by Joe Murphy
It seems your years were set too closely together:
When one toppled, all the others fell.
Shut the power off, you said. Enough. Your body
Quickly shut down.
Your smile is now as ours will be:
A few to recall, then none.
No trumpets, no drum roll: a short ceremony;
Then on to spring, to summer.
Thousands had died the day before: an earthquake;
But it was you who brought death into focus.
Outside and alone, fists clenched, sunlight
Seemed to jab at my bent neck.
I began to breathe deeply: arms back; chest raised.
I was sure I could push
My heart beats aloft, hoping your spirit
Might gain by it.
I don’t know why I did this, but it mattered.
I’m still trying to reason it through:
But the parts keep changing shape,
Falling from my hands.
Was it 42’ or 43’?
You, on liberty in Miami:
Off watch, wandering from beach to bar;
Cast from destroyer-grey
Into a bright-colored world, Massachusetts
A snow-bound memory.
But what of this shore leave? The last?
What might flash brightest at life’s end?
What better for a young man: The memory of a woman.
Ah, that fateful dance at the USO: Kitty as war bride
Three weeks from first sight.
Your screen-test-perfect features, hale build, warm grin,
Arm slung over a shipmate’s shoulder: That photo
Said it all; Adonis in Cracker Jacks.
Miss Miami never had a chance.
But love didn’t survive that collision of desire and war.
You: Boston-Irish; smooth talking; but hard-nosed, hard-drinking;
Hard-bitten by the Depression, hungry to succeed.
Her temperance and Baptist virtue
Didn’t fit. Your fears didn’t help. The soft-spoken beauty queen
Seemed too easy a target.
Your Footprints – page 2 of 2 – begin new stanza – Joseph Murphy
Your motto: keep her barefoot and pregnant.
And the custom was marriage, no matter the cost;
Neither ever rising past anger to peace.
Subterfuge. Neglect. Late in life, two fighters
Would be led from the ring: dazed, bloodied,
But separated at last.
You would return to Miami,
Manage a swing band:
Forty-plus years since liberty call had last sounded.
We’d meet. Our fighting days done:
Not a word about Vietnam.
You played me a tune
The band had played.
On your death bed, just audible,
You said you were proud of me.
I told you I loved you, set down the phone and cried.
But what to add? Subtract?
As a long-haired, Sixties teen, I didn’t suggest,
I proclaimed; unequivocal.
Vietnam, my starting point; but my litany
Became that list of your wrong turns
I’d surely avoid — no question, Alan, I’d win.
Now, I’m the age you were then: hair graying;
No less burdened; no better off.
Your Footprints – page 2 of 3 – begin new stanza – Joseph Murphy
As a young man, I thought I could navigate
By the stars of my choice.
Now, I take a shorter view. My aim:
The horizon, one step at a time.
It’s no surprise
To find your footprints
At my feet.
The two were depicted on posters hung by the door.
Lenin, 8-feet tall, wore a dark cap, suit and tie;
Red ribbon on lapel.
Pravda peeked from a vest pocket: the truth.
Facing the kitchen, chin held high, he looked past it:
Confident those below had heard his call
To press onward, ever onward.
The man-sized Santa doffed his cap:
Magnanimous, smiling, list in hand; another entry made.
And so they hung, paper-thin, until
Late one night…
Dream transformed them into an apparition:
Hammer, sickle, harness and sleigh
Swirled above me.
Clattering, clanking, bellowing, they battled on
Until, in a final whirl of color and light,
The images dissolved.
I woke clenched to pillow: the hued, crisp air
Of the still hushed city
Up, blinds raised, I cracked an egg
To sizzle in a black iron pan. Coffee made,
Toast buttered: It was time.
Two specters came down: manhandled
From wall to trash.
About the Author:
Joseph Murphy has been published in a wide range of journals. His first poetry collection, Crafting Wings, was published by Scars Publications, 2017. A second collection, Having Lived, is forthcoming from Kelsay Books (2018). He is also senior poetry editor for a literary publication, Halfway Down the Stairs, established 2006.