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Two Poems

Taxonomies: Me, Too

I. Gloves

Marshmallow-thick ski gloves.
A pair strung from toddler sleeves.
Lost mate waving from a puddle.
The snapped rubber glove that splits open
on the orthodontist’s hand. Ever had
one break on you, dear? he sneers,
his breath hot in my teen-girl ear.

II. Late Arrivals

The every-other-weekend father,
daughter at the window practicing
times tables on glass fogged
with breath. In summer: the moon.
In winter: the sun. The girl’s date,
the one with a blown muffler and rough
hands. The next month: her blood.

III. Things That Slide

Girl on the playground,
the steel mirror-polished
by the seat of her pants.
Houses after pummeling
rains. Tears. Unwelcome
words about your breasts
from men you pass. Years.

IV. Smiles

Ambiguity tugging the seams of Mona Lisa’s lips.
Helen of Troy, for surely it wasn’t a scowl
that launched a thousand ships. Smile more, say men,
always men. But my mouth’s default is a grin.
Classic American smile, proclaims my dentist.
What does he mean? Unrestrained? Too much? Larger
than life? When he says open wider, I want to bite.


Taxonomies: Words

I. Mouths

Origin of longing, home
for nourishment and song.
How we first connect, lip
and spit and tongue—later,
how we split apart, each word
a volley. Where the river
empties itself into another body.

II. Ears

Oyster shell plastered to each side of the head.
Dark canal leading to every story you’ve heard.
The convenience store detracts teen loiterers
by playing classical music at high frequencies
only the young can hear. But not you. You sink
deeper underwater each year. How many
ways to ask What? I say lobe. You hear love.

III. Silence

Middle of the night stillness. Crisco-thick air
between us after a fight. Reading beside
each other. Ellipses…++caesuras++The sign
language we taught our baby daughter, the way
she’d press the tips of her fingers together
to insist more long after she’d learned to talk
as if she understood the power in holding back.

Erin Murphy is the author or editor of eleven books, mother of four humans, and servant to two Siamese cats. She splits her time between western Pennsylvania and the Eastern Shore of Maryland. Website: erin-murphy.com.