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Jacqueline Shea Murphy

Ground Travel

With the rhythm of the road in my crotch,

a strap across my nipple,

giant saguaros poking up across the landscape, stiff and curved,

I drive hours to be with my friend who is

probably dying from cancer.

The desert teems with tufted life:

jackrabbits, rattlesnakes, Gila monsters.

Miles out stark mountains poke up in layered strata.

It’s all just happenstance, what comes of pressure building,

remnants of eruption and of rivulets through passages.

Who are these other travelers?

I am passing that tequila truck

again. Another cross. Meagan died here.

I am counting crosses: five, six,

a seventh. Someone stopped to plant them.

But not me, not now, not here.

I am on the road, I am getting somewhere,

I am pushing 80, I am intoxicated by

the rub and throb of this so fast life I get to live

and some day (not now) leave.

Picture Light

We leave at five a.m.

Mist spindles grow from the Androscoggin,

glow rocks from when I was little, castles in a jar of water.

The road dips and twists us, avoiding moose, birds,

bursts of fog. In one spot there are hay balls

scattered in a field, touching lightly.

It’s getting lighter. Soon the river growths will snap

and steam up into clear blue August sky.

I’ve been here lots before. I’m driving, thinking, when

the picture flashes of my widowed friend before it happened,

tossing her baby in the air, laughing, arms reached up to catch--

that snapshot. They were dancing, twirling, but

what I remember is the snapshot, that

catch of breath, perfect focus and the light just right,

one hundredth of a second with the light just right.

The mill horn clangs in Berlin as you board the bus at seven.

It’s routine. We know this is departure. Months ago,

we’d spend hours touching. Here the mill-smoke stench

is fat in the air. My second father, still alive,

sucks it in and holds it, says ah, the mill.

He grew up here. “It stinks,” you say. I hug you,

then your bus pulls out. We watch each other, waving.

In the after-seven lull (workers working) I see

mill stacks behind Main Street, sunlight striking.

When the quiet cracks, I crouch to frame a shot.

Focus, check the light, adjust the F-stop,

Press down and feel the shutter snap.


Jacqueline Shea Murphy holds an MA from Johns Hopkins Writing Seminars and a Ph.D. in English from UC Berkeley, where she was winner of the Eisner Prize for Highest Achievement in the Creative Arts, and of the Joan Lee Yang Poetry Prize. She is Professor of Dance at the University of California, Riverside and author of books and articles about Native American dance history and the dance making of Indigenous dance artists.


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