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Timothy Murphy

Timothy Murphy is an American poet, farmer and businessman who hunts in the Dakotas when he isn't writing. Murphy published his first collection of poetry, The Deed Of Gift, in 1998. Other books by Murphy include Set the Ploughshare Deep: A Prairie Memoir (2000),  Very Far North (2002), a translation of Beowulf (2004) with his partner Alan Sullivan, and Hunter's Log (2011).


A chapel, not a church:
just a clearing in the wood
of aspen, pine and birch,
where a rude altar stood

pegged by a boy's hands;
behind it a birchwood cross
cross-lashed, but neither stands.
They are gone under the moss.

When I quit Wilderness Camp
I rose up from my knees
and left the altar lamp
burning in the trees.

Summits would loom above
the stony trails I trod.
Sex led me to love;
love bound me to God.

Originally published by The Dark Horse

Prayer for Sobriety

Morning glories climbing the garden wall
vie with the fragrant jasmine to outshine
the sun emerging from a summer squall.
Blossom and vine, lover and love entwine.
He is the Groom, and I? The shy betrothed
enraptured by the faith I so long loathed.

This is the sacramental cup we drink,
this the unleavened loaf on which we dine,
deliverance from the sins to which I sink.
Here is the book, the work of my Divine
Redeemer at whose Word the worlds revolve.
Let me return His passion with resolve.

Originally published by The Chimaera

To Peder Anders Sulerud

Compasses set at ought plus four
to make Magnetic true,
we paced the uneven forest floor—
my three strides to your two—

then aimed east through a quarter mile
of fresh-cut aspen slash,
breaking our pace to skirt a pile
of deadfall in the gash.

On lashed towers along the shore,
you taught us how to speak
in Morse―mirror or semaphore―
forgotten like my Greek.

Per Sulerud, last night I sank
beside a bonfire’s coals.
Woodcraft and your Eagle rank
were boyhood’s loftiest goals

on footpaths where your student stood,
hefting his elder’s axe.
Diamond willow and ironwood
and brush cover our tracks

through wilds no boy should navigate
without a watchful guide.
The ardors of the young abate,
the obstacles abide.

Originally published by Chronicles

Cold Front

For want of oil a moaning
comes from the weathervane—
spindle and socket groaning
as north winds blow again
and send the real geese flying
to Texas or Mexico.
Our brass goose is dying
to join them, but cannot go.

Here firewood is essential
for keeping folks alive.
Where windchill’s exponential
only the snowmen thrive.
Someday we’ll board a clipper
and catch a Norther bound
south from the Little Dipper
for Virgin Gorda Sound.

My love (once such a darling)
is now a wintry spouse,
sullen—sometimes snarling—
because I’m a lying souse,
because I can’t quit tippling
or spirit us from the snow—
or be the winsome stripling
he wooed so long ago.

Originally published by The Hudson Review

The Doorman

i.m. Michael Donaghy

You kept your Hopkins hidden in your hat
to pass time when gypsy cabs were weaving.
A matron in whose presence hats came off
spotted the poet you were forced to doff
and whisked you to her gracious East Side flat
    where seven stories up
    Margaret are you grieving
    over Goldengrove unleaving?

her voice was tea poured in a china cup.
She bought you tickets to the ‘Y,’ that hall
    where Eliot intoned
his Four Quartets, where Frost said Mending Wall,
and Dylan Thomas sang his lines half-stoned.

Busking for the supper on your plate,
    you married Maddy late,
a gypsy wedding rioting in your heart,
that tympanum where all our meters start.
    A frail expatriate,
you wowed the ‘Y.’ Your patroness returned
to hear firsthand how much her guest had learned.
She watched you springing for the microphone
    to read without a text,
master of pacing, phrasing, pitch and tone.
Pity the poor bastard who went next,
    yet even he is grieving
    your prematurely leaving
a stage so few could ever wholly own.

Originally published by The Hudson Review

Missouri Breaks

I am a trespasser on treeless ground,
home to the sharptail and the furtive hun,
and here the tallest thing for miles around
is a small hunter shouldering his gun.

A blooded dog quarters the feral rye,
and my body’s long quarrel with my mind
is silenced by a landscape and a sky
legible as a Bible for the blind.

Originally published by The Dark Horse

Case Notes

for Dr. Richard Kolotkin


Raped at an early age
by older altar boy.
“Damned by the Church to Hell,
never to sire a son,
perhaps man’s greatest joy,”
said father in a rage.
Patient was twenty-one.
Handled it pretty well.


