Elisabeth Murawski ~ Five Poems

Nature, Nurture, Andersen, Freud

She’s not men­tioned in the tale—
the ugly duckling’s real,
as in bio­log­i­cal, mother.

Did she look the oth­er way
when a thief crept in to lift
the pre­cious egg? Was she bribed

with suc­cu­lent pondweeds
to grant custody
to a duck? If in fact Mom

suc­cumbed to an avian bug
like heartworm,
or was slain by a firearm,

she may look down on her son
from a swan­ny heaven
as he finds himself

spread­ing his wings
in the mir­ror of a stream,
inspir­ing any number

of Baryshnikov’s. Then again
maybe she’s alive,
bid­ing her time offstage

to take belat­ed credit
for her genes
now that the hard part—

train­ing an unruly cygnet—
is over. Spared
tend­ing fevers, worries

the rebel teen
will come home late,
feath­ers sav­aged in a fight,

she may yet steal his thunder:
the good mother
glid­ing in like Pavlova.



Born with hair black as Chicago dirt,
long piano fingers
she learned to snap

before she could walk.
A home birth. No nurse to fault,
explain this shocking

DNA report. Had he guessed
she wasn’t his, the man
in the teamster’s cap?

He cra­dled her in the picture,
proud Papa. Daddy’s girl.
Was it vengeance then,

the abuse? Wounding
to won­der. So much to ask
the dead. She weeps

in the Metro, waiting
on a cold stone bench,
ignored by noisy lit­tle girls

in sneak­ers, red
warn­ing lights flashing
from their heels.


At the Music Lecture

The pro­fes­sor stops
her talk to offer
an exam­ple, a nocturne

record­ed by Koczalski
in the 30’s,
the sound scratchy

and pop­ping, an old 78.
The signer’s hands
hang loose­ly at his sides;

he can­not sum­mon Orpheus.
The deaf must rely
on changes in the air

to hear the music,
on vibrations
quick­en­ing the soles

of their feet. Beethoven
would bite down hard
on a spe­cial rod,

the sound­board singing
to his jaw. When
the noc­turne ends,

these two resume
their intense duet,
she lean­ing over

the podi­um, eager
to explain, words
fly­ing from her mouth

like doves, he,
fin­ger­tips flashing,
trans­form­ing speech

into bread
until once again
the sty­lus touch­es down.



My father said waist or shirtwaist
for blouse. A marcelle
was a per­ma­nent wave. Like others

home from the war he tried on
for­eign terms for us: Bonjour.
Pommes de terre. One word,

con­sump­tion, brought sadness
to his voice. Josie died of it,
his big sis­ter who wore crisp white

cot­ton shirt­waists. His brain
struck out first, tied his tongue.
There would be no final requests.

I took his hand, cer­tain he knew me
by touch, and looked to his dying
while my every cell spoke,

on alert, remem­ber­ing feelings
a wak­ing daugh­ter could not name.
Like a sneeze, my moth­er said

of his last breath. Picture
Adam, faced with a ter­ri­fy­ing monster
of the deep, unable to name

the unspeak­able. I dug deeper
into the sand of no man’s land.
Ribbons on my heart dark as Chauvet.


Small Green Room

Ah, here it is!” says the doctor
of Chinese med­i­cine. “A knot!”

Digging into her side,
he probes and prods

the ten­der spot.
“What are you feeling?

What have you been liv­ing with
for years?”

Her tears wet the paper.
Irresistible vic­tim vibes

mobi­lize the spider.
Three rapid-fire blows

to her back
shove her deep into the table.

Her body tells her
something’s wrong,

but she says nothing,
the obe­di­ent child.

His blue eyes change
into her mother’s.


Elisabeth Murawski is the author of Heiress, which received the Poetry Society of Virginia Award, Zorba’s Daughter, which won the May Swenson Poetry Award, Moon and Mercury, which won the Washington Writers’ Publishing House com­pe­ti­tion, and two chap­books: Troubled by an Angel and Out-patients. Still Life with Timex won the Robert Phillips Chapbook Award and will be pub­lished in 2021.Nearly three hun­dred poems have been pub­lished in jour­nals or online. For indi­vid­ual poems she has won, among oth­ers, The Ledbury Poetry Festival Poetry Competition (2019), the Gabriela Mistral Poetry Prize (2016), and the University of Canberra’s International Poetry Prize (2015).

Born and raised in Chicago, an alum­na of De Paul University, she earned an MFA in cre­ative writ­ing from George Mason University. She has received grants from the Helene Wurlitzer Foundation, the Vermont Studio Center, a res­i­den­cy from the Achill Heinrich Boll Association, and a Hawthornden Fellowship. Employed 28 years as a train­ing spe­cial­ist for the U.S. Census Bureau before retir­ing in 2005, she has con­duct­ed poet­ry work­shops as an adjunct pro­fes­sor at the University of Virginia (Falls Church cam­pus) and Johns Hopkins University (Washington Center). She cur­rent­ly resides in Alexandria, VA.