Sunday, June 27, 2021

Cringe Worthy Murfin Verse Juvenalia Unearthed

The pseudo-hippie cover of  the 1967 Apotheosis, the student literary magazine of Niles Township West Highschool in Skokie, Illinois.

A few years ago, I unearthed the 1967 issue of Apotheosis, the grandiosely named student literary magazine of Niles West High School in Skokie, Illinois.  I was significantly over-represented with prose short-short stories which were ever-so-earnestly written.  But the little magazine was also littered with my juvenile poetry. 

Ouch!  The poems were generally as excruciating as you would image.  There were three short pieces inspired by my exposure that year to e. e. cummings and Lawrence Ferlinghetti—my stab at off-beat bohemianism

With my late twin brother Tim (on top) a decked out for Cheyenne Frontier Days the summer before 1st Grade.

Today I am inflicting on you the longest piece of all, which occupied a whole page in two columns all by itself.  It was a memoir piece which evoked the playground of Churchill Elementary School in Cheyenne, Wyoming circa 1955 when I was six years old and in first grade.  The memories were like random snapshots found years later in a shoe box buried in a corner of the basementfragmented and without context, the subjects at best hazily recalled. 

Those memories may have been sharper to the 17 year old who wrote them than to the 72-year-old rereading them today.

The piece would have been better off as a prose memoir, but I was determined, for some reason to hammer it into a poem.  That reason might have been Dylan Thomass memory poems, although my work lacked all his lyricism.  I used a clunky devise of variations on the opening lines of each stanza.

A couple of notes of explanation are required.  First, the long blue busses described were Air Force vehicles delivering the children of personnel from Frances E. Warren Air Force Base to the school.  There were no yellow school busses because the rest of us lived close enough to the old school building to walk.

The Black girl was, I believe looking back on it, Haitian.  Just how she ever got to Cheyenne is anyone’s guess.  It must have been a terribly hard experience for her.  I am sure gaping dolts like me didn’t make it any easier.  She was the first Black person I ever saw.  One day I pretended to lose something in the gravel by the high slide so I could get down on my hands and knees and crawl over to where she was standing to stare close-up to the black skin of her thin legs above her white socks.

It must have been a horrible and humiliating experience for her.  Made worse by the fact that I never once, for all my curiosity spoke to her the entire year. 

Innocence, in retrospect, was not all that innocent at all.

What I Remember of Play


I remember-

Straw yellow sunlight

Filtered through trees

That seemed so big

God must have been at their tops, 

Looking down on

Me as I played on the gravel  

And sat in their roots to rest.


And I remember­

The suntan brick

Of the school building

Always looking dusty,

Even after rain washed it.

The high, wide windows

Looked down on the

Playground below. 


This I remember­

Only her hair, 

Only her plain brown hair

Pulled back in a bun

With a smell that

Excited my nose.

She was but six

And I was but five

As we sat in the Roots together.


And this to remember­

Boys abreast up in a line

Then charging, shouting

At the top of our lungs, 

“Kill the Japs,  

Kill the Nazis,

We’ll win!”

And the little toy flag

That fell in the dirt

            and was solemnly burned.


           This is remembered-

Rosa had dark brown skin

And fine, windblown hair,

But her dress was thin

And its colors faded.

She never spoke but

Always looked through

Frightened, dark eyes.


I remember this-

Long blue busses

Coming every morning,

Leaving every night.

Friends getting on with the

Driver In green uniform

And stiff cap, And me always

Staying behind


This to remember­

Billy was smaller by far

Than the rest of the boys who

Played in the yard.

But it was Billy

Who led us in games 

and shouted the loudest at play.


And I remember this­

The bean tree stood

In the corner of the yard.

And in the fall the boys

Would fight to see

Who could get the most

Of the long black, stiff beans.


And this is remembered­

From the top of the slide

I could look down at the sun

Shining off its slick face 

And how tall I felt

Looming down

On my friends in

 the school yard far below.


I can remember­

The little girl in

The frilly pink dress

Whose language I did not know, 

And did not care to know,

for she was Black 

And I did not

Know why she was Black.


But most I remember-

A dream that never was,

Shaded by trees from

The straw yellow sunlight,

I got on the blue bus

And the girl with her hair tied up in a bun

Said, “Goodbye,

Take good care of him.”

As the bus pulled away

I knew that I

Would never return

To the play yard,

And that was the 

End of my youth.


—Pat Murfin ‘67

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