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Scrub

from “Old Stones Understand” – 2021 Shanti Arts LLC. in response to the June 24th Supreme Court Roe v. Wade overturn.

At day’s end
all over the world,
we lather the cloth.

Time to remove
the makeup
the armor
the magician’s blindfold
the leather
the ancient battle-mask
the gunk.

Scrub through the fake smile
the nervous twitch
the uncertain glance
the bruise
the pox
the shame
the un-yield
the unintended insult
the fully intended dig
the well-meant concern
the sloppy unwelcome kiss
the piercing glare.

Keep scrubbing: try to get out
the control
the no way out
the making do
the not good enough
the slap
the sting of no choice
the scars
the silence.

And now, sister of the world,
sleep.
Tomorrow we start again.

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Statement Footwear

Lower half of author in a green lame and black lace dress, featuring mint green Converse All-Star sneakers, circa 1987.

Green converse sneakers.
A wry deliberate choice when worn
with a green lamé and black lace dress
strapless for the start of summer 1987
fancy and scandalous
perfect for an ex-boyfriend’s prom
where I knew no one else
the breakup days before, the date kept anyway
to not waste this va-voom costume with
mint green high top sneakers lending balance.

The look and the shoes
both the converse
of what I was inside:
flouncy exterior, stripped-down interior
party girl dancing, philosopher watching
waiting for the night and its stale obligation to end
so the in-between feeling
of being 18 in that world
could figure itself out
in the dawn of 19.

4/21/2022
Stacey Murphy

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Women’s Day 2022

An overtly feminine image of Women’s Day, March 8th, selected for its irony

On Women’s Day –
we stand holding up more than half the sky
our arms as tired as our fake smiles
upon uttering a wish,
“Happy international women’s day.”
Happy?
Too tired for happy.

In America
tired of a Senate that won’t pass Women’s Healthcare Acts
tired of states grabbing for control over women’s bodies
tired of arguing why an athlete should be able to wear shorts that cover her ass if she wants
tired of wheedling voices saying “well, not ALL men…”
tired of being blamed for our low pay if we didn’t speak up
tired of being called a bitch for speaking up.

Tired of blank stares from other women
when you point out that we have no Equal Rights Amendment
no law guaranteeing equality for women
after it was fought for 50 years ago
and clearly we stopped too soon
because my friends who marched in the 1970s
now fear for granddaughters.
Stopped too soon because these grandmas
who helped women get safe abortions
and recover from unsafe ones in the 1960’s
now can’t believe the complacency and apathy
in the ears of those who can’t conceive
the metal clang of the canary cage door
and won’t be paying attention
as it slides shut behind them.

We are tired of the invisible
American understanding
that we are meant to hold up more than half the sky
for 82 cents of every white man’s dollar
or 70 cents if we are black
or 65 cents if we are Latina

So arms trembling we hold up that sky
and feel shame that we lapsed in
the expected relentless virtuous gratitude
and try to wring pride in our resilience
from the stones in our hearts –

But yeah.
happy
F*ck!ng international women’s day.

3.8.2022

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My Body

On January 20th it was the five-year anniversary of the Women’s March, an event that occurred in hundreds of cities and communities around the world and involved millions of people. I was at the march in Washington DC. I remember the way we felt at the end – like we had a toehold on hope again, after being frightened at the implications for women upon the results of the 2016 presidential election.

And here we are in 2022. Things seem grimmer than ever for women, given attempts to end body autonomy in healthcare through a very real chance that Roe v. Wade will be stripped away. Voting rights are in peril for ordinary Americans as well – and more. It’s tiring just even typing these sentences out.

That morning my friend and mentor, Zee Zahava, shared a list poem called “My Body” on her Facebook page. It inspired me to create, stream-of-conscious, my own “My Body” statements. I then shared them on Instagram @Staceycithaca and Facebook, slowly, in chunks over the course of two days and now I’m sharing them here in this collage. I love how it was clear, at the start, I wasn’t sure how many I’d end up with. I let the process flow as the days progressed – and it wound up with 8 segments.

All this is to say – if you have a spark of inspiration, roll with it. Especially if it moves you to do one thing to break you out of a feeling that verges on hopelessness.

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Matsukaze

Matsukaze

                meaning: pine in the wind (Japanese)

I came upon them
In the clearing –
An old woman in a puffy coat
And bright pink hat
Surrounded by hemlocks and oaks
And the swaying stopped my steps.

