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“Starlight” by Miguel Murphy, read by the poet

Updated: Jan 30, 2021

If you’re lucky enough to live past your thirties, dear reader, there will come a scare. A lump, a node, a recurring pain — regardless of what, there will likely come a visit to a clinic or hospital for a medical examination. Perhaps you’ve already experienced this reduction of sun, world and moon within you to a cold latex touch, to the collection of prods, pokes, questions and imaging scans that flattens you into a set of medical data. Maybe, as you showed yourself the fuck out of there, stunned, you felt the need to reclaim and reoccupy you, oceanic and born to love. It’s likely you could not shake, for hours or maybe days, this clinical chill. If so, Miguel Murphy’s poem "Starlight" (which first appears in Bear Review, Volume Six, Issue Two, and which is forthcoming from his new collection Shoreditch (Barrow St. Press, March 2021), will likely speak as directly to your experience of waiting uneasily for test results as it did mine. If not, I’m certain his poem will speak to you, too, poetry listener, about the world’s enormous beauty, often painfully out of reach, and the limits its forces impose on a life.

Miguel Murphy Detainee cover
Detainee, Miguel Murphy

Upon listening to Murphy’s poem, I was immediately struck by his flat, almost clipped delivery, which counterbalances the poem’s urgent language, a ratiocinating syntax heightened by the speaker’s psychic state, revved up by a fear of dying alone. Murphy, a great poet of winter beaches in this and other poems, triangulates his voice-driven gaze between cold and distant stars above, "A winter sunset // the color of raw steak" and "Waves in the dark abstract / seascape, a late Rothko." At times we can hear a tonal angst bubbling up, building to a disembodied rage over how, in such an uncertain moment, the horizon line becomes a screen, one capable of rubbing out a "A self-portrait of absence." Anxiety and dread turns the speaker’s ego into a projection of annihilation rather than the contours of the self, one usually cast as a vital figure against a gorgeous background.

Most fascinating to me, a reader and writer of poems who enjoys considering strategies for representing the mind at work, is Murphy’s conceit for the anxious mind’s attempt to delimit automatic, ruminative thinking. He represents the abrupt, almost violent termination of spiral thinking by replacing nouns with syntactic blanks to depict an attempt to suppress obsessive narration: "I went to the _____; // The _____ will take a week." These quick cuts suggest the ego had to suppress nouns such as "hospital" and "biopsy," "lab" and "treatment." A few couplets later, though, we learn the speaker’s efforts came up short. He could neither press the situation down, nor push it over the ocean’s horizon line. "What will it mean, this swollen / node behind my ear…," the speaker asks. And, toward the end of Murphy’s reading, the speaker asks another question: "What does it mean // to speak with absence like a winter / sky to itself, // the self to its dying // bewilderments"?

We can surmise the flatness in Murphy’s delivery has everything to do with the body’s defiance, with the self’s position of recalcitrant indifference — maybe feigned, but so the hell what? — to forces as indifferent to corporeal beings as the tides.

Marcus Myers


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