Big Bridge #10

Export: Writing the Midwest


Sheila E. Murphy


Ann Arbor

I live in an old wood house owned by a former priest

who grew up in Nigeria.

I would like to have a stroke of privacy

while trying to obey the strictures

of rebellion, more rigid than

the mainstream rules.

The radicals won't talk to me.

I walk down to the bagel shop,

and to the place that sells dark beer.

Once in a while I have a mango

that costs something I cannot afford.

I have a fellowship to go to school.

I keep on walking to the law quad

where I circle the cement.

My mother used to do this

in an era when this motion meant a different thing.

I rouse myself from sleep that feels like death.

I read Chaucer.

I'm too shy to introduce myself to anyone I've seen in class,

but I pronounce each fleck of Middle English flawlessly,

to the extent that my professor lets his book fall to his lap and asks me

how I do that.

I tell him I go to the language lab on Saturdays and speak.

I don't mention the films I watch

when J comes here on weekends.

We go to quiet theaters and see the speechless movies and we talk.

We eat German food.

We eat things with fish.

We walk places regardless of the temperature.

Then we sleep as though it were a sport.

I tell the priest he's cheating us. I start by saying "we,"

and he says, "Who is we?"

I feel as though such argument might make me a rebellious leader,

although the other renters in this house appear to be sorority types

who talk about nice husbands.

I use my Smith-Corona to complete my hands.

I smell the trees along the street.

I know my house is blue.



In a small, new outdoor space
resides the statue of Mary
greeting her cousin, Elizabeth, each of them expecting
to give birth to a prophet.

My mother and I sit close to round lines in three dimensions
before a blond brick building
on the weekend of the Fourth of July.
It is early evening, warm for South Bend.
The moment translates simply to eternity.
I have learned to shut out everything
that came before and everything
that will occur. Sunlight and flowers
fill the air. We are among few others
on the campus. Most have gone away,
as we did those many years, when Motherís father
had his birthday on this holiday,
and would drive various of seventeen grandchildren
in his steam engine around the soft yard.
Mother played piano chords
behind his fiddle tunes, one of few activities
he would deem worth repeating.

This day smells like sweet clover,
resembling Caledonia, where acreage with a river
brimmed containment.
I have on many days been willing
to suspend time and allow
the senses to impose themselves
upon my sense of hearing,
and my sense of sight, my sense
of touch and taste and smell.
So that transitioning to night becomes
merely a negative of daytime,
its sonority inflamed,
and purple irises grown splendid
and contagious in unending relaxation.

Mother is talking to her friend,
her daughter, no longer a responsibility.
Mother connects perceptions.
There are few breath marks between.
She notices, she greets, and integrates.
I hear her become part of what she knows
and does not know.
I resemble her. I share belief.
I take to heart her beautifully lined hands,
her musical hands,
the ritual, natural, intensive faith
of how she thinks, her comprehension
of the place of love in human beings
being human, the growth of flowers,
the established yellow bricks,
the walkways, thin or full,
the greens that will be snow-capped
later in the year.

I think this day is always a firm gesture of waking
in my heart. I hear my heart be
loved. I remain the small child
whom she once expected. I have a place here.
I am still afraid of it, only less
than I once was. I am singular,
I am conjoined, I am one of the appendices
of living in and of and for the heart.
This mother is my heart.
This statue. This permanence of faith.
These women in embrace.

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