“Matsukaze” she breathed, eyes closed,
Arms stretched up
As she stood arms out,
Fingers splayed to December air
And leaned,
Just a little,
This way then that
Like the trees in the breeze
Leaned from their trunks,
Just this way then that.

And I thought of all the air rushing through them
In their near-stillness
And so I stopped my rushing
Peeled back my pink mittens
Reached my own limbs skyward
And closed my eyes.
And started to move just this way then that.
And when the oaks creaked
I creaked
And when the hemlocks moaned
I let out my troubles

And along the path more people came
And stopped
And raised their arms up
And some were yogis doing tree poses
And others experienced a faint karate kata memory
All releasing
Our breath rising through branches
Stirring the breeze with the trees
Letting peace come to us.

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For Madisyn, Tate, Hana, and Justin

Photo by form PxHere

Today, my son, you ate two toasted waffles
as the early light came up
outside our windows.
Two waffles and four strawberries
steeped in syrup
and as you went off to finish
getting ready for school
I thought of the four teens
shot dead in Michigan,
Madisyn, Tate, Hana, Justin
and what they had for breakfast
on their last morning of school.

I thought of the families
aching and raw of – how many?
Of almost 400 kids since 2009
at school to learn, not die
and on the drive to school
as my voice asked about your sneakers,
my heart wondered
if the Marjorie Stoneman Douglas
school hallway lockers
hold the laughter of their 17 dead
or if there lingers an odor of terror
when friends rest a cheek against the cold metal?

Two things are sure.
One, there is no room in those spaces
for thoughts and prayers impotent without action.

Two, nothing holds grief like a parent’s heart.

And as I watch you walk away from the car,
into spaces we all want to trust
I wonder
what those hearts remember of their babies?
A particular expression?
A flash of eyes in a playful moment?
Or what shoes they had on that day
walking away?

12/5/2021 – S. Murphy

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Royal Dragonfly Book Award

This week I learned that “Old Stones Understand” received an honorable mention from the Royal Dragonfly Book Awards in the poetry category! For a first effort, I’m pleased with this recognition for my little collection of poems, and grateful to Shanti Arts Publishing for the nomination.

Royal Dragonfly, each year, makes awards across a wide range of publication types and genres – 66 in all. Worth checking out if you’re a new author!

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Late November Hope

My shoes celebrate the forest floor
weeks ago they crunched the leaves on this path
loud and delectable
homemade potato chips for the feet
and today the frozen mud, like clay
yielding in its satisfying way
as I move through these trees again
asking in each season
whether strangers who know your secrets
are really strangers at all?

The hemlocks know what I wonder
as together we lean over the cliff,
all our branches stretching for
the first flakes of snow.

I want to know
will they come as big fat kisses
that wet my cheeks?

As gossamer angels
resting on my eyelashes?

Or fast and furious,
not able to clean this world fast enough
but trying all the more?

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Dia De Los Muertos (2009)

Courtesy of cobalt123 on Flickr

In 2009, just after Halloween, I flew to Tucson to be with my dad. His second wife, Lynn, had passed away just a week or so before. The day before my return coincided with the All Souls Procession, a celebration of life that defies description. It really does. It’s a giant, moving party-as-parade that ends with performances and the ceremony described in this poem – and it was a very fitting way to end a somewhat unorthodox but perfect week and to reflect on her passing and life and death more generally.

This poem tried to sum it up. It appears in my collection Old Stones Understand by Shanti Arts Press. (c) 2021.

That night in November
we released what was gone
but that we had not ceased holding:

loved ones who stopped needing their bodies
things that didn’t serve
pets who still romped behind shadows of trees,
old habits.

And you and I, we took the slips
of shiny paper
and wrote her name.
I imagined peace where her shaky hands
and liver
had once been.

The acrobats lifted the cauldron full of papers
high into the sky
And lit them on fire
but instead of falling
they twinkled and flew away into the night,
tiny prayers
on kites with endless strings.

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Leaves Let Go

One of my running places, upstate
It is not the way of leaves 
to care about how they fall.

It doesn’t matter
whether there are heavy, thunder-filled 
clouds overhead
or miles of bright blue and sunshine.

A leaf doesn’t
cry out in pain if a harsh wind 
tugs it from its twig
nor does it giggle with mischief if it 
manages to break free on its own.

A leaf doesn’t
fret over which is better—
to swoop down in a wild, swirling canopy,
a rustling riot of yellow magic with hundreds of others, or to flutter demurely to the ground
in a quiet, private moment.

