… Ava’s Poem


Cushioned in her satin-lined shell,
she never rested.
Her pain etched
on the stone above,
a Psalm, a phrase
unveiling her strife,
even in the graveyard where
she shifted, back and forth,
awkward and stiff from
the long embrace of death.
Now, confined to her secrets, held
tight and, now, the dairies she’d failed
to burn revealed all, sprang forth
her failures, the losses confessed
at the pulpit, forlorn.
released to nowhere, cryptic in
a heart now withered and addled.

Her daughter brushed snow from the gravestone,
Oh! The hint of her hand so warm!  Her
forgiveness echoes, above, melodious,
her words embracing a mother concealed, who
now rues, for eternity, the devotion
she’d held distant from those she’d loved.



Image by Aleksandr Astrakhantcev

© 2018 by Sandra Fox Murphy. All rights reserved..

A Picnic on the Island


The fort appears fierce, as if its long and tortured history were still present and death was a holiday. Fort Delaware is ominous and large, filling the small island in the Delaware River near New Castle, as if there were two moats — one around the prison and the river itself. It was originally built to defend the mid-Atlantic shores of the states following the War of 1812, but was finished to be used as the prison holding Confederate soldiers captured by the Union during the Civil War. The pentagonal bricked bastion is a haunting presence.
It was May, May 5th to be exact; and Grandpa was taking us over to Pea Patch Island for a little history and a picnic. Grandpa knew everything. About everything. We never knew which stories where true, but most were fascinating. My younger sister Sally and I sat quietly in the small boat taking us over to the National Park, where the huge brick structure stood surrounded by the River.
Grandpa started in with his stories. “You know how this island got its name, don’t you?” We just stared at him, knowing he did not expect an answer. “There was a barge, all those years ago, that hit the island by accident. It carried peas in its hull and they spilled all over the south side of the island. By the next year, little pea plants sprouted everywhere.”
“This fort was built by soldiers before and during the Civil War.” Grandpa shared. “Our government started building it earlier, but it took them a long time to get around to finishing it. But the need for a prison during the war got them moving a bit faster. It burned down to the ground once, but the government came and built it again.”
Sally and I looked at each other, and Sally rolled her eyes.
“We’ll take the tour through the fort, and then we’ll break out those sandwiches in the cooler. How’s that?” We both smiled at Grandpa, knowing there were more stories to come.
We followed the ranger through the large, dark buildings.
“These rooms were used to house Confederate prisoners during the Civil War until1865. The winters here could be harsh and food was sometimes scarce. There were a few Confederate prisoners who attempted to escape this island.” We continued through the corridors, surrounded by the echoes of emptiness.
After the tour was over, Grandpa found a nice shady spot in a bricked courtyard near the entrance to one of the fort’s corridors. “Let’s spread out Grandma’s cloth here. I’ll get the sandwiches out,” I said. Sally and I poured our drinks.
“Look, you can see the train station over there on the shore,” Grandpa said between bites of his sandwich. “And that damned nuclear plant over in New Jersey.” After a short silence he started in about the history again, “You know, many of the prisoners who came to this prison died here. My great-granddaddy fought in that war, for the Union. There’s a cemetery over there in New Jersey at Finn’s Point with hundreds of graves, full of both Confederate and Union soldiers alike. Mostly Confederates. Those days were hard, I’m told; but the fort is still standing firm.”
Just as he was finishing that last sentence, I heard a sound coming from the entrance to the fort. It sounded like crying. Someone was sobbing. Sally and I looked at each other and moved a bit closer together. A woman, in strange clothing, was carrying a tray through the courtyard. Her face was sad and her eyes were red. Startled and in disbelief, I watched her walk right through the red brick wall at the opposite end of the courtyard as if the wall wasn’t even there. Sally gasped, and I felt a chill.
What was that? I feared I saw a man with two young girls, sitting joyfully and dressed in scant clothing outside the door. That cannot be. What was that? It was May 5, 1864 and the memories of the stench in the room, made bearable by a cool morning breeze, took me back to that place.
The guards sat, without formality, in the courtyard. Mary had just brought pots of bread for the prisoners and left them near the door. I walked over, slowly enough not to draw attention to myself. There, amongst the loaves, was a small piece of paper. I broke a piece of the bread and lifted the missive with it; then I slipped the paper into my pocket that held the stamp the sutler had given me the day before.
I walked to the back of the damp cell, near the small window with only iron bars separating us from the chill outside and freedom. There I ate my bread, one small welcome bite after another. Others had moved toward the courtyard to partake of some bread. Pulling the paper from my pocket, I quietly unfolded it. Two lines read “My dearest, you are arranged with a coal boat at the southwest corner at dawn in a fortnight. There will be a Union uniform under the grey rock next to the large willow tree. Be safe and know my love is with you.” She had taken such a perilous risk in placing that missive to me. I cherished her and held hope within my heart that I would one day be with her as a free man.
This prison had been my home once before. Captured at the Battle of Kernstown in March of 1862, I was separated from my regiment and comrades in the 27th Virginia Infantry. It was on a hot August day in 1862 when I was traded, in an exchange, back to the Confederate Army and gleefully released from this hell. After months in the hospital and anxious to reunite with my compatriots, I was able to return to fight again with the Allegheny Rifles.
