A stain what hearts lastSaddles a river through snowIn falling sunlight.
Eating an orangeReminds us tomorrow is another day.
The general fog of the metropolitanNight sky is warm orange—And thus not alone.
Ain’t no lighthouseIn that eye’s dilated star.
A savagery sw-Hollows me up.
The redcoats are coming, the redcoats are coming. Everyone who knows history, and even those that might not, across North America knows what these words mean, spoken by Paul Revere. “I have cannibalized other moments to invent this one,” poet Ryan Murphy writes. Moving through American history, specifically the American Revolution, is Murphy’s new poetry collection, The Redcoats (San Francisco CA: Krupskaya, 2010). In poems that call out to themselves, Murphy explores the myths and stories of American history, stripping away the topsoil of how founding stories get told, just what happened, and what it all means. Murphy engages the question, even if those questions aren’t entirely certain, twisted, and turning in on what we think we might know. Just what is he asking, moving through the complexities of history? The poems want to know, clearly, as much as we do, and struggle their clear way across chasms, as in this piece from the sequence “Poems for the American Revolution”:
Ethan Allen & the Green Mountain Boys
Is it not enough to be lovedand repulsed?
Fenway—in your ashesbuild a republic.
Sebastian, not a nameone should chose for oneself. Namelessabove Ticonderoga.
Lake Champlaininto the vowel of your open mouththe water rushes in
This is American history redux, one that doesn’t take anything at face value, even questioning the values inherent in the stories retold so many times they’ve turned myth. This is American history post-lyric, exploring the facts and the language of story, and all their inherent, and even contradictory, meanings. Poor Benedict Arnold, for example, treated so poorly he turned, and blasphemed for his grief, or Thomas Paine, as Murphy writes in “One More for Thomas Paine”: “When we lost your head / I’m sorry.” Murphy writes America the colonizer, fighting back against their British forebears for injuries, real and imagined, while the same colonizers blissfully unaware (and as often, painfully deliberate) of how they were perpetrating their own savageries, despite the resulting myths. In subjects not found, they are merely lost, as in this fifth section of the poem “All Saints,” that reads:
Vigorous and charmingthe baseball hats and commemorativecoins of the bicentennial.The rotting hulls of the last tall ships.
Daisystar, pulled by the plagueof storms and foglights,sinking fast, amongst calls for
I am some sad potatoes.Which is also awful.
It is Monday, the same Mondayor another Monday come around,and the petulant lights of the churchtopwarn off small planes
like a children’s book lighthouse.
The tensions in Murphy’s poems exist through the lightest touch, in a collection of lyrics that create poems as a rock creates skips over a lake, working to create as many touches as possible and creating more than what water means and thus makes, before slipping (inevitably) under. Murphy manages quite a pack in some of these, and the strength comes from the lightness of touch, and the simple, subtle flick of a line, and a line-break. Just as easily, some pieces exist purely as small, lovely lyrics, touching and inferring what the most of it means.
in this, the graylilac of February.
Hearts is ash.
Warm dronefrom the amber
of medicine bottles.