Saturday, January 11, 2014



from behind the blind by Robert Murphy
(Dos Madres Press, Loveland, OH, 2013)

Perspective. How one sees. To see. To become what one sees. For which these factors rely on what is sighted. Because contrast matters: to see something also can be to see what is not viewed.  How?  Through the mind. The mind’s eye can see so much more than physical sight (I hope this, anyway, to be the case given my poor eyesight that’s birthed one of my nicknames, “Blind”). 

The mind’s eye can accomplish the following (from “The Keeper of the Light”):

… when he thought of the light,

he was keeper of the light
the dark inside him shines

But for “the dark inside him [to] shine…]”, the nature of how he (sic) lived/lives matters. For example, the poem “At Age Sixty” presents a 60-year-old man who “split[s] wood all day in the summer sun” even though the task is the same as “wishing [him]self dead.”   Indeed, in response to the thought, the man swings “the heavy maul … / with greater violence.”  The man’s reward? 

… no-one ever slept half so well—
In the daily distance of diminishment
Between, dear God, the likes of me, and You.

How he lived/lives matters—it’s also why in a poetry collection described by one blurber, Paul Pines, to be about “our condition … apprehended through symbols and signs,” the book must contain not just poems but a section entitled “Daybook Workings.” The entry, “November 24, 2011,” begins with a 64th birthday meal partly comprised of meat loaf made from a black steer whose meals and care had been under his “steward”-ship for about a year-and-a-half. The narrator (and his wife), though, first had fed off the steer through a T-bone steak.  Later,

I took the T-bone, and the broth and fat I had boiled down from the steak’s leavings and like any good animist walked along the pasture fence-line using the remnant T-bone as an aspergillum and sprinkled his essence on the margins of his world giving thanks for his sacrifice, for his food for thought as sacrament, his life for the life we live. I walked the margins of his pasture and then to the center of it, let’s call it the omphalos, or one of them, that center point that everywhere is, and drank a last bit of his essence and then gently poured the remnants in a giving back to our mother earth, having also raised the bowl in praise and thanks to the sun.

The poet goes on to recall,

I had talked to him daily in the last months of his life that he would soon “see” through my eyes….When I eat of him, I close my own eyes that I might also remember his powerful black form, his boundless, youthful energy at gallop, the shake of his head, the paw of the ground in warning to those who would trespass in coming too near. Or I remember him taking a nap along with the heifer under the wide spread of the mulberry tree, a scene of great calm, as if a painting of domestic certitude, the heart’s centering (though all around us be a labyrinth and whirl of storm) as if we had framed before us something more Constable than Constable.

The passage above is simply gorgeous with its details.  It befits the parenthetical that belongs where the ellipsis is inserted above: “I am certain the world and its forms want nothing more than to be recognized, and so honored—or do I merely refuse to believe otherwise.”

The desire man and animal to be one (for the animal to see through the man’s eyes) is an experience, a diary entry though it also works as a prose poem, that can be seen as distilled—nay, alchemized!—into verse through, say,

The Guard

We make love
To those who hold us prisoner,
To hear them cry-out,
I surrender!

That we, too, may be held
To hear them say,
Surrender! Take me!
I am your prisoner!

in the sense that the animal was first meat being eaten by (making love to) the prisoner, only to have the guard conclude, “I am your prisoner!”  No doubt that’s not the usual interpretation of this poem, but somehow my mind’s eye leapt from “November 24, 2011” to “The Guard” in this manner.