After Gettysburg, we marched back to Virginia to prepare for the battle at Spotsylvania in the Spring of 1864. It was a brutal fight, with fallen comrades everywhere and lasting several days. On the third day I was shot in my right leg and, once again, captured by the Yankees. After several days of marching, often with the help of comrades, I was again at this Fort on the island in the Delaware River. Such memories of defeat I have of that time, not only of my misfortune to have returned to this place called the Devil’s Dungeon, but the memories of the suffering of my brothers on the battlefield where I had left them. However, this time my leg received medical attention prior to being condemned again to the fort’s chambers where darkness prevailed and rats were, at times, our only food.
It was while I was in the infirmary that I made the acquaintance of Mary. She came to the room, bringing meals for the infirm, along with the sutler. She was very gentle in her conversation with me. Her beauty and kindness brought spells of happiness to me, so welcomed, and I let her know of my gratitude. She always smiled. She was like sunshine itself in such a dreary place.
The island was often foggy with its unrelenting rain and dampness. The summers were unbearably hot. Once, in 1862, our cell flooded and we stood in water to the hems of our trousers. Many were sickened during that time. Some died and escaped to the graves at Finn’s.
Two weeks ago I had been assigned on a detail to repair the brick structure around the ovens in the kitchens. My experience as a mason back in Virginia had proven to be a blessing. The days working with the masonry gave me further opportunity to visit with Mary. As we each worked our separate tasks, we conversed about our hopes for a better future, how I missed my family back in Clifton Forge, and the sadness of this wicked war. Mary’s parents lived across the river near Dover, and she would send them half of her salary. As the days passed, she won my heart. Her kindness and the placidity of her voice would often take me by surprise, reminding me that life held some solace.
On a couple of occasions I was able to accompany Mary to the gardens to assist as she gathered vegetables and herbs. She prepared grand dishes for the garrison officers. I loved her more each day, and on our last visit to the garden I had bravely taken her hand, in spite of my dire circumstances, and declared my love. She returned my gesture. Hand in hand, as the sun set, we ran to take shelter from the rain in the garden’s potting shed. It was there that we became one, betrothing to one another, if only before God. My memories of this tenderness have sustained me since so long ago.
But too soon the repairs were finished and I was returned to the drudgery of the mildewed halls with my comrades. The prison was crowded as there had been no prisoner exchanges, so food was scarce. Visualizing the gardens behind the garrison, I would dream of being with Mary. There were too few occasions for us to pass messages to each other since I did not wish to see Mary chastised or, worse, sent away.
The fortnight would come soon enough, and I could be free to travel home. I could not allow any mistake in this endeavor. Fort Delaware had been me nemesis long enough. Two days after reading Mary’s note, I took a fever. There was no soft place to lie down, no respite. My head ached and I slept, while homesick for the tenderness of family, on that ragged blanket for two more days. By then I could hardly swallow. Surely this was to pass, as I recalled the nearness of my freedom.
As I stand here now, in this empty room, I remember my despair the next morning as the rash appeared and they took me to the infirmary. It was a makeshift infirmary, not where I had been before. This was a dreary place with there were others ill as I was. I knew of the smallpox that often killed in this Devil’s dungeon. I feared it may be my fate. I grew weak. I wanted to see Mary but knew that I could not. I wanted to see my father, so far away. I slept, dreaming of Mary in the gardens and of my dying comrades on the battlefield. I could not eat; my breathing was difficult. I slept, in blackness, and never returned to the sunlight. It was May 5th, 1864, and I made my trip to Finn’s cemetery.
But now, on this cloudy day, I’m still in the corridor near the courtyard. Why am I alone in here? Each small sound echoes against the walls. Was that Mary I saw, with the tray, earlier? There, that old man and two young girls are walking away. I feel connected to them, yet they are strangers. They do not belong here. These memories return over and over, but I cannot leave. Why can’t I leave this god-forsaken place? I cannot leave Mary.
Grandpa sat behind us on the boat back to shore. He was quiet and seemed sad. Sally and I were still frazzled from seeing that ghost. When we told Grandpa, he had assured us there was no such thing.
“Grandpa, tell us more about the island,” I said, trying to cheer him up. “Did your great-grandpa ever come to this island during the war?”
That caught his attention.
“Yes, he was stationed here in the Civil War. As a matter of fact, he married a young woman who cooked here … my great-grandma. They were married on in early August of 1864, right there on the island. Your great—great-grandma’s name was Mary. And, of all things, my granddaddy was born right on this island before the war ended. He was born here because he came early. My great-grandfather, still in service to the Union, sent her and the baby to the mainland when she was able to travel, and my grandfather grew up in Little Creek down by Dover. I suppose he was a blessing during the wartime here. War doesn’t decide who is right; it decides who is left.”
As his mood lifted, he added, “They should have called the baby Pea Patch.”
We were quiet the rest of the trip to shore. I looked back at the Fort and watched it fade eerily into the distance.




