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

__________

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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May 7, 2019

Abby E. Murray

FREE SHIPPING

from Poets Respond
May 7, 2019

__________

Abby E. Murray: “Someone toppled, burned and drowned hundreds of thousands of bees in Texas, and a NYT headline read: ‘There goes my honey flow.’ It made me think about how our reactions to nonstop news stories centered on loss are wildly different, creating what feels like an even wider distance between all of us. I didn’t think of honey or even pollination when I first heard about this, but the way it must feel to be drowned in a sinking structure you cannot escape, like a beehive thrown in a pond, or a sinking ship, or a burning democracy. Every day I peer into the news feeling certain I can hear it all, hold it all, that I must, but where can I keep it? I don’t write concrete poems often, but I wanted this poem to be a container for the news of honeybees burning—a fantastic, tragic image.” (web)

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October 7, 2018

Abby E. Murray

THIS IS ONLY A TEST

this is a test
of the emergency alert
system if this were
an actual emergency
there would be thousands
of white ladies
lurching forward
to touch a man
with two thumbs up
and they’d be howling
a carol that sounds
like wolves being shot
from above
and if this wasn’t
merely a drill
you would be directed
to the nearest rendezvous
for people who once
begged to escape
which looks similar
to the federal building
next to the scrap metal yard
which is burning
an otherworldly smoke
toward space on the tail
of California’s ashes
and if this were
an actual emergency
fire crews would advise
us not to inhale deeply
or swallow water
within city limits
until there can be
a thorough investigation
of the active shooter
who may or may not
be barricaded in a shed
with a legally purchased
rifle and years of rejection
which can be fatal
to those who live
near the rejected
and there would be
hundreds of doors
flung open on churches
and there would be
bodies everywhere
watching each other
wondering whose hands
will pull them from
the subway tracks
and whose will press
a scream back down
its own throat toward
the mattress but this is
only a test no action
is needed I repeat
no action is needed

from Poets Respond
October 7, 2018

__________

Abby E. Murray: “This morning, the radio told me about the upcoming presidential alert text I’d be receiving. Later, everywhere I e-turned, there was an article responding to this alert, whether it was emphasizing the absurdity of this current administration’s reach or the impending fear we should feel when notified of an attack. Some of the responses were funny. But the line ‘No action is needed’ really stuck with me. (Isn’t this the message of so many people afraid of their traditional roles and practices being shaken?) I realized I wasn’t half as concerned about a text being sent to millions of people as the other fires we currently have roaring on every corner. I realized that, behind each of those fires, there is someone (or a group of someones) calling for no action to be taken.” (web)

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