“Teeny Tiny” by Matthew Murrey

Ekphrastic Challenge, May 2015: Artist’s Choice


Painting by Åsa Antalffy Eriksson

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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

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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.

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