Curiously, have learned
patient was Eagle Scout.
Outraged that Scouts have spurned
each camper who is ‘out.’
Questioned if taunts endured
are buried? “No, immured.”


Allured by verse and drink
when he was just sixteen,
turned to drugs at Yale.
Patient began to think
people would see a ‘queen’—
scrawny, friendless, frail—
a ‘queer’ condemned to fail.


Into a straight town
he brought a sober lover.
“Worked smarter, drank harder
to stock an empty larder,”
wrote poetry, the cover
for grief he cannot drown.


Uneasy with late father,
feared for by his mother,
lover, and younger brother.
Various neuroses,
but no profound psychosis.
Precarious prognosis.

Originally published by The Hudson Review

Soul of the North

Out of the wilds, I pray.
Bound by my northern birth
to fish, to hunt the earth
and follow my forebears’ way,
I mutter I have sinned,
wander the knee-high grass,
flourish awhile and pass
whistling into the wind.

As char swim to the clear
tundra rivers that run
under the midnight sun,
as wolves follow the deer
drawn from ford to ford,
as clamorous geese in V’s
throng to the thawing seas—
all creatures of one accord—
my soul thirsts for the Lord.

Originally published by Chronicles

The Chase

Now then, Glaucon, we must post ourselves (we philosophers)
like a ring of huntsmen around the thicket, with very alert minds,
so that justice does not escape us by evaporating before us.
The Republic (432b)

I. November 24

I whirl at the faint thunder of the flush,
snap off the safety, plant my backfoot boot,
  shoulder the gun but do not shoot.
One wing flails feebly in the falling hush

as the bird swerves across the frozen bog.
It flaps about five rods, glides to the ground,
  leaps skyward with a second bound
foiled by the canines of an airborne dog.

Here is the cock I winged two weeks before,
its crop crammed full of leavings from the corn,
  its loss a disappointment borne,
but bird in mouth, the settling of a score.

The neck snapped is a mercy long deferred.
When our Alberta clippers start to blow
  no slow starvation in the snow,
no fox or coyote will consume this bird.

I bear our trophy to the truck in bliss,
the proud retriever frisking at my knees.
  Glaucon hunting with Socrates
could hardly have been happier than this.

II. December 8

Cascading from the cropland’s terraced shelf,
the sidehill western wheatgrass rolls away
and the seedheads of sideoats grama sway,
descending to the deadend basin’s shore.
The closest roadhead is a mile or more.
“Think like a rooster, Tim,” I tell myself.

Black-eyed susans have colonized the slopes,
feral reminders of the sunflower fields
abandoned when the weevils halved our yields.
In the foodplots whose flanking grasses drain
to clumps of cattail topped by feathery cane
two practiced predators repose their hopes.

Windward we work to maximize surprise.
Four miles into this prairie white with hoar
Feeney pounces. Two lurking roosters soar
and fall victim to stamina and stealth,
weighting my vest with other-worldly wealth,
a pair of cocks purloined in paradise.

Contemplating the eldest of our arts,
I gut the birds and feed my friend their hearts.

III. December 15

I pick my slow way past the pockmarked sedge
  where calves have kicked their divots,
then climb to hunt the upland’s grassy edge
  rounding the center pivots
  whose verdant verge I choose to stalk.
There breakfast lies within a rooster’s walk.

The prairie is a poem rarely read.
  Its looseleaf pages blow.
Too many students of this landscape fled
 its poverty and snow.
  Today I limp on stiffening knees,
hoping that heedless pheasants take their ease

in pigeon grasses sprung from durum stubble,
  in fragrant cedar shadow
where a boy watched his father down a double.
  Maker of marsh and meadow,
  grant me more time to understand,
more years to walk and memorize this land.

Originally published by The Hudson Review

Last Will and Testament

Each will and codicil
made heretofore by me
I cancel. Let this be
at law my binding will.

Assets of every kind
with which I die possessed
pass to my trust and vest
as I long since designed.

Bankers whose funds I drew
in hardship I enjoin:
leave me the single coin
my Ferryman is due.

My brother James, I name
executor, trustee.
From every obligee
I hold him free of blame.

My mother I bid goodbye.
I leave her in good hands.
My younger brother stands
straighter by far than I.

Alan, across the river
the poets abide their glade
where I’ll embrace the shade
of my foremost forgiver.

Made and declared by free
intent my written word
and signed by me this 3rd
of March, 2003.

Originally published by Iambs & Trochees

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