Three Poems by Erin Murphy

Ilha dos Gatos

The day my gynecologist
says postmenopausal the way

you’d mention rain, I learn
about Ilha dos Gatos

off the coast of Brazil,
an Alcatraz for abandoned cats—

feral, ravenous, spawning.
This is not a place for birds.

Desire is a noun and a verb
but never a command.

Look at me wanting
and wanting.


To the Man Who Stole Our Pregnant Dog

I hope she bit you, shredding the flesh
of the hand that wooed her from my childhood

yard. You probably sold her pups off the back
of a rusty truck at a flea market, a handwritten

sign missing an s or a t in Bassett Hound.
What I remember: her banana peel ears

swept the ground like unhemmed drapes.
We called her Blarney, and I’d already

named the babies after other Irish castles
from the set of pleather-bound Britannicas

we bought by the month. Every evening
for weeks, I sat in the bath after the water turned

cold, thinking my discomfort would bring her
home. The walls shuddered with the last

rumblings of my parents’ marriage. I slid
under to see how long I could go without air,

the soapy surface a scrim over a body
that was there, then not there.


I Knew a Pyromaniac

A neighborhood boy,
barely old enough to sit

at the kitchen table
without a booster seat.

He couldn’t tie his shoes
but lit a match with one

flick of a slim wrist.
He sniffed sulfur on his

fingers the way most kids
inhale the smell of warm

chocolate chip cookies.
His father was gone—

not dead, just gone. This
we shared. His mother

was the shadow of a shadow.
First a swing set burned.

Then a garden shed. And
then they moved. Once

when I was babysitting him,
he sat on my lap and drew

a picture of a girl. Who’s that?
I asked. He pointed.

You. I was on fire. He didn’t
know how to hold a crayon.

But he knew the hottest
part of the flame was blue.


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, Guesthouse, Southern Poetry Review, The Georgia Review, North American Review, and Women’s Studies Quarterly. Her awards include The Normal School Poetry Prize judged by Nick Flynn, the Dorothy Sargent Rosenberg Poetry Prize, and a Best of the Net award judged by Patricia Smith. 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: