Longtime Green Mountains Review friend and contributor, and Johnson State College President, Barbara Murphy has recently published a collection of poetry with Červená Barva Press. We’ve published several of Barbara’s poems over the years, including the poem “First Words, Old Story,” which first appeared in Vol. XXIII, No. 2 and which we proudly feature again here.
Almost Too Much both tactfully and relentlessly interrogates our human experience in these dehumanizing times. There’s not a sliver of false hope in these pages, but reading them, we catch glimpses of the paradox of our lives, that “The sound of geese /overhead, their thin cries clear /as night through the ceilings and roof / of the house, is either the saddest /sound [we] will ever know / or one of great lifting joy.” Barbara Murphy’s quietly brilliant poems move us readers toward usable truth.
—David Huddle Author of Glory River and Blacksnake at the Family Reunion
Murphy’s lyrical narratives, lively and exact, speak of braveries and hesitations, fugitive beauties and stations of calm. A lifetime of truths take the reader through first games of hide and seek, the boys so far away/lost in their secret places/there was no way/they’d ever get home in time; first loves and second marriages where desire is more of a casual friend./It will not/always be there breathless and flushed; loving children and step-children with different needs in different time zones. These poems should be read aloud for their honesty and musicality. They do the heart good. Almost Too Much is a stunning debut.
—Dzvinia Orlowsky Author of Silvertone and A Handful of Bees
Deeply intimate, each line a breath. In flashes of brilliance against a landscape of existential dread, these poems flare up and stare down this given world until it surrenders its grace.
—Nancy Mitchell Author of The Near Surround and Grief Hut
First Words, Old Story
Released from the arduous bedtime stories
of perseverance and repeated trials,
the spell-breaking words that had to be guessed
after long nights of toil, then uttered
at great risk, my son would ask
if there were a whole big hall filled
with little boys who all cleared their places
at dinner without being asked after they ate
everything and liked it, and me,
who would you pick? I promised
I’d pick him no matter what. Then, I’d ask
about mothers. If he could choose from all,
even ones who bought their kids new plastic toys
whenever they asked, or had no rules about anything,
whom would he pick? And, it was always each other,
no matter how big we made the halls, how expansive
the imaginary mothers, how good-natured
the pretend boys. It was a test we both passed easily,
trying to keep our eyes serious, not letting on
it was a joke, a silly one we would outgrow.
He is nearly as old, now, as I was then: a mother
still new enough not to know that I would be better
at the first part—the bold crayon strokes
of good and evil, unflinching love—than anything after,
or know that I would miss it like a language
I had been born to, and lost.
BARBARA MURPHY‘s work has appeared in several literary journals including New England Review, Green Mountains Review, The Threepenny Review, and Michigan Quarterly Review. She was nominated for a Pushcart Prize and is the recipient of a Vermont Council on the Arts fellowship. Murphy has worked as president of Johnson State College in Vermont since 2001 and has been recognized for her leadership roles in higher education. She lives and works in northern Vermont with her husband Tom Garrett.