“What the Dead Man Taught Me” by Abby E. Murray

Abby E. Murray


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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