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Mary Jean Murphy - Writer
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Interview in Epiphany: A Literary Journal

Thank you to the kind editors at Epiphany: A Literary Journal for hosting this short-answer interview session with me.

Epiphany: William Trevor began his adult life as a sculptor and later described his writing as chipping away at a block of marble. Are you a chipper or a builder?  In other words, do you chip away at a block of writing, or are you more methodical, building up the block brick by brick?

Mary Jean Murphy: I’m definitely methodical and imagine the metaphor as building paper mâché. I have these delicate sentences that layer atop each other until there’s something solid. I’ll write a paragraph, decide it doesn’t have that solid feel, then delete it and try again. When it’s working well, it’s a great feeling—when it’s not, it can be pretty frustrating and probably limiting. If I could choose, I’d be a chipper, but maybe that’s a case of “grass is greener.”

What was your first publication? 

When I was in the 10th grade, I had a poem published in Scholastic’s Best Teen Writing of 2006. It was an anthology of selected winners from the Scholastic Art & Writing Awards, and it was the first “real” contest that my writing won.

CONTINUE READING the full interview on Epiphany’s website.

(Image credit: Lydia Conklin)

Nonfiction

Life After Loss: Week One

I PRACTICED DOING kegels in the back seat as Mark drove our mother and me to the crematorium to identify our older brother’s body. I’d still never had an orgasm.  At twenty-two it was embarrassing to tell people, and a week earlier, in a Vegas hotel room, one of my coworkers had said it came down to kegels.  I took my clothes off quickly as he explained that kegels made his girlfriend come easier and maybe I’d just never fucked a man who knew how to use what he’d been given.  He took it as a point of pride that he could make any girl come—except me—and it was all I could think about.

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Poetry

Step One: Admission

There are no steps. Being an addict is flying in circles like a goose looking for its lost mate. Days will pass, but she won’t remember them. By choice, by design, Jane drinks so she can stop asking questions. Addicted to what? The feeling of sunlight in fistfuls on her back, his voice in her ear like a ghost, the weightlessness of soaring on something unseen. Even here, she’s scared to tell you what it tastes like. To quit–everywhere Jane looks there are clouds, clouds, clouds and the bottom has always been a faraway place, waiting beneath.

 


Originally published in the Spring 2016 issue of the Washington Square Review.

The Girl in the Photo
Nonfiction

The Girl in the Photo

LAUREN HAD BIG tits, swollen and weighted down with bologna-sized areolas, like she’d been waiting a very long time for someone to milk her. Maybe it was her tits, maybe it was the pink ribbon tied in a bow around her neck, but the sight of her made me want to moo. She stood in the mirror’s reflection with her arms raised to make her body look slim and add some perk to those bags. In one photo she bit her bottom lip and I could see the hint of a double chin. She was framed by a Hollywood mirror atop her purple vanity, and set behind her were purple walls, purple sheets pulling off her bed, a Saw 2 movie poster, a magenta bra on the floor. Her room was just askew enough to look natural, as though she hadn’t cleaned for the pictures. On her stomach, she’d written backward so it could be read in the mirror: Property of Zack Simmons.

I showed the photos to Brett under flickering fluorescents in an NYU dorm. It was the weekend after finals, and except for us, the common room was empty. At a round wooden table, I stretched my head out on my arm and stared into his face as he looked at the photos.

“Is this what girls do?” Brett asked.

“Apparently.”

“And what does that bitch have around her neck?” he said. “At least dudes have the decency to leave their faces out of dick pics.”

He pushed my computer back to me and I left my head on the table, concentrating on Lauren’s face, searching for acne. Brett opened Grindr on his phone and started showing me pictures of dicks, showed me how guys used their hands to make themselves look bigger.

Brett spent many of his nights on Grindr, seeking anonymous hookups, submerging himself in the BDSM world for a sense of order. Sex felt safer when he didn’t recognize the face above him. A few months earlier, in the summer before we left for college, Brett’s best friend William died in a car crash. From the way he talked about him, I often wondered if they had been more than friends. I thought about what I would do if I lost a lover like that.

“She didn’t even spell his name right. Zach hates when people spell his name with a ‘k’.” I wasn’t done with Lauren.

“How’d you get these pictures?”

Keep reading at Vinyl Poetry and Prose.

