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Joan Murray

· Joan Murray: Lullaby (poem) · Joan Murray: Survivors—Found (poem) · Joan Murray: Vermont and the Hills and the Valleys (poem) · Joan Murray: Chrysalis (poem) · Joan Murray: Even the gulls of the cool Atlantic (poem) · Joan Murray: One Morganatic Leer (poem)

Joan Murray: Lullaby (poem)



Sleep, little architect. It is your mother’s wish
That you should lave your eyes and hang them up in dreams.
Into the lowest sea swims the great sperm fish.
If I should rock you, the whole world would rock within my arms.

Your father is a greater architect than even you.
His structure falls between high Venus and far Mars.
He rubs the magic of the old and then peers through
The blueprint where lies the night, the plan the stars.

You will place mountains too, when you are grown.
The grass will not be so insignificant, the stone so dead.
You will spiral up the mansions we have sown.
Drop your lids, little architect. Admit the bats of wisdom into your head.

Joan Murray
Poems 1917-1942
New Haven: Yale University Press, 1975

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Joan Murray: Survivors—Found (poem)


We thought that they were gone—
we rarely saw them on our screens—
those everyday Americans
with workaday routines,

and the heroes standing ready—
not glamorous enough—
on days without a tragedy,
we clicked—and turned them off.

We only saw the cynics—
the dropouts, show-offs, snobs—
the right- and left- wing critics:
we saw that they were us.

But with the wounds of Tuesday
when the smoke began to clear,
we rubbed away our stony gaze—
and watched them reappear:

the waitress in the tower,
the broker reading mail,
a pair of window washers,
filling up a final pail,

the husband’s last “I love you”
from the last seat of a plane,
the tourist taking in a view
no one would see again,

the fireman, his eyes ablaze
as he climbed the swaying stairs—
he knew someone might still be saved.
We wondered who it was.

We glimpsed them through the rubble:
the ones who lost their lives,
the heroes’ double burials,
the ones now “left behind,”

the ones who rolled a sleeve up,
the ones in scrubs and masks,
the ones who lifted buckets
filled with stone and grief and ash:

some spoke a different language—
still no one missed a phrase;
the soot had softened every face
of every shade and age—

“the greatest generation” ?—
we wondered where they’d gone—
they hadn’t left directions
how to find our nation-home:

for thirty years we saw few signs,
but now in swirls of dust,
they were alive—they had survived—
we saw that they were us.

Joan Murray

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Joan Murray: Vermont and the Hills and the Valleys (poem)


Vermont and the Hills and the Valleys

Tremendous are the ways of the simple people,
The hills speak with their mouths,
The sky laughs out the rims of their eyes,
The earth walks with the feet of the people
And the wind and the dead are their souls awake
And the sleep, that is theirs comes when the eye-lid
Slips down to meet the soiled slant of their cheeks.

Great are the mountain slopes curving along the line
Flanked by the river or the smooth-glint track of train:
A speed of smoke, a sprung-coil loosely heaped beyond the span of steel.
Look to right — look to the left and the fields
That fit in languid patterns between trees,
Umber cornstalks, hay in warm-split stacks!

Tight is the hair of women who call cows to the milking,
Wrists and fingers playing out the movement of the udder-press.
White is the angle and the piss and splash of milk.
Let it be remembered, O, let it be remembered
That there are the women and the simple people!

The oxen plow and wagon the hay in its high dung-gold,
Making long horns shape and hold the moon,
The red of their sides squat.
The green of the trees spring in wide green waves to the wind,
To the fields and the wide-palmed spread of space.

The men are before the night:
With the cracks of their cheeks filled with dust,
And the hands heavy like listless takes swung down,
And the dirt and sweat on their lips,
And the rise and fall of their chests.

The women go from the milking to the pot without compunction.
Steps of men and women from the field to the home,
From the plow to the reaping in the deep high swell of wheat.
There are the simple people
Whose hands rest still on a Sabbath,

And great are the fields and the mountains,
And great are the slopes and the valleys.

