Revision Lesson by Erin Murphy

Revision Lesson

The faces of my former students
blur together like the crowd
in Pound’s metro station:

petals on a wet, black bough.
But you are the only student
I’ve had who suffered

such a public loss. And so,
nearly two decades later,
I can still see you

sitting on the right side
of the classroom, your long legs
tilted to fit under the small desk.

It was my first semester teaching
creative writing. I felt I had
something to prove, though

now I’m not sure what.
That I knew what I was doing?
That I wasn’t a pushover?

That despite the reputation of poets,
I wasn’t flaky or sentimental?
All of the above, I suppose.

I must have been afraid
any display of emotion would
crack my professorial armor.

Our introductory class covered
poetry and fiction writing.
You and your classmates read

and wrote poems and stories
that we critiqued in workshops.
You preferred the concrete cause

and effect of narrative, the mechanics
of getting characters from Point A
to Point B. Poems were squirming

fish that slipped between
your fingers; it was as if you
didn’t trust them. You set your

story one year into the future.
I had decided in advance
that I would treat your work

the way I would treat that
of any other student: objectively.
I would not assume

the character’s experience
was your own, even though I knew
from faculty lounge murmurings

that it was. I would not offer
sympathy. Sensitive topics
are par for the course

in creative writing. In the years
since you took my class,
I’ve had students write about

childhood abuse, sexual assaults,
gambling, and drug use. Self-harm
is a common theme, especially

among young women, though
I once had a male student write
a creative nonfiction essay

about his former addiction
to cutting his gums. In graphic detail,
he described repeatedly puncturing

the pink flesh above his molars
until he drew blood. Some students
need to learn the difference between

writing personal journal entries
and writing for an audience.
Others may benefit from a referral

to health services. But you didn’t
fit into either of these groups.
When it was time to discuss your story,

I jumped right into critique mode.
Give us a flashback or two
to develop your character,

I suggested. Try incorporating
a specific memory. Add some dialogue.
At the end, you—

I mean your character—
reflected on the one-year
anniversary and said

Everything will be alright.
Your resolution seems a bit forced,
I said. Maybe find a way to suggest

to the reader that she’s
trying to convince herself.
A month later, I would see you

dancing at the winter formal
in a blue polka dot dress, flinging
your arms into the air as if

launching missiles. But that day
in class, you folded yourself
over your notebook, scribbling

furiously. Your classmates painted
the tile floor with the soles
of their shoes. I suggested that you

build tension by withholding
information. Don’t tell us
right away that it was

September 11, I said. Wait to tell us
that the protagonist’s father
was one of the airline pilots.

What I did not say:
I’m sorry.
What I did not show:

I’m human.
I am. I am. I am
still telling.

*

Erin Murphy’s eighth book of poems, Human Resources, is forthcoming from Salmon Poetry. Her work has appeared or is forthcoming in such journals as 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 editor of three anthologies from the University of Nebraska Press and SUNY Press and serves as Poetry Editor of The Summerset Review. She is Professor of English at Penn State Altoona. Website: http://www.erin-murphy.com

Facebook: https://www.facebook.com/erinmurphypoet
Twitter: @poet_notes

One Poem by Patricia Davis-Muffett

What to do with your grief
       for Dionne, June 2020

Butter. Sugar. Flour. Salt.
I am doing what I know.

Nineteen, I call my mother crying:
“I can’t make the pie crust work,”
“Come home,” she says. “We’ll fix it.”
The ice in the water,
the fork used to mix,
the way she floured the board.
It’s chemistry, yes–
but also this:
the things you pass
from hand to hand.

9/11. Child dropped at preschool.
Traffic grinds near the White House.
A plane overhead. The Pentagon burns.
The long trek home to reclaim our child.
We are told to stay in. I venture out.
Blueberries to make a pie.

My mother, so sick. Not hungry.
For a time, she is tempted by pies.
I bring them long after taste flees.

New baby. Death. Any crisis.
I do what my mother taught me.
Butter. Sugar. Flour. Salt.
I bring this to you–this work of my hands,
this piece of my day, this sweetness,
all I can offer.

Today, Minneapolis burns
And sparks catch fire in New York,
Atlanta, here in DC.
My friend’s voice says
what I know but can’t know:
“This is my fear every time they leave me.”
Three beautiful sons, brilliant, alive.
I have little to offer. I do what I know.

*

Patricia Davis-Muffett (she/her) holds an MFA from the University of Minnesota. She was a 2020 Julia Darling Poetry Prize finalist and received First Honorable Mention in the 2021 Joe Gouveia OuterMost Poetry Contest. Her work has appeared in Limestone, Coal City Review, Neologism, The Orchards, One Art, Pretty Owl Poetry, di-verse-city (anthology of the Austin International Poetry Festival), The Blue Nib and Amethyst Review, among others. She lives in Rockville, Maryland, with her husband and three children and makes her living in technology marketing.

Storytelling by Michael T. Young

Storytelling

A man standing in the middle of 42nd Street said,
“Happiness is a cave with WiFi and my favorite beer.”

I believed him because he was naked
and the police were converging on him.

When he stretched out on the hot asphalt,
a pigeon crossed overhead from marquee to marquee.

That’s how I knew he was telling the story of our age.
Some reporter may write down his proclamations,

distinguish by them the gun from the plough,
and teach how stories caught in empty bottles

howl as long congressional breaths over their rims,
and other stories calcify into shells with seawater

cupped in their nacreous bowls. The differences in them
are that the final scripture etched in their salts

guides us to sip from troughs imparting the wisdom
that a hug is warmer than a smoking gun

and while your story is more interesting: hiking the Himalayas,
sharing shots of slivovitz with painters in Prague,

or your knees giving out at the World Trade Center Site
remembering you survived that day by two or three minutes—

it’s not my story. It would be thievery for me to tell it.
And though I was there that day too, I kept walking,

am walking still, so my story goes untold
because my knees are stronger, because telling a story

means stopping and sitting down, maybe with a beer,
maybe lying down on the hot asphalt until they carry you away.

*

Michael T. Young’s third full-length collection, The Infinite Doctrine of Water, was longlisted for the Julie Suk Award. His previous collections are The Beautiful Moment of Being Lost and Transcriptions of Daylight. He received a Fellowship from the New Jersey State Council on the Arts. His chapbook, Living in the Counterpoint, received the Jean Pedrick Chapbook Award. His poetry has been featured on Verse Daily and The Writer’s Almanac. It has also appeared or is forthcoming in numerous journals including Cimarron Review, Gargoyle Magazine, One, RATTLE, and Valparaiso Poetry Review.