:: Article

Three Poems

By Dan Murphy.

Inked in Translation

“Trabajamos como negros para vivir como blancos,”
brags my host, a dentist working 6 days a week
out of her mother’s home in Mexico City
to have a 4th floor apartment, a servant, Lupita,
a son in engineering, and a daughter studying graphic design
who plays basketball at the Autonomous University.

No matter how you translate the noun,
it means, ‘We work like niggers
to live like white people.’

My European culture left its long-sleeved love
of white skin to its Indian descendents
even as whites discovered the bronze and gold
country of tanning and leisure,
                                                setting up an outpost,
a plantation of soap opera Argentines
to fill the fresh-washed haciendas
with sympathetic maids, sharp and weeping
fatales and the nicotine-voiced patrones
whom they love.

In the United States we are none of us
like Odysseus with secret scar, hand
to the throat of an obedient nurse.
We write our misery on skin with ink,
a human billboard.

We cannot tell the truth; repetition
makes it a lie. We cannot save our souls
when we wear them on a cuffed sleeve,
when we have wounded them to recognition.

It bleeds. You wipe it off. It leaves a mark
we call the self, we call art.


After Kabir (You Want Me to Say)

You want me to say the world is beautiful
and God is not.
Or your Lord is the one reality,
humans equal to ants and lice.
You want me to hear the word
is one with God, God’s suffering blood
the salve that runs through every vein.

You want me to say any of a number of things,
all being equal, all being false.

I am sad this page is so short
and I can’t explain
what the world has become,
what we lost. What remains.

But tonight in dream I find again, enough
that if you ask this sleepstartled mule to sing
he will heave himself up to mew and bray
between the teeth he stains
with morning tea & oatmeal
and compose an ecstatic syllabary,
hoof tapping kitchen tile,

sunrise humming over the neighbor’s hedge.



Where did the girl with the guitar go?
Guitar the color of earth.
Girl in rainbow and camouflage.

The party is dead and lies suspended
between drunken annihilation
and the buzzed revelry we might share.

She knows Sugar Mountain
I’m sure. Her French braids twined
with ribbon, her face flushed with the first

sips of keg beer the jocks have pumped
to an easy draw. Later she lay under a table
passed out. And I made a decision.


Dan Murphy is an elementary school teacher living in Los Angeles. He has been published in IMAGE, Askew, Chaparral, and has a poem awaiting publication in The Beloit Poetry Journal. He won the Academy of American Poet’s Prize in 2007.

First published in 3:AM Magazine: Wednesday, January 26th, 2011.