I Want to Hear – A collaborative poem conceived and arranged by Erin Murphy

I Want to Hear

Hearing may indeed by one of the last senses to lose function as humans die.

                                                                                          —Scientific Reports, 2020

I want to hear the scarlet-headed woodpecker
on a distant oak tapping out agrub, agrub, agrub,

twigs crackling underfoot on a forest path
as sunlight filters onto my face,

creekwater running past and over rocks
on its way to the falls
like conversation between lovers.

I want to hear the gasping hiss of a hot iron
lifted from pressed fabric, a flood of steam
rising from each smoothed crease,

the cracking open of a Coke can,
the sizzling of soda bubbling up,

toast crunching on linoleum
as we stomp anger into crumbs,

the swish of Rob Halford’s tight-fitting leather vest.

I want to hear anything but the crow-cry pulsing
of my continuous glucose monitor.

I want to hear Bill Withers’ grandma’s hands indwell
the liturgy where my grandmother brought us,
the tall cross out front in bloom,

bagpipe notes wailing in a canyon,
sliding like trombones down cliffs,

cars passing swiftly, faint as peace.

I want to hear boots tapping on wooden floors
as my father leaves and returns from work,

the bustle of garbage collectors on the porch.

I want to hear a newborn baby crying,

the wise creak of a rocking chair,
heavy with the weight of a mother
and her cocooned child.

I want to hear the rhythmic buzz
of a spouse’s snoring,

the cackle, howl, and wheeze
of my family’s laughter,

grandkids’ shrieks weaving together
in the backseat.

The landline message calling my name
three days before Mom’s death.

A nurse leaning down and whispering
We are transferring you to the love ward.

The distant train whistle
of the words I and mine.

Voices running together like rain,
letting me know they’ll be okay.

And my mother’s voice again:
Everything will be fine.


A collaborative poem conceived and arranged by Erin Murphy during the 2022 West Virginia Writers’ Workshop, featuring lines by Mark Brazaitis, Joel Chineson, Gary Ciocco, Lori D’Angelo, Karen DePinto, Sarah Beth Ealy, Rebecca Ernest, Stanley Galloway, Katy Giebenhain, David Hayhurst, Georgianna Heiko, Irene Klosko, George M. Lies, Martin Malone, Erin Murphy, Renée K. Nicholson, Karen Peacock, Stan Pisle, Guy Terrell, Deborah Westin, Maryann Wolfe, and Nicole Yurcaba.

Erin Murphy, who conceptualized and arranged this collaborative poem, is the author of nine poetry collections, including Human Resources (forthcoming from Salmon Poetry). She is professor of English at Penn State Altoona where she organized a college-wide collaborative poetry project entitled “In My America.”
Website: http://www.erin-murphy.com
Facebook: https://www.facebook.com/erinmurphypoet
Twitter: @poet_notes


“I Want to Hear” Collaborative Poem Prompt

It has long been believed that hearing is the last sense to go. A recent University of British Columbia study determined that unresponsive actively dying patients continue to hear in the final hours before death. The study – “Electrophysiological evidence of preserved hearing at the end of life” – was published in the journal Scientific Reports in 2020. With this in mind, you are invited to participate in a collaborative poetry project.

• Write a list of the final sounds you’d want to hear. These could be sounds you love, sounds you find calming, a sound you miss, or words you need or want to hear. Just jot them down – don’t worry about being descriptive.
• Now go back and choose one sound to describe in detail. Make notes about all of the associations you have with this sound.
• Write one sentence that fills in this blank: “I want to hear __________________.” Be as specific and concrete as possible.