Image by Alena Sivyi

© 2014 by Sandra Fox Murphy. All rights reserved

The Hoary Pirate

The Hoary Pirate

Argh, Argh, hey, hey!
This is one helluva day.
Long ago I was a knave,
You never saw a mate so brave.

But now my knee is giving way,
Its bend is out of joint,
Spilling me over with each ship’s sway.

Argh, argh, hey, hey!
Batten down the hatches
Before the gales blow me away.
This has been one helluva day.

My parrot flew cross the ocean blue.
He pecked my nose and bid me Adieu,
Called me “scallywag” as away he flew.

Argh, argh, argh, hey!
Splice the mainbrace,
Spill out the rum.
Raise your cup to this old bum.

Me Man ‘o War’s ready to bout.
The battle’s amidst this archipelago,
And I yet roll with vertigo.

Argh, argh, argh, aaaarghhh!
This Seadog’s been around too long.
Soon to walk the plank, three sheets in the wind,
Knowing well Davy’s Locker I soon will tend.


Image by Andrey Golubev.

© by Sandra Fox Murphy. All rights reserved.

A Walk in the Woods


A Walk in the Woods

Ginger steps, twirling round the trees,
Round and round, spinning free.
The fall leaves crackle beneath my feet,
Damp and brown, a forest bath, my retreat.
I hug the oak, strong and wide
And peek at the deer on the hillside.
He stares back at me, frozen still,
Then dashes off past the old stone mill.
A trickling sound, a nearby rill
Calls me over, through the trees,
I skip upon the rounded rocks as
The bubbling water beckons me.
The reeds and ‘rooms encroach the edge
Grasping drink, a border made
To frame the spring before me spread.
A rippled mirror reflecting clouds,
Like whispered lures laid out as shrouds.


Image by Melinda Fawver

© by Sandra Fox Murphy. All rights reserved.

Endless Winter


Endless Winter

Where is Spring, the growing season?
The sun’s still hidden, full of treason.
I see buds, a green tinge on trees,
But winter yet has a hold on me.
The skies are gray when they should be blue.
My shoulders shiver without a clue.
I bundle up. What shall I do?
The bluebonnets quiver beneath the soil.
“Shall we come up or have we been foiled?”
Will winter stay ‘til summer’s heat,
And seasons pass without Spring’s beat.
I crave the sunshine wrapped ‘round my soul,
The light spring breeze that greets the foal,
The embrace of sunrays rousing me.
That is where I want to be.


Image by Sergiy Bykhunenko

© 2016 by Sandra Fox Murphy. All rights reserved.

Sacred Cache

The cabin, nestled in the Sangre de Cristo Mountains, is cozy, the fire crackling in the fireplace. I take a sip of my hot coffee, inhaling the view of the mountains through the window and the stillness around me, filled with peace. Now a widow, I’ve found I relish my solitude as much as I value my friendships. I recall those early days, when my friends and I found our way, stumbling into our destinies. My mind wanders back, way back to that day in the alleyway in Dalhart.


I inched down the dark alley, my breath shallow to avoid inhaling the smells of urine and tobacco. I made my way gingerly in the dark with the aid of light falling through a sheer curtain at the window on the third floor. It was 1953, and in that year I was still married to Jim, an elder at the First Baptist church in Dalhart, the heart of the Panhandle’s Bible Belt.

Jane had told me to go to the third door on the left. I passed two doors and, in a few more steps I saw the rusted metal plates on the third door; I paused, uncertain if this was the right place, uncertain I should be doing this. With pause followed by renewed resolve, I knocked firmly twice. After a moment the door cracked open. Jane smiled at me and opened the door wide to let me in.

Jane’s husband Henry was the pastor at the same church Jim and I attended. We would be shamed severely if the church folks discovered what we were up to. Sally Mae sat in the one overstuffed chair in the room, the faded green upholstery reeking of cigar smoke and sweat. Sally Mae was younger than Jane and I, but it was she who first said something to Jane about holy visions and mysticism. The daughter of a Colorado mountain man, Sally Mae had grown up on her pa’s tall tales. Jane’s interest had been piqued by the young woman’s questions; and Jane came to me and whispered about a topic that interested all three of us, the magic of the soul.

