Matthew Murrey: New Poems



Art by Michelle McKinney, Pieces of Me series

Four Lights

Each point lit its spot
in an arc that was easy
to sight across the dark sky.
At the west end bright, white
Venus descending, while rising
rust-orange in the east, Mars
gleamed like the embered end
of a stick pulled from a fire. 
Between them, us,
and in that trace of sky
east to west, dim Saturn
then Jupiter almost twinning
Venus’s shine. That is how
summer ended—one son
had his bags packed;
his brother wasn’t so sure.
For a couple minutes
we stood at the edge
of the meadow and looked up
at that necklace of worlds
and then went home
to our little place in the wonder.

I Walked into the Fire Pit

in the backyard last night
because I was taken
with the sky, the crisp
stars in the chill air—
first cold snap of the year.
I was carrying scraps
to the compost pile
and forgot about the steel,
black fire pit in the yard.
My shinbone—thick
as the shaft of a spear—
hit it hard, but I didn’t fall,
didn’t drop all the scraps. 
I did do a little hop dance
to the silent music of pain
and mouthed lyrics of curse
at myself for being
so goddamned clueless,
though—to be honest—
I was kind of amused
at the busted Magoo
of myself. I bent down to soothe
my hurt, and—hunched like that
beside that black fire pit
with not a bit of fire in it—
I turned my head
and glanced the sky
again, blackness flecked
with such an embarrassment
of fine and bright specks of light
that I once again was struck
by the cold comfort of the sight.

Private Music

Though I nestled
his head between my knees,
I didn’t get his name and never will
see him again. He was a few steps
ahead, lost in music only he could hear
as he walked into the crosswalk
not seeing, not hearing Watch Out!
zooming at him on a bicycle
that hit him full on, full speed,
dropped him like a sack to the street.
The cyclist, flipped and scraped,
got up pissed, but swallowed
his curses when he saw the man
flat on his back, not moving,
earbuds knocked right out of his ears.
The crowd around him said Don’t
move him!
as I knelt and cupped

his head in my hands, leaned in
and told him a ton of lies
like You’ll be fine. It’s okay.
He was breathing, but not speaking.
His left ear was leaking
a little blood—a bad sign.
Soon, paramedics showed up,
slid a backboard under him
and carried him off. Out of the blue,
I’ll think of him and wonder
how he’s doing. Maybe he’s fine,
or maybe he suffers vertigo, or ringing,
or radiance followed by the chuck
of pain clamping its hold on his head.
I wonder if he still walks the city
with music shielding him? 
I could use some of that these days
so I could walk all brisk and confident
the way he did—not consumed
by what might (or might not)
be coming my way.

To God, Drunk Again in Moscow

On the radar in Russia the launch
of the weather satellite in Norway
looked just like an ICBM,
a first strike: the beginning of the end.

January 1995, somewhere
along the tangled, crazy haywire
Russian chain of command,
the advance notice from Norway
of the launch got lost—so the blip
on the screen was a goddamn big deal.
Just three minutes for Yeltsin to decide. 

Fortunately Boris was soused,
and slow to act. “Ride it out,” gurgled up
from his garbled muttering. He ignored
the panicked general at his side  
hissing, “Push it. Push it! Now or never…”

I raise a toast to you, God—drunk and whack
in Moscow again. Here’s to your savage humor
in the winter of forty-one. Here’s to the last minute,
the bluff and the brink, in the fall of sixty-two—
bald Khrushchev dashing off letters at his desk. 

And here’s to January of nineteen ninety-five,
to your chubby godfinger near the button,
and to the potent little-water of Mother Russia.
Here’s to the almost-end-of-the-world,
Comrade Lord President, Heavenly Father,
Dear God! Here’s to another Happy New Year.

Matthew Murrey was born and raised in Florida. After college he moved to Chicago to live in a Catholic Worker house, where he met his partner. He worked in community mental health centers until becoming a librarian in 2001. Murrey is a school librarian in Urbana, Illinois where he lives with his partner; they have two grown sons. Murrey’s poems have appeared in many journals such as Prairie SchoonerEscape into Life, and Under a Warm Green Linden. He is the recipient of an NEA Fellowship, and his debut collection, Bulletproof, selected by Marilyn Nelson, was published by Jacar Press in February 2019.

Matthew Murrey’s Website

Matthew Murrey at EIL  

Review of Bulletproof by Matthew Murrey at EIL 

More Art by Michelle McKinney at EIL