Erin Murphy


1. Taxonomy of the Pre-Seatbelt Era

The summer we moved to Appalachia, gray cat
in one box, my baby brother in another. Me riding
shotgun, protected by my mother’s arm. My classmate
Sadie who went through a windshield. I pictured
her floating through a slow-motion spray of glass
stars. How did she stitch Sadie from Sarah? How did
she find herself behind the constellation of scars?

2. Taxonomy of Venom

Two girls Hula-hooping on the back patio
when a pair of young copperheads comes along.
My father raising the shovel above each one,
then waits for the mother. The clang of metal
on stone. The blood. The bodies tossed in weeds.
My friend, barefoot and stunned. My father’s own
sharp tongue that stings long after he leaves.

3. Taxonomy of 70s-Style Recycling

My single mother used margarine tubs
for Tupperware, served Kool Aid in jelly jars,
wrapped Pringles cans in tinfoil to transform
a kitchen chair into a birthday throne.
It wasn’t about sea turtles or the planet
but the thrill of thrift—sometime for nothing,
kids without a man, a magic trick.

4. Taxonomy of Taxonomies

From the Greek—taxis: order, nomos: science.
Rules for an unruly world. When my father
slipped into an unclassified black hole,I saved
babysitting money to paint my bedroom walls
yellow. I studied swatches: Sunny Veranda,
Forsythia, Pollen Powder, Gusto Gold,
each strip a family with the same undertones.

Editor’s Note:
The narrator attempts to order the unorderly life events in neat packages and does it quite effectively. This taxonomy of life itself is adorned with phrase-gems such as “constellation of scars,” “My father’s own/ sharp tongue that stings,” “kids without a man, a magic trick,” and “each strip a family with the same undertones.” The layered meanings of the phrases make this poem effective.

Erin Murphy’s latest book, Human Resources, is forthcoming from Salmon Poetry. Her work has appeared or is forthcoming in Southern Poetry Review, The Georgia Review, North American Review, Women’s Studies Quarterly, and elsewhere.Her awards include The Normal School Poetry Prize, the Dorothy Sargent Rosenberg Poetry Prize, and a Best of the Net award. She serves as Poetry Editor of The Summerset Review and is Professor of English at Penn State Altoona.

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