This entry is part of Getaway Reads, an e-mail series curated by Taylor Coyle that features the writing of the Winter Poetry & Prose Getaway faculty.
by Peter E. Murphy
I read before I learned to read, or at least I pretended to. I looked at the brightly colored comic strips and made up the words I thought the cartoon characters were saying. The funnies came on Sunday when my father put his music on, Mozart, Beethoven, Brahms and the rest of their friends. Our small apartment sounded like a cathedral. Every Thursday night he took the subway up to Carnegie Hall to listen to Leonard Bernstein conduct the New York Philharmonic. My father was a longshoreman who never went to high school. I don’t know how he came to love classical music.
He read the Herald Tribune and The Times, but they were black and white and didn’t have funnies. My mother read the Journal American and The Daily Mirror which did. Sometimes my father read the funnies to me. One day there was an advertisement for a wallet with a cowboy embossed on the front. The wallet was filled with money. I loved cowboys and wanted to be one, typical for a boy in the Fifties living on the top floor of a six-story walkup. I loved seeing cowboys in the movies, and on TV, especially the Mickey Mouse Club on Round-Up Fridays when the Mouseketeers dressed up like cowboys and danced on little fake horses. I wanted to be Cubby because I had a crush on blond-haired Karen, his girlfriend. More than anything, even Karen, I wanted a horse.
My father helped me print my name and address on the little form, write the address on the envelope and gave me a 3¢ stamp to lick. He also gave me a dollar bill to put inside. I begged him to mail the letter right away. He walked me down 19th Street to the mailbox on 9th Avenue with its dark cars rolling back and forth, back and forth. It was a two-way street then. My cousin Henry lived on 9th Avenue above a store that had live turtles in the window. I didn’t know what the store sold, but I liked looking at the turtles even though they didn’t do anything. Henry pronounced “H” as “Heach.” I asked him why he did that, and he told me that was the correct way to say it. When I started saying “Heach” people looked at me funny, so I stopped.
My father lifted me so I could put the envelope in the mailbox. I pulled open the little door and dropped it in. I was going to get a wallet with a cowboy on it filled with cash. I was going to be rich. I was going to buy a horse, a big white horse with a flowing white mane and a long white tail. I was going to ride it down the six flights of stairs. I was going to wear a crown on my head and the other kids were going to wish that they were me. After a couple hundred years, a package addressed to me arrived in the mail. I opened it up. My cowboy wallet was beautiful with Roy Rogers or Gene Autry or Hopalong Cassidy on the front. When I pulled out the cash it was play money.
I was not going to buy a horse and ride it down six flights of stairs. I was not going to wear a crown. Nobody was going to wish they were me. A few years later I met a horse for the first time. When I reached out to touch it, it bit my finger.
© Peter E. Murphy. Originally published in Andrea Reads America, 2014.
Because poetry is at the heart of the Getaway, here is a bonus:
Labor Day: Atlantic City
by Peter E. Murphy
This is the last you’ll see of Philadelphia drivers
who make illegal U-turns on Pacific Avenue,
then park themselves on the sand that will grit
against their skin as they Humvee the traffic-jammed
expressway back to the city that spawned them.
This is the day when Showboat and Trump
and the second tallest building in New Jersey
that reveled on the Boardwalk for just two years,
fold five thousand dealers into the street.
Also losing his job is Mr. Peanut because he swung
his cane at the juvies who tried to trip him.
Everyone wants to sell their houses.
When they advertise themselves,
the casinos euphemize gambling as gaming
and are required to state, Bet with your head. Not over it.
There are other words you need to know—Shoobie,
Ar-Kansas, Lucy, Wawa, FEMA—to make sense
of this island. My friend Sandy lost too much in a storm
named after her. Born on 9/11 long before the fall,
she dreams of waves, not jetliners, crashing into buildings.
What else can you say about a woman who backs up against history?
There are 228 steps to the top of the lighthouse
where you can see how the tide rips away at the dunes.
They put up a cage so you can’t throw yourself off after climbing.
© Peter E. Murphy. Originally published in Rattle, September 7, 2014.
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Peter E. Murphy was born in Wales and grew up in New York City where he operated heavy equipment, managed a nightclub and drove a cab. He is the author of Stubborn Child, a finalist for the 2006 Paterson Poetry Prize, and three poetry chapbooks, Thorough & Efficient, Mr. Nobody and Atlantic City Lives (Forthcoming in 2015). His unique poetry writing assignments have been collected in Challenges for the Delusional. He has received fellowships for writing and teaching from The Atlantic Center for the Arts, The Folger Shakespeare Library, The National Endowment for the Humanities, The New Jersey State Council on the Arts, Yaddo and the White House Commission on Presidential Scholars. Peter is the founder of Murphy Writing of Stockton College which includes the Winter Poetry & Prose Getaway and other programs for poets, writers and teachers in the U.S. and abroad. Read a recent interview with Peter.
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Want to study with Peter E. Murphy? Peter will be facilitating the poetry workshops at the 2015 Winter Poetry & Prose Getaway.
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