“Because the body would tell you this”: Hemming Flames, by Patricia Murphy

Hemming Flames, by Patricia Coleen Murphy. Utah State U P, 2016. 80 pp, poetry.

To say without saying it. To spill it. Yet to spill it out sharply using a razor blade while standing on the 57th floor leaning over a thin metal rail, while behind you, if you just lean back, you might fall into a luxurious aqua pool and a sprawl of sun basked lounge chairs where you can sip martinis. Here is Hemming Flames. Threaded in ash and spun aware. Hemming Flames’ poems are a series of needles stitching the reader, without pity, into childhood’s singed edges. An embroidery of addiction, violence, neglect. As if memory can scald the body’s interior, these poems are written not from urgency but acute clarity, fierce in their pressure, tightly binding past injuries without sedation. In the poem “Memory as Diary” Murphy writes:

“and because the body would tell you this
if it could, would it say it hurts or I miss you.”

The poems do not ask questions; rather the writing withholds further discord. This is the kind of “healing” a fist in the wall might create. Acute and inarguable. The collection amplifies “grit” as the necessity of survival. The speaker spares abasement. In poems such as “Bulb,” and “Kitten” Murphy offers spectral details:

“How was I supposed to know
what to do about every pimply boy wanting to stick his
tongue in my mouth? If there were houses on our street
where that was not normal, I did not know them…”
“mom’s skin grafts floating in and out like red admirals.”

From the poem “Rank Bitch” Murphy’s unequivocally states: “Would you ride the horse that just killed another horse.”

The poems expose both indignity and dignity, outlining the anatomy that spurs endurance; language offers trance insights that surface to exonerate the unthinkable.

Ultimately, Hemming Flames salvages love’s incapacity for love, and renders a new truth about love… that is, what love can be when it fails. Murphy writes, “people incapable of guilt can have a really good time…” It is that quality of distance or separation as resonant as in Shakespeare’s tragedy King Lear where

“Love’s not love
when it is mingled with regards that stand
aloof from the entire point.”

Where does redemption hold tenderness, when love is a scar that remembers firstly and lastly from where it came. Inexhaustible is this truce that wears the fire. A truce that makes for it’s pact: honesty. As Mark Strand wrote in his Elegy to his father: “Because the truth lies like nothing else and I love the truth.” Murphy mercilessly plucks truth out of the embers and enacts the heat as if pressing them into the skin.

In the poem “On Being Orphans:”

“I find a shirt in my hand but can’t remember
the word for shirt or hand…
…should I cut it
then tie it back together or burn it and spread the ash? …
…I think my shadow should wear it…”

In this collection of poems the speaker consistently gathers a brewing of what’s unknown and releases this incongruence by owning it’s misshapen shade as if altering a new wardrobe. The tone is consistent: there is no threat without fear and the whole of acceptance following the instinct of suffering is redefined with authoritative inflection.

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