width=61 height=87> Joan Murray
Featured Poet


 

The selection below is from Joan Murray's Looking for the Parade, winner of the 1998 National Poetry Series, selected by Robert Bly. Other works include Queen of the Mist, runner up for Poetry Society of America's di Castagnola Award, and The Same Water, Wesleyan New Poets Series Winner. She is also recipient of PSA's Gordon Barber Award, a Knight Foundation Fellowship at Yaddo, and fellowships from the National Endowment for the Arts and the New York Foundation for the Arts.


Twentieth Century Creativity


1

The prisoner in the Stalag
remembers the opening of a poem.
He taps it on the pipes in code.
The others listen in their walls
like lonely new recruits--
glad to read anybody's mail.
Next week another man 
thinks of the next line.
Now they wait like tunnelers,
tense in the middle of a dark airless hole,
afraid they won't 
get to the end of it.


2

The prisoner in the Gulag
spots the bits of dust in a corner of his cell.
When the glare from the guard is gone,
he sculpts them with his nail--
kings and queens and pawns--
the size of beans and rice.
Even though there is no light,
his fingers know them.
When they are noticed,
they are crushed and swept away.
He begins again.  And again.
His opponent waits patiently.


3

The prisoner marching from Bataan
remembers the lilacs
outside his home--the smell of his mother's
Sunday roast--the scent
of his sweetheart's hair
--as she pressed her lips on his
the night before he left.
He lays his face down in the ditch
--only his mouth and nose
because there wasn't very much
in anyone's bowels this morning
--but there's enough to end it.


4

The prisoner in Treblinka
strips beside her daughter.
She is startled to see the budded
breasts above the pleated ribs.
She glances at the others--
the slackened flesh
of half-dead women
--flesh, like her own.
One of them is looking at her daughter:
"A girl who'd be a bride," the look says.
She whispers to her daughter,
"The shower will be warm."


Copyright 1999 Joan Murray

From Looking for the Parade
W.W. Norton & Company, Inc.

Reproduced with permission of W. W. Norton & Company, Inc.
Author bio Copyright 1999
by W. W. Norton & Company, Inc. All rights reserved.

 

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