earned. I worked
in the basement
with the blinds drawn,
picking at my keyboard
like a starved chicken.
My fingers froze.
I couldn’t feel anything
I wrote. At lunch, I surfaced
in the kitchen to make
a sandwich and checked
the windows: the sky
was still there, brighter
now, emboldened even,
a blaze of sun
on the windowpane
like God peeping in
to laugh. Truly, the sky
above me was flawless
cerulean, not even airplanes
signing it in their fine script
as they floated up and down
the eastern seaboard.
I didn’t falter. I spent
a few more hours in the dark,
writing about greyness.
LeAnne called and asked
if I’d read the article about
the photographer who
found polar bears living
in an abandoned weather
station on a Russian island
in the Chukchi Sea:
a deserted village
of wooden buildings,
some half-collapsed, all
covered in rot and moss
and proof of a climate
dictated by storms and ice
and harshness, only
the broken windows
reveal less emptiness
than the photographer
or any of us expect:
massive polar bears
poke their faces over
the splintered sills to blink
at the camera, which is
attached to a drone
so as not to frighten them
too much, and I don’t speak
polar bear but in these photos
they seem to be saying
hello, this is ours now,
and I have to agree,
as I imagine the photographer
did, because I don’t think
anyone can disagree
with polar bears even
in pictures, even the ones
who seem pacified
and pleased, albeit by chance,
with their sudden luck,
which they must know
is theirs while they have it
because they have it
but not for always.
They are dying along
with the rest of us.
It isn’t fair or unfair.
A weather town was built
by humans for humans,
then claimed by bears
for the newly fortunate.
Since when have accidents
been just? Since when
does happiness choose
its beholder? The polar bears
curl up on their new porches
like they’re waiting
for a pie to cool.
They let the drone
do its thing. They let it leave.
I tell LeAnne I need
to get to the post office
before it closes and when
I open my front door
the afternoon is still
hanging on, still luminous
but goldening, more
bronze than blue now,
as if wizened, as if to say
I can take it or leave it,
this joy, this surprise gift,
this nectar of air I didn’t
grow or pay for but woke up
and found just the same,
as if to say it had only
one plan for its life
and that was to end
whether I savored it or not.

from Poets Respond
February 8, 2022

__________

Abby E. Murray: “I was in the middle of writing about joy and who has the rights to it when it happens to them when I saw Dmitry Kokh’s photos of polar bears inhabiting the abandoned weather station/village on Kolyuchin, an island in the Chukchi Sea. They poke their heads out of the windows to get a look at the camera, which was mounted on a drone. They sniff the air. They sit on their bums in the grass. They curl up like dogs. Every time I see polar bears I think about how we are killing them, but damn, they look happy right now! My writing turned into this meditation on joy in the face of so many crises, even when it is gratitude for a blue sky in the midst of bomb cyclones, nor’easters, and climate change.” (web)

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November 23, 2021

Abby E. Murray

HOW TO BE TOGETHER

Ask a second grader.
Mine stood at the top
of the stairs, masked,
looking down at me
in the basement, masked,
unable to hold her,
my skin white-green
and slick with virus.
I am teaching her
how to be separate,
how not to hug me
until the doctor says.
When she told me
she missed my arms
so much her knees
wobbled, her eyes
were two wet pebbles
dropped in a gutter.
For what do pebbles
give thanks? How does
a gutter say grace?
I couldn’t even ask
these questions aloud,
so how she discovered
the answer is a mystery
to me: she ran outside,
around the house
to the basement window.
All I had to do was
open it, and that was,
in fact, all I could do.
She found two stones
in the yard, one smaller
than the other, both
of them rough and cold,
then hopped them toward
each other on the bricks
of the window ledge:
uno, dos, aquí. Here we are,
she said, this is you
and this is me, together.
Simple and exact.
People, you know you
are not a child anymore
when love shocks you.
I laid there, amazed
by how much light
two chunks of rock
could give, dazed
by the feast of blankets
glowing around me.
Each shallow breath
was a divine bite.
My daughter was
curled up with me
outside in the late
November sun,
which becomes a new
shade of gold even
on grey surfaces, even
when you think
those colors couldn’t
be further apart.

from Poets Respond
November 23, 2021

__________

Abby E. Murray: “This is a poem of thanksgiving—maybe not so much in honor of the holiday as in celebration of people who know how to be together through a crisis. In my case, I’m thinking of my seven-year-old daughter. Although I’m vaccinated, I contracted Covid and it’s been brutal. I wrote this on a good day.” (web)

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May 9, 2021

Abby E. Murray

MOTHERHOOD FOR BEGINNERS

First, realize: you’ve been drowning
for thousands of years and you know
what finally gets their attention?

The economy. Birth rates at their lowest
where you live in a country that boasts
the second highest cost of childbirth

of any industrialized nation
and your neighbor recommends
goat yoga when you lock yourself

in the car to cry. The only thing
we love more than feeding babies
is keeping them in line for bread,

their sweet legs dangling off
mama’s hip and one hand caught
like a finch in her hair. Second:

a man once told you women
who refuse to have children
are selfish, and you stared at him

like he wasn’t your husband,
like that’s not the kind of paradox
you prepared yourself for, loving

a person who thinks this way
even for one disastrous moment,
even when you know he’ll learn

how cruel this claim is long before
you write the poem to remember it.
Forgiving him takes just as much

work as it does to forgive mothers
who say the same thing, assuming
you’ll agree because your daughter

clings to your legs when they say it,
assuming she was born because
it was your duty to deliver her. Third:

you don’t owe this world a single regret
or forfeited wish or deferred acceptance
or apology for happiness.

Spare no silence for those
who tell you what hurts the most
is normal or a sign of the times.

