Prayer, Rupture, Dwelling

a collaboration by:
Sheila Murphy and Charles Alexander

Working Note

This poem was begun from an idea discussed during a visit by Sheila to my studio in Tucson. I suggested we start with one of us sending a very brief poem, and the other would respond with a prose response to that poem, plus a new short poem. The other would then respond in kind. This has continued for well over one hundred back-and-forth movements, as the poem has developed to be a sort of weekly, sometimes daily, record which is the intersection of our particular attentions and issues that have come up as the material of the poem. One can see when one participant wanted a change and issued a sudden departure, or when another mandated a return to materials left behind earlier, when the responses were thematic and when they were specifically language-based, or, as often happened, both. Altogether, it is a collaboration of minds concerned with language and music, and with their relation to daily living and meditative thought. Perhaps even more than that, a record of friendship, even an entry into that particular relationship.

                         — Charles Alexander


Prayer, Rupture, Dwelling

Watching taps the capability of breadth connect—was there a luxury somewhere in seeing the imaginary index cards around the personal? Investment comes from constellations we invite into the body as perspectives meld. An icy moment of cognition cracks instant fusion of the wonderful with danger. One’s own breath alive in two small bodies with intentions independent still and always recognizable. Spoken from this from distance of another kind. Imagination lives where history and feeling dampen, which may mean deepen, intellect.


pantlegs wet from

having ventured

sheepish rows of history



a moment able-bodied,

freed (conjoined with),

equal signs

from fields, reflexive,

full-willed act,



History is that which passes, not being looked at, possibly through a telescope. Set pitch theory strives to describe a flexible tone system which may begin at any point. Derived from beauty.


as we assume from wanting

row merrily until afternoon

sip from a goblet unmentioned

yours and there, leg up

from under, forest stone

as if unstepped, stopped

lost pages of a book recovered

can study unobtrusively voices

reached through biology’s vice

or almost there, she walks at

nine months, holds steady during

fall down stairs, athletic as

defining patience, art and

abstinence having no place, here


Motion amplifies. How we know one of us. Has/had existence. Trophiable movement. In some way to indicate. A rush of moving . . . parts. Acquainted. Sourced. Reliability, more important in this culture than validity. Happens repeatedly apart from happenstance.


be twice

the fierce



pilgrim toward cavity’s antithesis

a cold floor’s gravity’s inducing

darkness where

a structure veins

its way


Rising and inside, music from which. This can happen. Eleven women around a conference table, writing. One of eating the whole pie then going to bed. This too is athletic, feat of senses, caesura. Falling to the floor, as once, twice, not even wanting (nothing but the absence, gape). Yes, has had such.


brown because

not said

yet or before

she cautions

of color of

things that

carry some

other lumen

from where














Already here and working / Therefore not / Anymore the issue of beginning / Notes occur among themselves / It is unlikely to reside apart / Instead, the midpoint of engendering and being / Lifted / Until the act is indistinguishable from / The full participation.

how are they

different from

how are we

same a

pause measures


bow then stretch

the instrument


The universe and the multiverse, as though prefixes are fixes. It all turns. Part is hips, patience now. Middle west, middle passage. Places are not fixed.


how, she asks

for cause

or cleared

space of silent

pleasure, not

saint or so etched

measure among

life on shelves


Then, matter of moment. Sound that captivates. Different hearings trace, release, rejuvenate old matter. Until a quick, the measure of a day.



and sheer

as uninvited

beauty of the shelves

I will be listening


Dear S: You ask if __________and it makes my _________ jump. Curious, the air comes in. As from a watching point, considerate. What are we doing here?


as am

just I

with twenty

watts, hymns

again, pews


for exit

moves despite

mysterious ways


Mist and myst. The triune off-chance that these different roads. Means scamper. Something different from express. The violin’s first choice of clef. Having attached (been) to a process, what to do now but accept harmonics when they


what makes

power (factory


what makes precog

what makes

who oils things

and when

the litmus



Power makes itself, permission granted from populace, without having authority or appropriate questions. Here four lines begin with questions: what, what, what, who. This could be gossip, but oil runs the business and makes everything the market. Speaking among siblings.


factor in

the less obvious

and last night

working on

twelves, not

apostles or

dominos, old

theory, recognized

when paper turns

blue, saying

what, who


Theoretical siblings chance twelve things to talk about. Eggs in cartons. Shells of paper blue, a robin’s. Watching may be a way of working. Spectators, good sports.