One morning over coffee, Jane had shared with me Sally Mae’s words: “ Don’t you wonder about the mysteries the preacher doesn’t talk about? About déjà vu and reincarnation? The ties that bind us to earth and the ones that free us? And what about the women? We know so much more than your husband alludes to in his sermons. Sorry, Jane, but we do.”

“She said that to you?” I was shocked she would be so bold.

“Yes, Shelby, she did. I was a little taken aback, but the more I thought about it, I knew she was right. Where are the women in the church?”

And that was when we decided to start our secret group. Tonight was our second meeting, and it was I who had gone to the library in Amarillo to get the books we needed. Though I was more skeptical of mysticism than the others, I was the only one who had my own car, a blue and white Chevy Bel-Air my husband had gifted me last year. Our first meeting was not in this god-forsaken place, but had been a coffee klatch in my kitchen, a suitable meeting early one morning that would not appear suspicious. Nevertheless, the three of us had whispered throughout that first discussion between sips of coffee and bites of homemade cinnamon coffee cake as we sat at the blue Formica table.

I knew I could trust my friend Jane with our secret, but I was less sure of Sally Mae. Sally was a tall and curvaceous girl, her eyes wide with optimism and auburn waves that fell to her cleavage. She had moved to Dalhart only two years ago in pursuit of the love of Willie Bob Preston, one of the more handsome members of our congregation. She had met him in Colorado Springs when he was visiting his married sister, and she followed him back to Dalhart where she found a job at the five and dime and a room to rent at Mrs. Baker’s boarding house. We all understood why she was smitten, but we were not certain Willie Bob felt the same way. The two of them were an item about town; but there was no sign of Mr. Preston settling down, and he was gone much of the time on the rodeo circuit. However, Sally Mae was tenacious and, we all believed, a bit naïve. Like Jane and me, she was filled with curiosity of the space between earth and heaven.

The books I had brought from the library in Amarillo were Mysticism: a Study in the Nature and Development of Man’s Spiritual Consciousness and Practical Mysticism. Evelyn Underhill had written the book on mysticism; and over the following months she would become a hero to us as we dared discuss topics such as reincarnation and the eeriness of deja vu. On this night, in this stark room normally used for illicit poker games, we gathered at the rickety table with our spiral pads and the books I had borrowed from the distant library. I had read much of the material at home when Jim was at work, so I took the lead in our discussion.


Over the next year we met discreetly one Thursday evening each month and discussed the mystic phenomena believed wicked by our repressive community. We began each meeting with a few minutes of meditation, a practice we found difficult in the beginning, but in search of a quiet mind, we would sometimes resort to prayer or the repetition of a familiar Bible verse. It was during our meeting in January when Jane shared a story of meeting a ghost one night as she wandered downstairs in her home before the Christmas holidays. She had seen nothing, but she described the goose bumps, the chill surrounding her as she walked through her living room, a chill that stopped her in her tracks. She recounted the delicate touch of fingers running lightly down her arm and then enfolding her hand with a gentle strength.

“I should have been terrified, but I was filled with a sense of comfort. It was all so unnatural to everything I understood, mysterious, but I felt as if I was with someone I knew or had known. I never placed who it might have been, but the tenderness I felt I will never forget.”

Sally Mae and I sat there just looking at Jane, our words held captive in our throats and our eyes large. We could not interpret it, understand it, but we all believed. As our meetings continued, as we meditated and shared concepts such as reincarnation and past lives, our daily lives went on in the ordinary fashion.

During those months I noticed my husband Jim was absent from home more than he was present, and I sensed we were drifting apart. I encouraged him to participate in the children’s school activities, but he was often absent, claiming he had work at the office or an overnight business trip. He missed all of Sue’s plays and most of Junior’s baseball games that year.

However, it was Sally Mae that had her heart broken. In August, the word around town was that Willie Bob proposed marriage to a young lady in Lubbock while he was down there for the rodeo at the Teachers’ College. That boy always had the luck of drawing the best bull. Word got back to Sally Mae long before Willie Bob returned to Dalhart. We spent an hour at September’s meeting sitting at the table in our alley hideaway, consoling Sally Mae amidst her sobbing.

“I don’t suppose meditating would help, would it, Sally Mae?” I asked.

“Oh, I could not empty my mind of any of this. No. No,” she answered.

“Well, sweetie,” said Jane, “I am certain God is closing this door for a good reason.”

With those words, Sally Mae went to sobbing again. There was no consoling her. Jane and I assured her that all would work out for the best, but she said the best was now behind her and she would likely be leaving town. However, as karma seldom fails, sweet Sally Mae met the nicest young man at the bus station when she went to purchase her ticket home. George belonged to the small parish in Dalhart, and after a short time proposed to our friend and convinced her to convert to Catholicism. He told her it was necessary for them to wed, so Sally Mae attended weekly meetings with the priest for several weeks before a small wedding was scheduled at the parish.

