Five Poems by Erin Murphy

Taxonomy of Dancing

The stand and sway. The full-on
stomping and sweating, every limb
flailing as if it’s on fire. The train of hands
on hips, stuttering to a stop when a girl
loses a shoe. My college date who said
You’re dancing with the drummer, not me.
The burn in my cheeks because it was true.


Taxonomy of Emptiness

Answer bubbles on a standardized test.
A clean sheet parachuting over
a king-sized bed. Stomachs churning
with hunger or dread. A child’s
birthday balloon filled with breath.
How we stitch together the stories
of ourselves with invisible thread.


Taxonomy of Highways

The ticket I got for driving my 1970
Karmann Ghia too slowly. How my mother
recorded her first trip on the Jersey Turnpike
in her college diary. The motorcyclist
we saw in Sugarloaf, his body smeared
across I-80. How highways pulse with people
who aren’t where they want to be.


Taxonomy of City People

How even at 7 a.m. they look polished
in their slim-cut suits and glossy shoes.
How every flick of the wrist seems
pre-ordained: snapping open an umbrella,
scanning a subway pass. Even their hair
knows what to do. Their eyes, too, are
on a mission: not noticing not noticing you.


Taxonomy of Things Smaller Than a Fingertip

The Cheerio I tweezed from my son’s ear.
The seed of a pumpkin or an idea.
The end of the pen I clickclickclicked
waiting to hear—
Battery from my elegant watch that loses
a minute a day. All those minutes stacked
like miniature bricks. All those missed years.


About Taxonomies: Forthcoming in April 2022, the collection explores issues of gender, aging, relationships, and race through the lens of the natural world, everyday objects and experiences, technology, and current events. Through a series of fragments, each poem plays on the conventional idea of scientific taxonomy by categorizing items that would not typically be classified.


Erin Murphy is the author or editor of twelve books, including three collections of demi-sonnets, a 7-line form she devised. These poems are from her latest collection of demi-sonnets, Taxonomies (forthcoming from Word Poetry). Another collection, Human Resources, is forthcoming from Salmon Poetry. Her work has appeared in such journals as Rattle, Diode, Southern Poetry Review, American Journal of Poetry, The Georgia Review, North American Review, and Women’s Studies Quarterly. Her awards include The Normal School Poetry Prize, the Dorothy Sargent Rosenberg Poetry Prize, and a Best of the Net award. She is Professor of English at Penn State Altoona and serves as Poetry Editor of The Summerset Review. Website:

Twitter: @poet_notes

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