Joan Murray
Vermont and the Hills and the Valleys

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Joan Murray: Chrysalis (poem)



It’s mid-September, and in the Magic Wing Butterfly Conservancy
in Deerfield, Massachusetts, the woman at the register
is ringing up the items of a small girl and her mother.
There are pencils and postcards and a paperweight–
all with butterflies–and, chilly but alive,
three monarch caterpillars–in small white boxes
with cellophane tops, and holes punched in their sides.
The girl keeps rearranging them like a shell game
while the cashier chats with her mother: “They have to
feed on milkweed–you can buy it in the nursery outside.”
“We’ve got a field behind our house,” the mother answers.
The cashier smiles to show she didn’t need the sale:
“And in no time, they’ll be on their way to Brazil or Argentina–
or wherever they go–” (“to Mexico,” says the girl,
though she’s ignored) “and you can watch them
do their thing till they’re ready to fly.”

I remember the monarchs my son and I brought in one summer
on bright pink flowers we’d picked along the swamp
on Yetter’s farm. We were “city folks,” eager for nature
and ignorant–we left our TV home–and left the flowers
in a jar on the dry sink in the trailer. We never noticed the caterpillars
till we puzzled out the mystery of the small black things
on the marble top–which turned out to be their droppings.
And soon, three pale green dollops hung from the carved-out leaves,
each studded with four gold beads–so gold they looked to be
mineral–not animal–a miracle that kept us amazed
as the walls grew clear and the transformed things broke through,
pumped fluid in their wings, dried off–and flew.
I gauge from that memory that it will be next month
before the girls are “ready.” I wonder how they’ll “fly”
when there’s been frost. “And they’ll come back next summer,”
the cashier says, “to the very same field–they always do.”
I’m sure that isn’t true. But why punch holes
in our little hopes when we have so few?

Next month, my mother will have a hole put in her skull
to drain the fluid that’s been weighing on her brain.
All summer, she’s lain in one hospital or another–
yet the old complainer’s never complained.
In Mather, the woman beside her spent a week in a coma,
wrapped like a white cocoon with an open mouth
(a nurse came now and then to dab the drool).
My mother claimed the woman’s husband was there too–
“doing what they do”–though it didn’t annoy her.
Now she’s in Stony Brook–on the eighteenth floor.
I realize I don’t know her anymore. When she beat against
the window to break through, they had to strap her down
–and yet how happy and how likeable she’s become.
When I visit, I spend my nights in her empty house–
in the bed she and my father used to share. Perhaps they’re
there. Perhaps we do come back year after year
to do what we’ve always done–if we can’t make
our way to kingdom come, or lose ourselves altogether.

Joan Murray

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Joan Murray: Even the gulls of the cool Atlantic (poem)


Even the gulls of the cool Atlantic

Even the gulls of the cool Atlantic retip the silver foam,
The boats that warn me of the fog warn me of their motion
I have looked for my childhood among pebbles my home
Within the lean cupboards of motherhubbard and clipped Albion

A wind whose freshness blows over the Cape to me
Has made me laugh at the memory of a friend whose hair is blond
Still we laugh and run our hands over the sea
From the farthest tip of land to the end of the end.

I had so often run down to these shores to stare out
If I took an island for a lover and Atlantic for my sheet
There was no one to tell me that loving across distance would turn about
And make the here and now an elsewhere of defeat.

In my twenty first year to have the grubby hand of a slums
Be the small child at my knee knee the glistening chalk
That sails to meet the stationary boat the water sloping as it comes
And all the Devon coast of grey and abrupt rock

By gazing across water I have flicked many gulls from my eyes
Shuffled small shells and green crabs at my feet
The day is cool the sun bright the piper cries
Shrilly tampering the untouched sand with delicate conceit.

Up beyond the height and over the bank I have a friend
How are your winter days and summer actions
There could be little more than a tea cup hour to make us comprehend
A mature man’s simplicity or grave child’s sweet reaction.

Joan Murray
Even the gulls of the cool Atlantic

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Joan Murray: One Morganatic Leer (poem)


One Morganatic Leer

You think you complain
of the ugliness of people.
Meet your own bed.
Smell what you said.
Your words, unmitigated, dead,
Sink like a noon sun in the crass tomb
beneath the steeple.

Two feet above the sand,
look down
A tartan shore,
A clan, a clack, a whore,
A mobile open door,
To the dog against the tree,
the brittle mugging clown.

Claws like tumbled fingers here
Stand for hands,
Elastic bands,
Minds and trends.
Thighs sprout here enough to breed
the honor of your morganatic leer.

Joan Murray
One Morganatic Leer
from: Poems (1947)

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