No leaf even considers holding on, 
resisting its destiny,
its part in the inevitable pattern.

For the leaf, simply letting go 
is the thing.



-from Old Stones Understand, (c) 2021, Shanti Arts Publishing


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Fledglings

Photo by form PxHere

A brown cardinal baby
nestled in the crook
of our back porch trumpet vine
invisible until her big red dad returned
again and again
bearing grubs to nourish
and maybe soothe
after her important launch.

Later in Target
a mom scouring aisles
her own fledgling just new in a dorm
the store shelves
bare of what she really sought:
Comfort. Love.
Courage for a newly flown almost-man
His deepening voice still soft around the edges

What can she do?
Settle for a really good pillow
or favorite snacks, deep breaths
the vein in her forehead
carrying the same tension as the frantic
to-and-fro of a parent bird
No rest.
Just utter faith it will be enough

while there they go, strong and confident
like we’ve always believed
yet never quite been ready for.
Do birds feel it too?

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At 53

Who can say
at the dawn of a birthday?
If we are born with goodness and trust
what remains after so much laundering
of oneself?
Live. Wash. Rinse. Repeat.

When I was young
I had a blanket, white with pink and blue flowers
cotton with satin edging pink and soft and shiny
comfort to a small cheek on a dark night.
Her name was Mary.
Mary Soft Blanket.

By the time I was 25
she was rough, flower pattern worn and washed away
satin long since ripped and discarded
still fit for sunbathing
on a sunny day
in a meadow of bees and blueberries.

Now she lives in a basket
at the back of a closet under the stairs
other blankets since bought and discarded
it’s been 50 years
I think of her goodness
and wonder what lingers in me.

Live. Wash. Rinse.
And now – repair.
Feel for softness beneath my rough
listen for remnants of goodness and trust
and then
only repeat what feels well and true.

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For Solstice 2021

I tried an experiment today. I wrote six short stream-of-consciousness type poems as the day went on. The first two were written yesterday, but the second one got rewrote a bit, and then today, others came and went – and the last one was done during a thunderstorm. It was fun to play with trying to connect them. Happy summer, 2021!

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Tender is the Light

Adapted from a photo by form PxHere

Tender is the light
as it swirls lazy dust motes
through the once attic window
shining on what is left:
rusty knob and tube wire,
unnamed ancestors
in a musty shoebox,
candle figurines
melted by summers
teddy bears succumbing
to mold from rain and snow
through the fallen-in roof.
All left for salvage
by squirrels who take what
is useful for nests
nature unjudging
humans not returning
memories unclaimed.

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Venturing Out

Photo by form PxHere

Venturing Out

The platform is high
but out it she ventures
will she just take the dive?
No – she pads back to the center
where the board is less shaky
head full of conjecture
on staying or going
she could use a mentor
to weigh out her choices
or maybe protect her
from the others, just waiting
to see how this adventure
will turn in the wind
will she sink or else swim?
Or will she back down
start all over again?
Her eyes to the sky
she takes a big breath
tastes the flavor of courage
when you’re scared half to death
she dashes to the end
of the board, out ahead,
feels air through her hair
hears her heart not her head.
Flying or falling, either way, it’s exquisite
the victory of choice when life comes
and you live it.

5/27/2021

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Book Love!

What’s really fun? When your people let you know that they’ve received their copies of your new book! These little surprise posts have been popping up on my Facebook feed all month, and I am humbled by and grateful for the reminders of all the kind people I have in my life. These images are from just a few of those posts.

The Spring Writes Literary Festival, hosted by our local Community Arts Partnership will be virtual again this year, and it’s coming up soon – May 5th through May 16th. There are over 40 events and over 100 writers! Check out the schedule here. I’ll be sharing poems in two readings, the 14th and 15th.

Sign up to hear some great people share their powerful and moving words! The festival is free but they appreciate donations.

In the meantime, Old Stones Understand is available through my publisher, Shanti Arts, through Amazon.com, BarnesandNoble.com, and two local booksellers that also use Bookshop.org, which is a small-business alternative to big box if you prefer that.

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For Xiaojie


The day I was killed
while doing my job
was a normal day
in my American skin
that is to say
my Chinese American skin
my nonwhite skin
and a taxpaying skin
and a kind one
and a skilled one
and an everyday one
and a valuable one


unless your day
in your American skin
which to say
your white male skin
and an aching one
and a violent one
and a privileged one
and an everyday one
and a more valuable one…

must be a more valuable one

because your bad day
means more than my life
and seven other lives
and that’s just what happens
when you have a bad day.

