We never let it mean by the throat,
nor even these days by a thread.
Nor tendons that gripped 
as conquistador’s blade 
severed down, to unload
that cargo unnamed, 
disremembered, off 
a West Indian coast—no:
concede only a pertinence
to chandeliers overhead,  
decorations tastefully framed,
my young niece, upside down
from careful arms, or a chair: 
along with odd ornaments
we allow that past tense
that rhymes with tongue, a tense de-
fanged, death’s proximity limited 
to the headboard crucifix 
under which mother’s mother 
is quietly passing, among off-
season carolings, tokens 
of her family’s small well-to-do;
that one high shelf, where 
mementos will go. Let all 
other echoes let go, losing
traction on each slant 
of décor and rhyme, every
struck chime unanswering 
as the tongue of that Savior. 
Skedaddle, black widow:  
still restless, deprived. 
To our kitchen run
children, how unmindfully 
alive. Reckless as flies
past these indefinitely
tensed lines, hungry.


Copyright © 2023 by Jerome Ellison Murphy. Originally published in Poem-a-Day on December 7, 2023, by the Academy of American Poets. 

About this Poem

“Here, the psyche is overly associative—caught up in a web of connotation where even the phrase ‘black widow’ speaks darkly. History haunts our everyday speech, not only in the origins of words, but also in connotative echoes: some of which can stalk our thoughts with the slyness of venomous spiders. This poem is preoccupied by how many strands of meaning a line, a phrase, a single syllable can hold.”
—Jerome Ellison Murphy