Kevin Murphy

Retired Professor, Literatures in English

Title

Before your mother met your father
What did your true face look like?

 1. One Obscure Night

As I followed the ambulance down the long
asphalt road gutted with salt and ice,
I felt to my left and right the black
hillsides crouch, covered with slush,
filling with rain, ready to slide.
If you died, what part of me would die?
What part had died already in calling you
to suck and cough the dark air for life?
Sensing just beyond the concave warp
of the headlights a vast annihilation,
I drove on, accelerating into darkness.

 2. The Willows, in Season

In the mind's deep recess a dark knot unfurls
into the dull incandescence of ocher and green.
It is late winter, early afternoon, and all
day the sun has filled the empty sky,
the slate-blue lake, the stand of willows.

The pliant branches yield their weight
to the air, and, sagging with yellow light,
hover, suspended tufts of unperplexed
straw, poised between earth and sky.
The muted bark is warm and overfull.

As a cup holds water beyond its lip,
this surface contains, expands, bulges
the light without tremble, without spill.
Instead, a stillness spreads across
the lake and rests upon the horizon.

Was it here, like the light, you were born
or captured? As the old poet says,
we do not have to choose: before the supremacy
of this light, our only task is to see.

 

 3. Visage

Under the transparent hat-box of oxygen
your miniature head and torso lay, hooked
to machines, stuck with tubes, strapped in.
Your hair was still bloodied from the birth
while across your face some dream-drama
was being played out, repeating or completing
the rough passage into this, your only life.

A scowl furrowed your eyes and brow,
as though you repugned this painful flesh.
Then your features eased into limp respose,
what I thought or hoped was sleep.
But you changed again, alert, amused
by some distant inward call, and then
a quiet rapture filled your face.

And still again you changed: the pique
of curiosity or pride, the dull ache
of anger or hate, the pure radiance of awe,
all wrinkled and smoothed your new-born skin.
Behind your closed lids a kaleidoscope
spun free, unhinged from time or cause,
rehearsing all you could ever know.

Was all this written down long ago?
Do we, deep in our cells, read ourselves
to sleep? Like every father, I had hoped
and feared to teach you the world, to shape
a question for which I had no answer.
But through that hard vigil just before spring,
searching the composure of your puckered face
while your just formed lungs inspired the empty air,
I learned not to riddle but to trace in praise
this persistent, this merciful redundancy.