In October Jane and I sat in my kitchen over coffee and apple walnut muffins and discussed our group that had dwindled down to just the two of us. Where should we go from here?

“I wish I knew of others interested in meditation, enlightenment, but I don’t,” said Jane. “And I cannot go around asking questions.”

“Me neither. I don’t think we need to meet in that awful alley anymore, but we need to be careful, especially with the books I get from the library.” I filled our cups with fresh coffee. “You know, Jane, I think Jim is seeing another woman,” I whispered as if someone might overhear my words.


“He has been coming home late, very late, several nights every week, and yesterday I found the telltale lipstick stain inside his collar. Scarlet Red. Then I smelled his shirt and it was not my cologne.” I sat down and looked at my friend as if she had a way to rub out my despair. “Do you think I should confront him?”

“Well, I do not suspect you will get a straight answer.” She sipped her coffee. “You know divorce is frowned upon in the church. What would you do if he is cheating?”

“Sweetie, I would be frowned upon.”

My friend smiled.

We spent the balance of the morning discussing the mysticism in William James’ essays and The Varieties of Religious Experience. As we broached the topics of the unseen, my mind swirled with thoughts of conscious consequences about to come down upon my hubby.


In the turmoil of my divorce, amidst the town’s gossip of Jim’s infidelity with Josie, the shapely peroxide blonde who greeted customers at the garage where Jim took my car for repairs, the secret of “our club” was revealed. The talk of the town turned from Jim’s cheating to my brazen detour from the rigid rules of the church. I was now a wayward woman, and Jim resigned as the church elder. Though the judge had awarded our home to the children and me, the staring eyes of Dalhart held me prisoner in my hometown.

Who had revealed our secret? It had to be Sally Mae, now a young housewife with a bun in the oven. She had always been flighty and naïve. She was the outsider, now a Catholic.

When Jane showed up at my doorstep on that Thursday in February, bundled in her navy wool coat and a paisley headscarf, I saw her eyes were red and swollen.

“What’s wrong?” She started tearing as I fixed her some coffee and we sat at our usual meeting spot.

“Shelby, I cannot tell you how sorry I am. For what I’ve done.”

“What do you mean, Jane? What happened?”

“You don’t know?” She took the cup of coffee I handed her. “Jane, it was me. I was the one who told Henry about our group. He made me tell him what I knew about the meetings. Someone in the church, one of those old geezers who confessed to gambling at the poker games over there, told Henry about our meetings in their room in the alley, and Henry told Jim’s attorney. It was not until after he told the attorney that he discovered I was in the club. I am so sorry, Shelby,” her eyes wet with tears.

I sat shocked and disappointed in myself for instinctively suspecting Sally Mae. Our urges to understand more of the world around us had come crashing down on all of us.

“Henry would be furious if he knew I was here, but you are my friend, Shelby, my best friend. I don’t know how to help.” I assured Jane all would be okay in the end. Besides, that is what we’d told Sally Mae, and she’s doing just fine. I even suggested we meditate. With those words, she began to cry and, suddenly, she was laughing hysterically. I looked at her and, realizing the absurdity of the situation and my suggestion, began laughing with her. We laughed and cried, laughed some more, and finished our coffee.

“Jane, God is not in that clapboard building with the steeple down the street. He does not sit on those pine pews surrounded by stained glass listening to the ladies’ gossip in Bible class. God is bigger than that. You and I know it; we know He created a universe greater and filled with more wonder than we can even begin to understand. He is in you and in Sally Mae over in the parish confessional and, I hate to say it, even in Jim.”

Jane smiled. She reached for my hand. “You, Shelby, are the best friend one could ever have. And you know what? Henry be damned! I know you will always be with me.”

“Sure ‘nuff. Always,” I said, putting my hand over hers.


And that is what happened all those years ago in Dalhart, the God’s honest truth. Sally Mae stayed in Dalhart and, being a good Catholic girl, had four boys and two little girls before the GYN removed her lady parts. Henry was assigned to a church in Memphis, and Jane moved to Tennessee. And me? I sold the house in Dalhart just four months after laughing with Jane at that blue table, and I moved to Petaluma to stay with my sister. It was there I met Jack, a professor of physics … yes, physics … at Berkeley, and we were married for 31 years before he passed away last October. Jim married Josie the year after I moved to California, and she divorced him three years later. He still lives in Dalhart, in the old rundown boarding house where Sally Mae rented a room back in the old days.

Over all those years, Jane, Sally Mae and I found a way on three occasions to meet at Jack’s cabin in Truchas, New Mexico, where we talked and laughed, sipped wine, meditated and, in true native American tradition, sampled a bit of peyote on that last visit. Yes, it was still our veiled sisterhood, but we all knew, through all our trials and triumphs, we would be friends forever. Yes, the Lord willing and the creek don’t rise, forever.