Poetry

Intercontinental

The martini’s salty burn still crouched between her teeth, but Jane thought the man in the hotel bar’s bathroom tasted like water.  He was, plainly put, refreshing.  That he had a girlfriend was everything; it didn’t matter who was lying, or was he attractive with his pants around his ankles, or might someone walk in, not even the way her lips sank down when he reminded her they were just having fun.  She wanted to know this girlfriend.  With her stockings rolled down mid-thigh and palms bracing herself against the humming hand dryer, Jane remembered her first boyfriend: a cheater.  Back then, she thought she could draw the boyfriend home with fluttering lids and nails screaming down his chalky back, but when they finished, come slid down her thighs as he kicked her out of his Ford Explorer. All she felt was the rain and a trembling fear that someone, under cover of warped windows, watched her from above.

 

First appeared in Literary Orphans.

Poetry

The Art of Holding Yourself Back

Jane never waited for her Jell-O to cool, so she learned to like the taste of red on her tongue, hot and tangy. Made her squint, think about patience as unvirtue, as unbravery: to be praised for holding yourself back. She tried not to think about the most recent man to leave her. Patience as unlove. Instead she thought about how somewhere, there’s a girl biting into an unripe pineapple, born in the sun. See the rocky sand that pricks her feet. See the plastic coke bottles and ripped cereal boxes sucking back on the tide. That girl calls it home. Jane thought about how somewhere else, love is slow-moving and cool like a pillow flipped in the night.

 

First appeared on Word Riot.

Poetry

Prayer Song

Jane’s doctor told her to create new routines. She decides she will begin cooking again, laces her boots, zips her coat, winds her scarf, takes the stone steps out of her apartment, slow-like. A seagull flies against the beating snow; the water follows us everywhere. The grocer’s automatic doors zwoop open and she stands in front of the broccoli not knowing how she got here. (Dreaming has lost its positive connotation.) Jane holds a whole chicken in her outstretched hands and cries. It is so heavy, and she has never before realized that so many people walking around her are dying. Every one, Jane knows, is feeling this way, and they have just learned through practice not to cry at poultry in public. Jane reminds herself that even the Bible ends.

 

First appeared on Word Riot.

Interview

Tethering to Reality: An Interview with Rebecca Lee

After a year’s worth of planning, soliciting, binge-eating chocolate, meeting, editing, binge-eating chocolate, writing, budgeting, and binge-eating chocolate, Issue 53 of Columbia: A Journal of Literature & Art is finally done and ready for public consumption.  This issue includes work by Rachel Louise Snyder, David James Poissant, Denise Duhamel, and interviews with Mary Jo Bang and Rebecca Lee.  You can purchase copies at catchandrelease.columbiajournal.org (and, while you’re at it, check out some of the great work being published online!)

In the meantime, here is a preview of the interview I conducted with Rebecca Lee:

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Poetry

Tonight, The N Train

should i have raised my hand
when the man on the train searched for sinners
to save like shells on a beach
shoved in deep pockets
to recover as souvenirs when he can’t remember
how to save himself

never mind the ocean
or how it can be blue
yet gray
we prefer to think in simple terms

jesus, yes
but even the bible ends

even he walked past
when my lungs dragged air
like a tidal pull
and i wanted to know love
everlasting

Poetry

The Fourth Dimension

i am waiting for them to bring
my neighbor out on a stretcher, in a body bag,
maybe. my mother says i’d like to see him
one last time, too.  i don’t know
how to tell her i just want to know if it’s like it is on tv.

i’ve already thought ahead to the autopsy,
where they search for things that can’t
be found in the body.

like that stomach drop, remembering what it is
to feel fear when skin touches skin. touches
memory. i hope they remember that i was
a little girl who is no longer a little girl who is
dissecting sexuality for all that it can give her.

sexuality—like the way my neighbor would ask
my mother how i was doing, and i would saunter to the mailbox
as he walked around his yard like a seagull lost on the beach.
his speech, the same.  he shrieked words, too much valium,

forgotten coherence. i don’t think
he knew my name, but he didn’t think i knew his,
thought all i knew was the man, the middle-aged man looking lost
in his own front yard. the man who will lie with formaldehyde veins
and when the son he didn’t know touches him, the flesh
will bend under the pads of his fingers.

i am thinking about the fourth dimension, manifolds pushed
into imaginary surfaces, smoothed curves, my hips,
the skin cells that die and i lose.  i wish i was young again.
i’m still young, pressing arms through legs,
but i wish it was different. in the fourth dimension,
the derivative of my hopes would be curves, infinity.

i would tell you his name, if it mattered.
this is sexuality.  this is a man lowered into the ground.
this is the world, math, me figuring out nothing.