I’ve had daughters move home
on their way from one frayed relationship
to the unknown. The tear-swollen eyes.
The packed hatchback, mauve bedspread
smashed against the passenger window.
This is different. Two of my grown children
are here for the duration. Mother
as noun. Mother as verb. Mother
How old were you when you learned
mauve rhymes with drove? That segue
is not spelled segway? That the bird
you hear when you wake is a mourning dove,
not a morning dove? How could you
have ignored the sorrow in its song?
I’ve organized the spices in the lazy Susan,
labels on top. Who was Susan and what
made her lazy? It’s all about the z sound,
the sibilant. I arrange the jars alphabetically
and turn them round and round: adobo, anise,
basil, bay leaves, chervil, dill. A doctor friend
is in charge of a Covid unit in New York City.
They turn the patients like rotisserie chickens,
draining quarts of sputum from their lungs.
The lieutenant governor of Texas says
Some things are more important than living.
I can only think of one thing.
Dream: we have to sleep
on tree limbs, tensing
our bellies to keep
from spilling over
the sides, afraid
to drift off.
We are removed from the groove
of consumerism, the fresh-purchase
rush of a new plush throw
in our ongoing attempt to create hygge
(“hoo-gah”), the Danish word for coziness.
We move our sluggish bodies,
not spending but spent.
I don’t know what I love more:
forsythia’s wild lion mane
or the word forsythia, the way
it coaxes the tongue from
behind the teeth. In a typical
spring there is a sudden eruption
of yellow that just as quickly
turns green. But this year
I witness the gradual transition,
each petal inched out by a leafy shoot.
They say the virus might spread
through aerosol. In a 60-person
choir, 45 people fell ill, one member
infecting the others through song.
Say forsythia, forsythia—say it
safely when you are alone.
I insist on rituals—coffee on the back porch—
as if demanding a photo of my old self
holding today’s newspaper, proof
of a former life. A robin assembles a nest
in a hedge, layers it with twigs and grass.
Soon there will be eggs the color of—
of Joan Baez’s lover’s eyes, I joke
because there is humor here
in the architecture of the ordinary.
This is a good time to master
the difference between lie and lay.
Lie, lay, lain. Lay, laid, laid.
Was I lying in bed or laying in bed
when I heard the mourning dove?
People lie and chickens lay, my teachers
used to say. Faulker: As I Lay Dying.
The president lies. The president is lying.
All of the restaurants are dark.
People break in, sleep on the booths,
drink the booze, spoon mouthfuls
of industrial-sized cans of soup.
Our favorite sushi place has a red room
reserved for overflow where they let us
sit, even on a quiet Tuesday.
The hostess doesn’t ask—she just
takes us to our favorite table
in the corner, its vinyl seats repaired
with duct tape. Above us, a framed
print of Mount Fuji is covered
in clingwrap to protect it
from grease and dust. We’ve read
that 70 percent of restaurants
may not survive. The president says,
They will come back. They may
not be the same restaurants
or the same owners, but they will
come back. Will people come back, too,
but with different names and faces?
Dream: it’s the last night at Carly’s,
the bar where I served cocktails in college.
As a gift, Carly gives us cassette recordings
of ourselves when we were young.
I am 14 and talking about a book
in my high school English class. I use
the word linear. I barely recognize
my own voice. That was the year I bit
a wart off of the base of my left index finger.
I still have the scar. I go to thank Carly
but can only hug myself.
Will there always be before and after?
This is the orderly independent clause;
the scattered shattered after is this.
The federal government ordered
an extra 100,000 body bags this week.
The dead are stacked in refrigerated trucks
that hum through the night, a one-note
lullaby droning in empty city streets.
We bathe in the sameness of days,
soft water sliding over our skin
like silicone. Is there a word for tedium
tinged with fear? A man in a black mask
leaves groceries at our door, rings
the bell then disappears. The boxes
are dusted with April snow. He has
replaced bananas with butternut squash.
Because they are both yellow
or both start with b? I will never know.
Erin Murphy’s latest book, Human Resources, is forthcoming from Salmon Poetry. Her work has appeared or is forthcoming in Diode, The American Journal of Poetry, Southern Poetry Review, The Georgia Review, Contrary, Women’s Studies Quarterly, and elsewhere. Her awards include the Dorothy Sargent Rosenberg Poetry Prize, The Normal School Poetry Prize, and a Best of the Net award. She is Poetry Editor of The Summerset Review and Professor of English at Penn State Altoona. website: www.erin-murphy.com