© 2015 by Sandra Fox Murphy. All rights reserved.




I sat at the bistro table in front of the café, watching the sun move toward the horizon, drowning my sorrows as my wine glass sat half empty. I refused to cry. It had been a hard week, losing the promotion I had fought so hard to gain, and then Jerry!  He told me that the seven years we had been together had been wonderful, but he saw no future for us. “There is nothing to gain for either of us in staying together,” he had shared. We were wasting our time he’d whispered to me, his words deafening.

I did not foresee the week getting any worse, but raindrops began falling from the sky and then down my cheeks, as if I’d broken an oath not to weep. I gathered my plate and silverware and grabbed the glass of wine before running inside to look for a vacant seat. The café was full, but I turned to find an empty chair at the table where an elderly man sat reading his newspaper.

“Sir, do you mind if I sit here at your table?”

Folding over his paper, he smiled. “Why, please, sit down.”

As he refolded his newspaper, I set down my lunch and seated myself.

“Looks like this summer storm ruined your day,” said the gentleman. “By the way, my name is Leonard. Leonard Cohen.”

“It was not the rain that ruined my day,” I snapped before looking up, before it registered what I had heard.

“Forgive me. I am Susan,” offering my hand, which he took graciously and shook.   I met his eyes and sized up this gentleman. Was he the Leonard Cohen? He looked like he could be, but I was not certain. This man was older, I believe.

“So what brings you do Austin, Leonard? Or do you live here?” I queried, hoping for a clue.

“I am here visiting my niece. She is going to college, here at the university.”

“That is nice.” I distractedly noticed, around me, the quaintness of the small café, the crisp white tablecloths, the soft clinking of the glasses behind the dark wood of the bar. As I finished my sandwich, Leonard said he had traveled to Austin from New York, and he proceeded to share the excursions he had had in Austin with his niece, Marianne. I finished my sandwich, listening to his stories, heeding his voice for a tone of recognition.

“So, Susan, what do you do here in this lovely city?”

“Well, this week I believe I’m treading water. Been a bad week. But, beyond that, I work for an educational company, writing curriculum and editing textbooks for the language arts programs. Nothing exciting, but I enjoy the work.”

“That is good. I find the key is truly in giving of one’s talents, embracing what your work gives to others. It sounds like you are doing that if you relish your work, as you say.”

For a moment I pondered what he had said. He was right. I did love my work, what I did every day. That promotion would have increased my pay, but managing the department would have taken me away from the work, from creating the magic to arouse learning. Leonard’s words were truth.

Outside, the sun peered from behind the clouds, the rain had drizzled and cleared, the sky washed in pink and orange hues of the sunset painting a new horizon.

“Your words ring true for me, Leonard. Labor born of passion becomes a legacy; it’s a gift, is it not?”

Leonard smiled at me as he pored more wine in my glass. I took a sip of the sweetness and gazed at my glass, now half full.

“The miracles are everywhere,” he said. “Do not wait for your miracle to come.” He winked at me as I smiled wide, my heart open.





© 2014 Sandra Fox Murphy. All rights reserved.

Ashes of the Ancients

Ashes of the Ancients

The water broad and brown, winding like a boa
Through mountains deep, through cities wide.
The Ganges, life-giving waters wed with refuse rolling idly
Toward the Bay of Bengal, on to flowing free to the sea.

Fed by the mountains to the north, by the rains, by the falls,
The river running down and down and down,
Bathing villagers along the way, irrigating fields and farms,
Garnering spirits, gleaning the refuse of life as it ebbs.

Each spring Ganga, sacred Ganga, falls from the heavens, and
The bathers come, seeking the vein in the Earth, the adorning jewel,
Where sins are washed and life renewed in waters, hallowed, where
Ancient treasures and sewage swirl with life and death.

On through cities it coils, as the streams come, one by one,
To the sacred river. Flowing through Pindar, through Kanpur, Patna,
Through Varanasi, toward the Delta, toward Brahmaputra, where joined,
Toward the consignment into the bay and toward the ocean, freed.

The souls, all the ancient souls from fountainhead to basin, released.
Ashes loosed from the bounds of earth, a million souls, a million years,
Cleansed from the mountains, through Pakur, to Howrah,
Now all the spirits, of centuries, bathed and blazed to ash and blessed,
Carried with Ganga, through Shiva’s glistening braids, to return home to heaven.

Image by Rafal Cichawa

© 2016 by Sandra Fox Murphy. All rights reserved.

Dancing in the Graveyard



Momma had told me Daddy was not coming home. I could not understand that. When he left for Afghanistan just before Christmas last year, he said he would be home. He said he would take me dancing when he came back to our house in Canyon, and it did not make sense he was not coming home. Momma said he was in heaven, but I saw that as no excuse.