Similarly, I find that one can leap in this way from “March 21, 2009 in the early morning” to the poem “Where Charlesville Is To Subiaco As Subiaco Is To Here.”  Here is a lovely  excerpt of “March 21, 2009…”:

This morning, while I walked with the wolfhounds, the geese were landing in twos and threes making splash after splash and goose talk, (as if saying to one another, “Wasn’t that just grand, … or, fine weather for a landing mate!”) as I stand on the hillside above the gray-green water, at my feet the morning light pouring through the as yet unclad trees, past the stick-formatives of piss-ash, buckeye, sycamore, hickory; shingle, white and black oak, onto the newly minted leaves at ground with a near half acre of trout lilies, amongst which pool wild phlox, dutchman’s breeches, bloodroot, ginseng, marsh marigolds and may apple, and a hundred others whose names I have gotten, or never knew, (these bodies, these brother and sister, once inspirited forms that were not merely the lumber man’s mark of board footage, or the botanist’s taxonomy, but to whom we came for assistance, for nourishment, for cure, for wisdom’s sake, for the telling of a good tale, our souls’ seek under benign or threatening skies) I hear them all returning as if the great doors of some stupendous Ark had just now opened. An Ark that the heart in loneliness at flood has brought to dove, and every hill and valley become an Ararat, and the earth in its solitary voyage around the sun a refuge, the sun too on the camel back or gravity at the outer edge of the silk road we call by its many names: the Fair Cow’s Way, the Winter Way, the Roman Road, the Bird’s Path, the Silver River, Via Lactea, but mostly the Milky Way. The vast uncountable accountancy space banks among the stars more numerous than the sands of all the beaches of all the oceans of the world. The slow processional begun for which this moment is but herald, and as if for the first time we felt, with skin to feel, a nose through which to take census of a breeze, eyes to see to mind the shape of things, ears to hear not the language of an untranslatable babble, … if not of angelic song, then something nearer our own creaturely, sometimes sweet, sometimes ghastly speech, with a tongue or tail at wag with a semaphore of say to us. For surely it is our own blood-pulse that we hear as if we had an ear pressed into the inviting inner curve of a conch, the outer shell of it an echo of that interior life brought to light, waiting to be returned to the depths from which it was pulled. And though on highest Everest, or in mid Sahara, or in the waste land of a parking lot, tenement or posh apartment, bit it a mile-deep mine into the earth, or in a tin can orbiting three hundred miles above. Take it to the moon if you will, take it to Mars and beyond, but put to the words, “Mom, Dad, it’s just like you said,…I hear the ocean’s roar,…but how did it get inside there for me to hear at all?”

“Where Charlesville Is To Subiaco As Subiaco Is To Here” refers to Rimbaud (whose poetry career ended at age 19 and who died at 37) and Frank Stanford (who died just before this 30th birthday—he would have been Murphy’s age had he lived).  As one can see from the above excerpt of “March 21, 2009…,” Murphy (or the poem’s persona) is too much of/in the world to reject the world, of which suicide can be interpreted to be such a rejection. To the other two poets may be directed the poem’s last line, “I was not like you” though Murphy (or the poem’s persona), too, “chased that golden ring” of poetry.

Ultimately, these are poems by someone all too aware that no one but “you are the sentry at the watch” of your life.  “[O]nly you … knows / [when] you alone have left your post.” (“Who Goes There”)

Such an awareness, self-awareness but also consciousness of the poet’s environment, infuse these poems until—as is noted in various indigenous traditions—there is no seam between the individual and the world surrounding him.   Such an effect can only occur when the poet’s internal explorations result in a person willing to bear responsibility for how he sees, and what he sees.

From such a perspective, these poems benefit.  In turn, these poems benefit the receptive reader.


Eileen Tabios does not let her books be reviewed by Galatea Resurrects because she's its editor. But she is also pleased to point you elsewhere to recent reviews of her books.  Her 2013 book, THE AWAKENING was reviewed by Aileen Ibardaloza at OurOwnVoice; and her 2004 book MENAGE A TROIS IN THE 21ST CENTURY, was reviewed (along with Joi Barrios' poetry) through the essay "The Self Revolution of Radical Love--Externalizing Internal Worlds of Freedon in Filipina Poetry" by Michaela Spangenburg at OurOwnVoice.  Eileen invites you to her new blog, EILEEN VERBS BOOKS; poets are invited to participate in three of its features: "Poetry and Money," "What Are You Reading?" and "What Do You Re-Read?"

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