What was the line the singer said
Me naked with textbook poems
and it felt real we felt a part
in the room’s hush its boom and sway
the sloppy shuffle of drum and bass
to find a funk beat and the guitarist slashing
but not a punk band exactly what this was
trebly angularity fast lines and static electric
hit between chords and covers he wasn’t a great singer
but he spoke I swear to us through us
he was fat and wore loafers and shorts in a club
south on University Avenue
inside the smoke up in the lights
my old girlfriend from college was a waitress a drink slinger she said
and we got in free
sweat dripping down our necks we spattered onto each other
lips wet with beer not like later in the bedroom’s wash
the high or buzz gone the morning
like a sentence of grief and grey waiting
all before the singer died his girlfriend they said driving
I kept thinking I could go back go back and change things
change everything just think how that song sticks and replays
not fighting with my head when it’s late and anything is possible
everyone else asleep at night
and then the morning a dull revelation sick in the gut
how all the poems all the music stopped
even his voice nasal and plain Is your life worth a painting?
we were all dead for a while there mid-80’s up to
maybe ‘93 even combing our hair paying to have it cut
working insurance jobs wearing off-the-rack shirts and pants
Mother happy her boy her girl came to Friday night dinner sat and answered
questions from aunts and uncles and ate regular food
wearing less makeup less tearing less piercing
and seemed less distracted he hadn’t lost his head
driving in a Western nightscape sometime
the music suddenly stopping the tape jamming
and a man said he seemed to sing at the song’s ending
that guitar churning and his voice growling coming up
singing even at last on key Coming back around, look!
Coming together for just a second
a peek a guess at the wholeness it’s way too big
at the wholeness it’s way too big
and he stopped it stopped how
we grew up in one stunned heartbreak.

Captain Beefheart sang The past sure is tense

1980’s cartoon hysteria over frenetic blues,
we needed a soundtrack a marching beat
waking every morning with cereal, coffee
and then a cigarette walking to school to keep
warm at first and not alone later. Not alone.
Maybe you get a ride and out from the cold.
But someone else’s music, someone’s fingers
pressing buttons and shit shit shit shit shit
the station wagon keep huffing that shit.
What you felt was difference, she whispered
leaning over, different from your classmates, different
from yourself. Oh, you had changed: a slight
break in tenth grade after reading Nausea.
The self peels off from the self. Silently.


Dan Murphy lives in Los Angeles and works as an elementary school teacher in The Los Angeles Unified School District. He has been published in Field, The Beloit Poetry Journal, Image, The Cortland Review, North American Review, Askew, Chaparral, and other publications. He had a chapbook, The Book of False Rhyme, published with Finishing Line Press in 2014.