I had studied hard and was now in the third grade. School had started in August, and I was overjoyed to see my friends again. It was just four days ago when Momma broke the news to me. She came to get me at school. In the middle of the day! I thought it was strange, and all the kids in my class were staring at me as I gathered my things and walked out of our classroom. The attention made me feel special, yet I was confused about where I was going.

At home, in the kitchen, Momma told me about Daddy. She said the bad guys had hurt him and he was hurt badly and had to go to heaven.

“He did not want to leave us, honey,” she assured me.

“Momma, I practiced my dancing all summer. Remember? My ballet class? I’m sure he’ll be here in time for Christmas,” I told her.

“Baby, I don’t think so.” She was sad. There were tears on her cheeks, but I could see she was trying not to cry. “There will be a ceremony, to honor him and we must cherish our memories of Daddy. We will need to pack for a trip. To the cemetery in Amarillo, and to see Grandma.”

A trip. That seemed strange without Daddy.   Fall was upon us and the darkness came early now. Because Mamma said we were going on a trip, I found my pink and brown suitcase in the back of my closet. I tossed my ragdoll into the case, but she looked lonely, so I added my stuffed mouse Gertie.

The suitcase sat there on my floor for two days. Then Momma said we needed to pack for our trip.

“You and I will leave early in the morning. Okay, babe?” I hugged her. “I laid your clothes on your bed. You go and put those in your suitcase. I saw it laying on your floor, with your friends Gertie and Betsy all ready to go with you.” She smiled and I walked slowly to my room. The house was way too quiet and a chill had filled the rooms.

After I went to bed and Momma had tucked me in, I could not go to sleep, anticipating the trip. I could see the bright moon high in the sky out of my window, and I tossed for a bit before I heard a scratching at the glass pane. What was that? I snuggled into my covers, , finding sleep, but then I heard it again. I crept toward the glow from the window only to find a huge bramble blown against the cold glass. It was a brambleweed. No, no, a tumbleweed! I remember. Daddy had told me what they were during a storm last year. And there he was! Daddy. He was standing by the fence with a suitcase in his hand. He stood there in the wind, his jacket billowing, as if he were waiting for me. Another tumbleweed hit my window, startling me for a moment.

I waved my hand at Daddy and, putting on my slippers and grabbing my suitcase, I went out the front door, closing it quietly behind me. My suitcase was light and I ran toward Daddy, grabbing him around the waist and hugging him as tight as I could.   It almost seemed like he was not there, but I saw him. I was so excited. The trip was with Daddy! Momma had been wrong all along.

The wind was strong and blew the weeds all around us as we walked across the field. Daddy walked right through the barbed wire fence, as if it were not even there; then he lifted me up and over the wire. In spite of the wind and a couple white clouds, the sky was full of moonlight and sparkling stars.

“Daddy, this is the trip I wanted to go on. I was packed and ready when you came.”

“I know, pumpkin. I have missed you.”

“Daddy, what about Momma? Is she coming?” I asked.

“I believe Momma will join us. But first, I have promised you a dance; and what better place for a dance than right here under these stars.”

Daddy set down his suitcase by a tombstone in the St. Paul Cemetery, which was across the fields from our home. The wind abruptly stopped; it was still, hushed, and even the moon seemed to twinkle. Daddy took me in his arms and we spun and danced and spun and giggled together, our shadows playing on the white stones; it was just as I had imagined it would be.




It was noon the next morning when the sheriff arrived at the white clapboard house on Texas 217 at the outskirts of Canyon. He had received a safety check call when family could not reach Mrs. Dawson, who was due in Amarillo. The bodies of Mrs. Dawson and her young daughter were found, in their beds, in the small farmhouse.  The wind swept clouds across the sky as if God were swinging his broom toward the horizon. Tumbleweeds had piled high on the north wall of the house, and it appeared the heater had been turned on. There was no smell of gas, but carbon monoxide was suspected.  As they stood on the porch, awaiting the medical examiner, the sheriff turned to his deputy.

“Well, it’s mighty sad the whole family is gone, and the Sergeant’s wife and little girl didn’t even make it to the military funeral in Amarillo. Mighty sad.”

The wind suddenly kicked up from a northeast direction and the weeds lurched and tumbled over each other toward the barbed wire; it was at that moment the officers heard a sound like laughter, sweet and joyful laughter, swirling across the field.



© 2016 Sandra Fox Murphy. All rights reserved.



It was a hot August night in Marfa, hot and dry like any other August. The streets of the town were quiet on a Wednesday night, unlike the weekends when the tourists and locals roamed the sidewalks, talking and laughing below the sparkling string lights. But in the small homes, scattered throughout town, families sat down to dinner, resting their aching feet and sore muscles after a hard day’s work to support a less than-middle-class lifestyle.