The truth is, you will rinse both shit
and vomit off your hands before 7 a.m.
sometimes no matter who you love,

you will sleep in your work clothes
and forget the cupcakes
and beg a child to believe

she was not born to carry anybody
no matter who solemnly swears she was,
and you’ll bury this fact in the gleam

of her brainstem or your own
then celebrate by watching it bloom:
your child or the one you never had

shaped exactly like the life you saved
by letting it be what it was, a breath,
a body, a slow unfurling of color

on a silver landscape that constantly
needs reminding why it exists
and what it has to do with wonder.

Finally: they will treat your history
like an opinion. Be troublingly true.
They’ll think I wrote this only for you.

from Poets Respond
May 9, 2021

__________

Abby E. Murray: “Because of the timing (Mother’s Day weekend), it seems this poem is occasional. But I wrote it in response to new data that shows birth rates are down in the United States, and the ensuing conversations about whether the pandemic is to blame or some other ‘trend,’ such as—I’m just throwing these out here—lack of jobs or housing, violence against women, unequal pay, racism, broken systems meant to protect mothers and children, broken healthcare, or thriving sexism. I know I’m not the only one who suspects Captain Obvious edits most newspapers (‘people aren’t wearing masks and Covid is getting worse!’), but I wrote this to remind myself that I am just as valuable to this world for being a mother as I am for my own life, just as I am loved for loving others and naming what isn’t right.” (web)

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December 20, 2020

Abby E. Murray

WHAT THE DEAD MAN TAUGHT ME

for Marvin

The dead man is dead. And yet,
these are his tracks in the snow. Fresh.
He’s gone through your garbage again.

Your trash is more important
than your car. Without it, you wouldn’t
be able to get where you’re going.

Wait. I might be wrong here.
The dead man called me favorite.
He never called me best. And yet.

This coffee is mine because I say so.
Every letter on this page is mine too.
I am in touch with my inner seagull.

You can write about the moon
all you want. It will keep being moon.
It is too busy dying to explain itself.

There is nothing more toxic
to the human poem than a poet
with an agenda. Avoid committees.

Academia is overrated. If you insist
on joining it, protect your urge to write
poems. In this only, be ferocious.

If you need to giggle, you should.
If you need to sing, you should.
If you don’t, you should.

Whatever you see in the clouds
is yours to see. Same with darkness.
Only close your eyes when you must.

No teacher or soldier can make you
know anything. Know how to love
anyway, and how to say so.

Where you’re standing now will burn.
The dead man hates to see you sad.
Everything you do makes him smile.

Remember, words have meaning.
We think we have meaning,
though we lose track of it constantly—

we throw the meaning of us out
with the eggshells and newspapers
so often it thinks it lives outdoors.

The dead man isn’t home now.
He heard music down the street
and went to see about it. Come back

later. All his stuff is here, see?
In a thousand years, somebody will say
you just missed him, and it will be true.

from Poets Respond
December 20, 2020

__________

Abby E. Murray: “On Monday evening, Marvin Bell (author of the Dead Man Poems) died in his home in Iowa. He was my professor at Pacific University, where I got my MFA as part of a half-baked survival plan during my husband’s combat tours. A veteran, Marvin convinced me I was a delight even when war left me feeling shipwrecked; he gave his students the sense he was tickled to be trusted with our poems even as he shredded them, asked for more, praising us, glad we made it—because it was so good we had made it to poetry. He could tell a story about anything, coax joy out of anyone, play longer and with more conviction than a dog at the beach. And I have to admit, I am feeling a little shipwrecked again. When someone this influential dies, I find it useful to inventory what they left behind for us to handle their absence. He taught me to be unafraid, even when a gaping absence scares the water from my eyes. I cried to write this. Not the poem. This.” (web)

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December 8, 2019

Abby E. Murray

ADVENT ON SOUTH HILL

When I can’t tell if the sun
is technically up or gone,

I walk the loop of my neighborhood,
embracing it with footprints.

We dread the dark here, though
there’s light from some lampposts

and maple leaves reminiscing
how brilliant they were before

they dried and thickened in our gutters.
I miss what is lit from within.

I wish I could say there are
goldfinches here even in winter

and maybe there are—
I haven’t seen one but the bird book

says they nest in Washington
year-round, molting from gilded

to woolly grey suits at the end of summer.
I wish I could find something weightless

or buoyant to hold. When it gets cold,
finches ditch what dazzles us

in favor of feathers grown solely
to keep them alive, a coat

the color of waiting, of slush,
of sleeping and waking and pacing.

My neighbors say little and close
their blinds so they don’t have to watch

the day end with me on the sidewalk,
nobody they know or want to see,

my hands empty, my face not quite
like one they’d remember.

Mornings, we glance at each other
the way I squint at sparrows,

as if to check the difference between
what I have and what I need to see,

something drab as getting by
or a gift in disguise, a song

about to burst from trampled weeds,
just one note brighter than yellow.

from Poets Respond
December 8, 2019

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Abby E. Murray: “Saturday marked the end of the first week of Advent. My favorite season, though every year it seems harder to remember what light everyone is waiting for and whether it will arrive in a way we can see and feel. Light, like poetry, is something we can carry and wear like armor. I like that idea, instead of armor as burden. In my meditations, I wondered how many people spend this time of year waiting, being twisted and pulled by need, and how many of us spend the day trying not to show it. So much of what I do in my neighborhood, in particular, feels like a performance of loneliness. My neighbors don’t talk much, or, more specifically, just not to me—I’m too political, too tall; my dog is too aggressive. I’ve been told a hundred times at least that I am intimidating. If I am, I have no plans to change, but I don’t think I am. I’m spending these weeks waiting for light.” (web)

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