And when someone with skin
more like yours
with contempt for skin
more like mine
holds the privilege
of holding the microphone
of holding the attention
of the rest of the country
and will talk of my killer
that poor poor man
and his sad bad day
“It’s just what happened”

while I remain nameless
but I am Xiaojie
I was two days from 50
I was a mom
I owned two businesses
I was a citizen
I was a friend
And I was a target.

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Shoveling: A Poem

Snowy scene out of window with candle

I live in the Finger Lakes of New York, and late February means it is undoubtedly still winter! We know there’s likely a good month or so of snow and cold left even as we send well wishes and aid to Texas.

The final of my poetry manuscript has been sent off to the printer. Here’s one of the poems from Old Stones Understand, first written about six years ago, but still appropriate for the conditions outside my window and perhaps in many hearts.

Shoveling

What if
while shoveling tonight,
I stop
just for a moment
cease the stooping, stabbing, groaning and lifting.

turn my face skyward,
close my eyes,
hear the wind
as my shoulders relax,
the handle slack in my unclenched hands.

My ghost age six
rides in on that wind,
whispering giggles
into gusts of cold –
that breathless moment
at the end of a wicked sled run,
with flakes collecting
on my eyelids
like they did when
I finished by making snow angels,
just lying there,
collecting snow

like wishes,
like potential,
as they are
just now:

icy absolution,
melting away
all flaws,
all complaints
and infractions,
guilt, real or imagined.

Just so
on this frosty night
we pause and are
made clean,
new in the world
once again.

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First Poetry Collection!

There’s something really fun about picking out a cover for a book. When we created “NY Votes for Women: A Suffrage Centennial Anthology” I worked with a creative design friend and we were so proud of the results. I’ve been fortunate again in working with a publisher, Shanti Arts, that is also a promoter of artists. The editor was patient and considerate in picking out this cover, which feels just so right.

We are in the final edits now, and hope to have the release in a few weeks depending on printing. I’m excited to share that news as I have it!

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Coretta

Title: [Dr. & Mrs. Martin Luther King Jr., head-and-shoulders portrait, facing front] / World Telegram & Sun photo by Herman Hiller. – Photo courtesy of Library of Congress

Today is Martin Luther King Jr’s birthday. In examining the legacy I find myself thinking mostly of strong women of color in America today and the examples and inspiration I find in all strong, persistent women engaged in making the world better. That’s probably why instead of staying with Dr. King this morning, I found myself thinking of Coretta Scott King, his widow. She was amazing.

Coretta

Did you see
the sunrise on April 5, cold and bright and shaking?
Or was your gaze out the window without recognition,
your mind on four children
their young understandings pushing back against your own pain?

Did you see
cameras everywhere watching and dissecting your grief?
Did you allow a hope for no more white bullets or bombs
through the front of the house
while you swaddled and rocked babies in the back of the house?

Did you see
a veiled rocky path forward, backward not a choice?
A day. A year. A lifetime of patient persistence
And unwavering love
called pursuit of justice that expanded in spite of spite?

But did you?
That first bare morning did you give brief audience to
your own grief, too deep and private for anyone else
to really understand?
Did you raise your beautiful voice once for your own broken heart?

2/28/2021

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Epiphany 2021

I can’t stop watching the events in the Capitol and the woman who was killed in the riots. And also feeling prophetic that today is the Epiphany for those who celebrate it. It led to this, dashed off, raw, but anyway.


What did you learn
as you fell and bled out
as your red cap rolled astray?
Did it take your misled bile?
Have blinders yet melted away?

What will they learn
once chambers are restored
the debris all swept away?
Will they stumble forward united
Bruised but building toward better days

when we’ll have learned
to heed our whole history
including this fateful day
and from here more kindly govern.
For that epiphany, I pray.

1/6/21

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lights chasing each other

Highway at Night. Photo courtesy of PxHere.com

Alone on a full charter bus at nineteen
she leaned a warm cheek against the glass
to feel the bone-cold outside
crystals forming near her breath
staring into the first
moments of the day
after Christmas.
Speeding southbound through
stars and towns, the family
dinner long cold behind her;
had they yet cleared Virginia?
She looked over the meadows to the
distant ranch house roofs,
long low rows of blinking lights
the red and green chasing each other
and she wondered at women
inside those houses – were they
still celebrating? Or
did they go to sleep
with the lights on
exhausted from the
effort required by
relentless holiday cheer
and she wondered about the
contentment of one her age in that
house in the middle – if it was all she hoped,
her Christmas, her life – or if that girl was
looking out her own window
watching lights chase each other
down the interstate
phantom traces of
diesel fumes to
quicken her pulse
ever so slightly.