In the distance, in the dark skies outside Marfa, a few tourists stood, quietly, at the venue called Marfa Lights. Flashing lights, a local unexplained phenomena, erupted in the space around them, some nearby and some at a distance, like lightening emanating from the ground, escaping the earth’s secret core, seducing a few “eeeeeeews” and “aaaaaahs” from the small crowd. As midnight approached, the Milky Way crept over the sky shimmering on its slow journey toward the ever-moving horizon, and then it was Thursday.

Life passed unhurried in west Texas, one day after another often the same. As Thursday’s sunset approached, at the dinner table in one small home on Elk Street, Rosa felt a twinge as she set dinner on the table for her husband and young daughter. Her feet ached from the hours waiting tables, but cooking dinner for her family was still a comfort. When the second twinge came, stronger, she saw that the sun had set and knew it was time to call her mother.

Rosa’s mother was at the house in just fifteen minutes as Rosa’s husband, Raul, grabbed the overnight bag. It was over thirty miles to the hospital in Alpine, so, once instructions were shared and Rosa got her daughter, Angela, into bed, they left.

“Mama, call the doctor. I don’t have time,” said Rosa. “Here is the number, on this paper.”

Rosa hugged her mother and sluggishly dropped into the passenger seat of the 1997 blue-faded-to-twilight-gray Silverado, and Raul tossed the bag into the bed of his pickup. The contractions were getting stronger and the next one took her breath away.

“Hurry,” said Rosa.

“Really?” said Raul, remembering the last such trip where little Angela arrived fifteen hours later. He turned the key in the ignition and looked to his right to see his wife’s grimace, filled with worry mixed with pain.

Once out of town, headlights intermittently breached the blackness. Raul pressed down on the accelerator as Rosa’s moans became louder.

“We’ll make it,” Raul assured Rosa, trying to convince himself more than his wife. There was still twenty-six miles to go.

“No. Maybe not.” Rosa leaned over in agony, feeling the urge to push. No, no! This cannot happen. She knew she should not push.

“It’s now. NOW!” she yelled at her husband. Raul did not know if he should brake or push the accelerator to the floor.


He pulled to the side just as he saw the Marfa lights flash and reveal the brick pavilion and pergolas for visitors. Raul pulled into the parking lot.

“Help. He’s coming. I feel it.” It was clear to Raul that his wife’s moans were as much from fear as pain.

Raul carried his wife to the back of the truck, rested her on an old blanket.

“What do I do?”

“I have to push. I have to push. I ca ….” Her breath is gone, clutched in her chest. “… can’t wait.

“He’s coming. Get him”

“I can’t even see you, Rosa,” replied Raul as his hands found the hem of her skirt in the dark. And just then headlights flashed on nearby.

“Hey,” yelled Raul as he waved at the departing car. “Call 9-1-1. Please call 9-1-1. And leave your lights on, can you?”

The car backed up so his lights shined on the back of Raul’s truck as the man’s wife dialed her cell phone.

He felt the baby’s slick head and held on to the small squirming life in the palms of his hands as Rosa screamed with what turned out to be the final push, and there lay his son, on the frayed orange and blue blanket, looking up expectantly, as if he just walked into a room he’d never seen before.

“Now what? What do I do?”

“Put him here, on my tummy. But, first you must tie his cord.”

“With what?” Raul’s voice rose with panic.

“Here,” says Rosa, as she puled the ribbon from her hair and hands it to her husband.

“Do I have to cut the cord?”

“No. Just tie it and lay our son here,” as she patted her stomach. And find a clean cloth so we can wrap him.”

She touched the still wet head of her new son. He was quiet as he squirmed and Rosa heard approaching sirens.

“There’s a blanket for the baby in my bag,” she instructed Raul.

“Is she okay? Is the baby okay?” asked the stranger in the car. “I did not hear him cry.”

“He is good,” said Rosa, feeling more cramps as the ambulance drove up and the paramedics surrounded her. Her son lay content as activity bustled around her, his eyes locked on the flashing lights.


Raul kissed his wife on her forehead.

“Manuel?” suggested Rosa, looking up at her husband. He smiled.

“Yes. Manuel,” said Raul.

“Manuel Milagro,” said Rosa, gazing at her new son.

“I’ll follow the ambulance into Alpine,” and he kissed Manuel and Rosa before walking to the truck.

Lying in the back of the ambulance in the Marfa Lights parking lot, Rosa cradled her new son, Manuel, his dark eyes open wide as he stared, calmly, at the sky, with the flashing golden Marfa lights and, everywhere, thousands of twinkling stars looking back at him. When the medic had swaddled the newborn, Manuel’s eyes never left the skies; and when Rosa put her new son to her breast, he looked up, his eyes lit with the old world mixed with the brilliance of promise. Rosa smiled, feeling the comfort of the pillows propping her up and the warmth of her son. An abundance of treasures brimmed within her heart and as far as the eye could see.

Sandra Fox Murphy



© 2016 Sandra Fox Murphy. All rights reserved.