Hide-and-Seek by Erin Murphy


         Northern Virginia, 2002

The week I teach poetry to fourth graders,
my students scramble up slides at recess

and blister their fingers on monkey bars.
They swipe the shoulders of each other’s

striped t-shirts and erupt in a chorus
of Not it! Not it! They are not squirming

in desks, locked down because a sniper
is targeting strangers. A teen in search

of a father is not crouching in the trunk
of a blue Chevy Caprice, taking aim

at bus passengers and landscapers
and drivers pumping gas. On this day,

a 25-year-old woman vacuums Cheerios
from the back seat of her mini-van

at a Shell station and returns home
to her toddler daughter whose favorite

word is why. Why dogs bark? Why
thunder go boom? Why babies cry? Why?

Why? A liquor store clerk rings up
the last sale of the night and heads back

to his garden apartment where he falls
asleep to Law & Order re-runs.

Their families will not have to ask why. I write
personification on the board. What word

is hiding inside? I ask. I’m looking, of course,
for person. In this version, there is only one boy

in the world hungry for attention, and he shoots
his arm in the air and answers cat.


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

“Hide-and-Seek” will appear in the craft book The Strategic Poet edited by Diane Lockward (forthcoming from Terrapin Books in fall 2021). The Strategic Poet features model poems, prompts, sample poems based on prompts, and craft discussions. Additional contributors include Ellen Bass, Camille Dungy, Todd Kaneko, Diane Seuss, Ada Limón, Jan Beatty, Allison Joseph, and dozens of other poets.

Related social media links:

Erin Murphy’s Facebook: https://www.facebook.com/erinmurphypoet
Erin Murphy’s Twitter: @poet_notes
Terrapin Books Facebook: https://www.facebook.com/terrapinbooks
Diane Lockward’s Facebook: https://www.facebook.com/dianelockward
Diane Lockward’s Twitter: @DianeLockward