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Hanukkah Poem and Book News

“candle” by ndrwfgg is licensed with CC BY 2.0. To view a copy of this license, visit https://creativecommons.org/licenses/by/2.0/

Tonight is the first night of Hanukkah 2020. I am not Jewish, but am appreciating a little surprise gift all the same – a layout draft of my poetry book, Old Stones Understand, with some graphics and the fonts chosen by my editor at Shanti Arts Publishing! As many times as I’ve read, revised, and viewed these poems, the experience brings a freshness that I wasn’t expecting. That surprise was invigorating.

Yesterday, my mother reminded me of a poem I’d written that is in the collection, which should be out in Spring 2021. Back when I wrote it, she tucked a copy of it in a card for her friend, Marlene, who lives in her building and celebrates Hanukkah. I hadn’t known that she did that, and thought it was a sweet reminder that we never really know how far, or where, our words can reach. I thought sharing it here would be a nice gift for those of you celebrating. Enjoy!

One vial of oil

If one vial of oil
can last for eight nights,
endure and light
and fill hearts
for seven extra days of hope –
well then, how long
can one shred of patience last?

How little space is needed
on a ledge,
for one toe to grip,
to hold the rest of me safe
until I can gather strength
to push off
to the next ledge,
and the next
and the next?

What if
the match that I am, nearly burned down,
charred, curled, almost no light left,
what if at the last possible second
I brush against one dry twig
that smolders,
flickers
and then bursts into the biggest
warmest
grandest
blaze of all?

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Shorter on Mercy

Injured Canada Goose swimming in a pond with bare trees in background

One injured goose
left behind at Third Dam
no flock mates in sight
she swam through the gloam
right wing splayed, not tucked in,
head down as a plane flew over
and I said a prayer
that she recover soon
fly off, find a new flock,
or become a lucky break
for a young coyote
learning to hunt,
wishing either outcome swift.
November’s night shadows lengthen
November’s days grow shorter on mercy
reserving grace for those
professing gratitude –
instead I offered a bargain.
Some of my blessings
for an end to her suffering.
A slender aspen quaked reproach
“You know that’s not how it works.”
And I grumbled back,
“I’m just a human. The only thing
clear this year
is that we know nothing.”
And to this, two hemlocks
creaked their approval.

11/17/2020

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At the Seams

Google images

That strange looking tool? That’s called a seam splitter. It does what you would expect.

   Hand me that skirt. Thanks. See? Here is a seam.  I asked for this skirt because the fabric is still pretty, even though it is worn on that side.  This side is still beautiful. Still useful. This is the hope of fabric.

   You will be tempted to just grab on and rip. It is fast. It feels good. To tear is to feel quick power. And if all you want is strips for a rag rug, or to tie up tomato plants, that’s fine.

   But – you probably know this already – tearing is not usually deliberate. More often it’s driven by pent up energy. Impulse needing release. Need can be blind, like rage.  The outcome – a rag rug or whatnot – may not even be a thought in the straining or pulling. Most rips are unintended.

   So, hand me that seam-splitter.  Thanks. It satisfies in a different way. It’s methodical. When I work it along the seam like this, I can already imagine the potential I am creating. I might be planning a quilt. Or curtains. Or even another skirt with a pattern that I met in a dream last night, these very colors winking at me with purpose and knowing. 

  With luck, my hands might even contribute to what Dr. King referred to as our “single garment of destiny.”

   We take things apart at the seams when we need to start over. When the material we have is still valued, still loved, but just does not fit any more.

You know already that I’m going to say that life is like this too, don’t you?

You have what you need. Consider it in a new way. Move forward with purpose and honor.

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Small Poems from the Great Hunkering

In late March, when New York State went into our “Pause” phase in the early days of COVID-19, I began writing and sharing one small poem each day. It lasted as long as my observations brought inspiration, through the end of April. Some are haiku, there were a couple tanka – some were just very short poems. All were based on snapshot impressions of the day in front of me.

That time of spring in upstate NY is notable for nearly-daily differences and changes in the world. I couldn’t get over the sense that nature – the weather, the plants, the birds – were just going on with their natural lives without interruption, and how that juxtaposed so sharply with the bewilderment and shock that the sudden change brought to our human existence. This picture highlights a few of them that speak to resilience.