rink and blade


rainbow and



The first time, winter 1993, I held her, four years old, as she took first careful steps on the ice, barely willing to hold her own weight, and at the same time, waiting for nothing. Three years later, friends took a printing press into an ice house and printed what is presumably the first book in America printed on ice. The light can be nearly blinding there. The sounds in spring, preceding thaw, are sometimes a threatening boom. This allows no alterity, well defined social space.


decidedly so

altered if

outside enters

rain on white

two not quite

contrary meeting

as from among

the common


I’m thinking of a little bench just for the ice of which we could be certain. Where it might be possible to sit without awaiting something. During forty-some first days of incubation, closed my eyes. Now reflect likely dispassionate and frightened source of touch. Of nurses’ hands suspecting I might break.


objects singing

as they change

places with boundaries

unconscious laundry list

of what to do

is absent



She’s dreaming in two white hats except with an eye for what they might have been doubtful. When that could write perhaps from stand under allowing artifice. Throughout thunderous middle nights from sighting, opened her fingers. Then mirror possible eruptive or threatened mouth from push. With intern’s feet under we will open.


turned voice

from leaf under

foot where no one

minds the water

asks what needs

answer here

conscious push


The shelters woven first arrange themselves. Conscious of ten looking temptations. Whose idea elements? A pronged acceleration feeds four cushions in the rocking again water. A new chair not six feet from me. Old cushions with a lamp. A hammer sound through open screen. Safety in process.



inadvertent tapping

of wrought iron

voice and airplane

stirring sounds

neglected from

this small cell

found on a neuroscience site:

Shuffle Brain — can a scrambled brain remember?

The Beast’s IQ—hidden facets of intelligence

Hologramic Mind—what’s really real, anyway?

Microminds—can bacteria think? hurt? enjoy?

Human Brain Shrinks, Yet Human Being Thinks

Brain Swapping—excerpts from the book, Shufflebrain

Holologic—an Asa Zook dialog on the nature of holograms

Split Human Brain—our divided selves

Musical Brain—the gentler side

Optics of Memory—heck of an engineer!

lemon’s whole

yellow strength

stirring small

cells, facets

found gentler

neglected, divided

candles left

unblown, entered

from all sides


In and out of character: ribbons of attempted definition: clatter of hopped up thought: acres of bacterial towns: mayoral youth: among the commonalities of cells: lines between points between lines at these speeds.


something whole

still uninvited

hospitality extracts

wait time

from evolution


On a door to a child’s room, a picture of a single angel. This is the entry, whether invited or hospitable. Time for dinner, time for bed.


open pores

attached to

flow of water

ankle and

thigh attract

lute until



Routine learning to count routine. Within its pores, a flow. (A flaw) Of elements less imperative for functioning than movement, spaces, history between. How did magnet come to be a noun? The narrow pathways sketch our sleep. Control is currency. Also the root of stories.


panel of experts

dramatizes whole meal


that undergirds a motion

someone must have



Nothing is routine. This is the nothing that is routine. Flaw is law is flow. These equivalencies are definitions. These definitions are equivalent. History is sleep. How did root come to be a verb? Where is


walking (another definition).

cancel everything

among the underguarded

nation second to

none rah and rah

the virtual becomes

tool, second to

minute, our

desire colluding


Trances eek out flaws (minute), rooted in tens of tenses. Nothing can be ca suffit within the realm of guarding. Leisure to be referenced without braces. Externality’s a throw rug for some neighbor. Visual or liner or just sham? Shaman opts for swoon from new externals.


virtual’s harmonic

point of lift:

sound plays

fusion of the planned


a hand with instrument

in mind intending

aim that still



If harmonic, what are the intervals? Point to planned, lift to still. These are the conjunctions we live by, sound to planned to unplanned to hand to mind to tend. Tend well, shepherd, the sheep are not lost in the field. We are full of surmises.


release the place

the gift among

strings, two

hands point

to light, not

tuned or untuned

aim to ache

still gift

stray light


Stray from path, another // String that wasn’t there // Lead equivalent to follow // Path defined as more than once // Tuning the prompt that has succumbed to a merange of weather. // Light’s happy accident above brushed string releasing every kind of heaven //


thirty shepherds

and a single sheep

geography of snow

where I would walk

to learn

what I know now


Striking for what makes a line, even if composed of one element, the earth under or over haunts of wool, off line and white, jumping through commands as one or two weep, I know not. A marriage whether or not composed.


