Word Poetry




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Sample Poems by Erin Murphy

Everyone Has a Story

This is my grandmother’s:
She is squeezed in the center of a convertible,
a 1934 Ford coupe, let’s say—
red, like her mother’s hair that whips
around in the passenger seat beside her.

The driver calls her mother Vi,
not Viola, and uses all the v words
he can muster. My vivacious violet,
he croons, then points to the Berkshires:
a verdant view. Asked if he’s thirsty,
he answers with a deliberate very
as if it’s the cleverest thing a man
has ever said. Her mother laughs,

the first sign, perhaps, of the looming
betrayal, like the girls who banish
one of their own, then giggle loudly
from swings across the schoolyard
to show the exiled one what she’s missing.

Mr. Wey is how he’s introduced
to my grandmother when he arrives
to take them for ice cream
and a drive in the country.
Surely not all the gentlemen callers
are villains straight from dime-store comics.
One, at least, must kneel down
to ask about her birthday
or to offer a teddy bear with a plaid bow
around its neck. Surely they don’t all steer
with one beefy arm slung over the wheel
the way this man does as he winds
along the back roads of western Massachusetts
before cutting the engine
in front of a small brown house.
My grandmother is told to wait in the car.
Back in a jiff, her mother says
as Mr. Wey takes another swig
from the bottle in the paper bag
and tells her to decide what kind of ice cream
she’ll get on the way home.

The story doesn’t end when her mother
and the man stagger out and announce
they’ve just been married. It doesn’t end
with the forgotten peach-flavored ice cream.
It doesn’t end when my grandmother
tip-toes around him evenings
as her mother works split shifts
at the factory, or when, four years later,
he falls asleep in the green tweed chair
and never wakes up. It doesn’t even end

with the small insurance check
that pays for her first pair of new school shoes.
When my grandmother learns years later
that Mr. Wey wasn’t just another caller
but the real father she’d never known,
the story is just beginning.


A woman who called the parents of a missing girl
and claimed she might be their long lost daughter
was charged Wednesday with committing a cruel hoax.
— Associated Press

What can I say about my own family
except that living with foster parents
feels like talking to somebody
who keeps checking his watch.
They weren’t cruel, nothing like that.
They fed me plenty and bought me dolls—
not real Barbies but the hollow kind
with the arms and legs that keep
snapping off and getting lost.

I’m not a bad person, really, like when I see
a mother squatting down to take a picture
of her family, I always offer to take it for her.
There’s this split second when she gives me
a look like, What do you want from me?
But then she hands me the camera—
trusts me with it, you know—
and shows me what button to push.
It’s the right thing to do—I mean,
why’s there always gotta be somebody left out?

That girl was gone for so long.
Even if they’d found her, she wouldn’t be
the same little 6-year-old who went missing
playing hide ‘n’ seek, anymore than I’m
that girl who played with broken Barbies.
Life kind of chips away at you, you know,
turns you into somebody else
with the same name.

Would it have been so terrible if they’d believed it?
There’d be a parade through downtown
and a barbecue in the park. We’d go
on “The Today Show” for sure because
I’ve loved Katie Couric ever since her husband died
and she was so strong, like a brave cheerleader.
After all that, we’d settle into visits for birthdays
and Christmas and Easter—I’ve always wanted
to come from a town where you
get dust on your shoes walking home from church.

Who would have gotten hurt, anyway?
If you’d have heard her daddy’s voice,
the way it shook when he said, Shannon?,
you’d have told him whatever he needed to hear, too.
I mean, Jesus as my Savior, we’re all waiting
for a phone call like that, aren’t we? Aren’t you?


You could see it best
from the marsh out back,

the satellite your father spent
his career constructing.
Evenings after dinner he took you

out to watch it sift
in and out of clouds the way

a dolphin parts the waves,
then disappears again
beneath the surface.

It was almost a star
with its subtle pulse

that left it quivering between
fullness and the outline
of a solitary zero.

Every night he told the same
story of its birth

as you measured the steady logic
of its westward course.
When he spoke you could see the rhythm

of his breathing as his shoulders
lifted, then fell, and you watched

his eyes blink slowly,
never closing all the way
but never really opening.