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Poetry Moment: Erin Murphy and 'Amphibious'

Poet Erin Murphy

Poetry Moment on WPSU is a program featuring the work of contemporary Pennsylvania poets. Host Shara McCallum is this year’s Penn State Laureate.

Today’s poem is “Amphibious” by Erin Murphy.

Erin Murphy is Professor of English at Penn State Altoona where she received the university-wide Alumni Award for Excellence in Teaching. She is the author of nine collections of poetry, most recently Human Resources and Taxonomies. Her awards include the Dorothy Sargent Rosenberg Poetry Prize and two Foreword INDIES Book of the Year Awards. She is an inductee in the Blair County Arts Hall of Fame and recipient of the WISE Women Tribute Award in Arts & Letters. Just last week ArtsAltoona named her the first Poet Laureate of Blair County.

Mother’s Day is this Sunday. Like many holidays, we mark this one with food, flowers, cards, and gifts. Today’s poem offers a different understanding of the gift of mothering—the insights to be found in everyday moments with our children. In keeping with the poet’s focus on the quotidian, the poem’s language is plain-spoken and the speaker’s tone one of bemusement. “Amphibious” centers on a brief interaction between a mother and daughter, around an oil painting the child wants to bring to school. Into this placid scene, the poet deftly exposes the gap between how the daughter and mother see the world. “Amphibious” takes a turn at the end and leaves us to reflect on weightier questions: the nature of identity, transformations of the self, and our desire to ‘see what we want.’



My daughter wants to take
a framed oil painting to school,

a nude with loose breasts and a belly
ripe as the full moon. Why? Because 

we’re studying frogs, she says,
and it’s a frog. I cock my head

to consider the angle of the draped arm
but can’t get past the female form.

My daughter, though, is swimming
in amphibians, bringing home

scribbled pictures of tadpoles sprouting
splayed feet. At night, she sleeps

in the bedroom I painted pink,
her shelves lined with confectionary

teapots and cups. By day, she wants
to be her brother when she grows up.

Lately, she’s morphed into
a creature who’d rather squirm free

than be held. O, how we see what we
want to see. My daughter, looking at

a nude, sees a frog for show-n-tell.
I look at her and see myself.

That was “Amphibious” by Erin Murphy.
Thank you for sharing this moment of poetry with us today.

Shara McCallum was the 2021-22 host of "Poetry Moment" on WPSU.
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