thirty includes

punctuation, strike

aleph chord sounds

from single

letter, shifts

graft world

to pencil

line where

you would

you would


Wood close to snow and off-white wool. Prerequisite of punctuation, sensory inclusion of first line I would have heard before accomplishing the marks in pencil made one-at-a-time. Eventually a chord within, a certain wilderness.


we spoke in quiet

of her mother,

eighty, living

out some numbered

pain and little

hope, the urge:

connect, to have,

to gather,

and to store.

my own grew, learning

motions of

matte finish sheep

beside coldwater river,

moist days soft

like this, she is alive

and thrives.

I have her speech,

her spirit, health

from far away,

answer to prayer.


Why the familial, and the finish, gloss or matte, and why now? Prayers themselves are the point, regardless of answer — motion. The romance of the moist has no numbers, but counts.


wave     wife

mother   car

edge     color

speech   self

dawn     write

fire     public

skin     house

throw    point


How we find our way through paths or make new comes to color, architecture, furnished or unfurnished centeredness. Skin is house, (the point of) edges, protection, or the motion . . . just released from . . . Romance that consistently waves off speech. Nest empty of magnet is itself magnetic.


voices in the rain

inside the house

all eyes on few

remarks and perspiration

evidence to equal



in dwelling

selves among the



A four-year-old imagines her grandmother playing basketball, thinks herself a mother, protects the rain. This is the house, we dwell. Manners remain evidence, perspiration evaporates in a like manner. Only choices are diction, how we find color, among.


one sings old

song another

strikes a word

against air

this fable

remains unsolved

far from

the table

she writes

one mark after


my water place

my end of reason

my asking for charms

my hourly voice

my book


Is this sentence a remark? Things in people weigh sometimes a difference. Some meant to be songs. Some with aspirations not to be so light. There would have been an object. In a mark there might have been some talk you could not take down. Choice chances a renewal and then chains. A very like full thought maybe of water, just one at a time.


a dwelling has its

paced wide

rings like trees

another table

from which

to confide


As dwell takes its shape from habit/habitat/habitation, the prayer widens to find trees and tables. Confident in one’s skin, that house of no owner. “The place where a word originates in her body is the physical source of her sense of beauty.” That word cuts, pastes, sits on the outside, inside two pieces of paper. Pace is endurance. “Ring true” has no answer. The verb lives in a house with open windows.


all the eating

at tables


smell of onions

potatoes today


wears its path


a fact




origins and



we inhabit


BIO: Charles Alexander’s books of poetry include Hopeful Buildings (1990), Arc of Light / Dark Matter (1992), Pushing Water parts 1-6 (1998), Etudes: D & D (2001), and several others. He is the director of Chax Press in Tucson, Arizona, as well as a poet, essayist, teacher, and former executive director of Minnesota Center for Book Arts. His fine art books are in collections throughout North America, including the J. Paul Getty Center, the Ruth and Marvin Sackner Archive of Concrete and Visual Poetry, and libraries at the University of Wisconsin, Yale, Harvard, Brown, UC-Berkeley, Stanford University, and the University of Arizona. He teaches creative writing and the book arts for the University of Arizona’s Extended University program and for Pima Community College, and during the past summer was a faculty member at Naropa University’s Jack Kerouac School of Disembodied Poetics. He lives in Tucson with his spouse and frequent collaborator, the visual artist Cynthia Miller.

BIO: Sheila E. Murphy recently performed her poetry for Lit City in New Orleans. Last year, she presented a series of readings and workshops at the Arvon Foundation at Totleigh-Barton, Devon, in the UK, in addition to performing at the third annual Boston Poetry Conference. In 1999, she was a featured performer at the annual Brisbane Writers Festival in Queensland, Australia. Murphy has authored numerous books of poetry, most recently The Indelible Occasion (Potes & Poets Press, 2000). She and Beverly Carver co-founded the Scottsdale Center for the Arts Poetry Series and served as coordinators for 12 years. The series continues under the direction of Carolyn Robbins, Curator of Education, at the Scottsdale Museum of Contemporary Arts.  In 1996, Murphy’s Letters to Unfinished J. won the New American Poetry Series Open Competition. The book is scheduled to appear from Sun & Moon Press.


new writing

table of contents