Poems by Erin Murphy


In Case of Emergency


Where would we live if you and Daddy died? our daughter asks at dinner. Our teenage son looks up from his spaghetti-spooled fork, interested, for once, in something his younger sister has said. We are not planning to die anytime soon. But our daughter is good at questions. When she was two, she asked if a knife could cut another knife. At first, a digression: our son mentions foster care, wonders aloud if they’d have to change schools. Then my daughter says, Yeah, and we’d have to take a special bus with the other kids of parents who died. We run with this idea. The Orphan Bus! It would be black! It would drive with its lights on all day like a hearse! All the other cars would pull over to let it pass! But it’s sweet, really, the thought that her loss would be so all-consuming that she’d have to segregate herself, unable even to engage in normal school bus banter. It occurs to me that she has barely been brushed by death. Even Romeo, her betta fish, has outlived our expectations. Back to the original question: If Daddy and I died, I say, Grandma and Grandpa would come to live with you. You wouldn’t have to change houses or schools. This is not something I have discussed with my mother and step-father, but I feel certain they’d rise to the occasion. I watch my children roll this idea around in their minds. Okay, so our parents are dead, but we get to keep the same bedrooms, the same friends, the same lockers at school, they seem to be thinking. But what if they die? our daughter wants to know. I offer surrogate B. And if she dies? Surrogate C. And if she dies? I am quickly exhausting the list of people who would be willing, on a moment’s notice, to drop their own lives, move to central/western Pennsylvania, and raise my kids. And here our son—who has already flirted with transformation, who finds hair sprouting in unexpected places, who sees his former Little League teammates toking joints behind the YMCA, who once watched a video of himself as a young boy and said, Man, this me would hate that me—here our son interrupts. If she died, he says, we’d both be arrested for murder ’cause everyone who lives with us ends up dead. And he is right—not that he and his sister would be arrested, but that we should end this conversation, and we should end it laughing.




But for one glance
across a crowded bar

But for an hour
by an idling car

dancing around
his place or mine

But for drawn curtains
cool cotton sheets

hot breath in my ear
and a yes and yes

and yes less like
Molly Bloom and more

like sun spreading
across a room

yes to months to years
a house a lawn

But for a night
or maybe dawn

that was the seed
of you now a man

with his own ideas
and beard and needs

who makes pesto
and hangs drywall

But for a planned
accident or accidental

plan yes you were
yes aren’t we all.


Erin Murphy’s work has appeared or is forthcoming in Ecotone, About Place, The Georgia Review, Waxwing, Guesthouse, Rattle, Women’s Studies Quarterly, and elsewhere. Her newest books of poems are Taxonomies (2022) and Human Resources (forthcoming from Salmon Poetry). She is professor of English at Penn State Altoona and poetry editor of The Summerset Reviewwww.erin-murphy.com



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