Born in 1951, Timothy Murphy grew up in the Red River Valley of the North. He studied at Yale University under Robert Penn Warren, graduating (B.A.) as Scholar of the House in Poetry in 1972. Since then, he has farmed and hunted in the Dakotas. His previous collections of poetry are The Deed of Gift, Story Line Press, 1998, and Very Far North, Waywiser Press, 2002. His memoir in verse and prose, Set the Ploughshare Deep, was published by Ohio University Press in 2002. With his late partner, Alan Sullivan, he translated the Beowulf, which AB Longman published in 2004.
Plagued by the lack of jingle in my purse,
by Keats and Tennyson jingling in my ear,
I double-clutched to ease into reverse.
A ten-year-old showed me his new John Deere.
He taught me PTO, the fourteen gears.
Choke – wasn’t that something you did on dates?
Not five feet tall, savvy beyond his years,
he jounced beside me through the barbed wire gates,
Then sank the disc with a hydraulic lever
into a half-section of golden stubble.
It stretched fencerow to fencerow, stretched forever.
“If a wheel spins, downshift, ‘cause you’re in trouble.”
For him, my height was no redeeming factor.
“You go to Yale, and you can’t drive a tractor?”
I’ve been adopted by my roofing crew.
I bought pizza and passed around my books,
“Poeta, si!” grandly confirmed. ” For you
I’ve written an English sonnet.” Sidelong looks.
They could have thrown a sack over my head,
bloodied my red hair with a wrecking bar,
bludgeoned me in the bush, left me for dead,
black-eyed jovènes who have traveled far.
Now they are reading San Juan de la Cruz
In Espaillat’s transcendent, fresh translations.
Once more a Bride of Christ is breaking news.
Ours is a courtship of two New World nations.
Now when Feeney and I go strolling by,
El poeta y su perro! the roofers cry.
The Axe Head
My cedar bit was balanced for a boy
who weighed one thirty, stood near five eleven.
Too broad for oak, the right tool to deploy
on pine and aspen, mine was the axe of heaven.
I notched new fencerails for our firing range
and once felled eight white pines in half an hour,
young trees, eight-inchers, thought it rich and strange
to lop and lash them for a signal tower.
To Tenderfeet, I taught compass and map,
then dropped a jack pine on a driven stake,
taught constellations. Not for me the slap
of taut tummies flopping on Bad Axe Lake.
It was the woods, it was the hills for me,
Christ crucified, the spirit in every tree.