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Low Sounds: A Meditation from Chair L
Sheila Murphy


— After reading “The Lake Isle of Innisfree” by William Butler Yeats

On this day, as you read and nod beside me,
vigilant all these weeks and months
beside the colorless clinical quiet of an IV drip,
the usual confusion of chemo clouds my brain

         and then
                        memories of Rome, glimmering like
        September’s grapes, round and ripe and sweet,
        untether me from this circular monotony
        of nurses, needles, symptoms and sounds.

        Some day I’ll take you to Rome, you said, and did,
        leading us along vias and vicolos you roamed sixty years ago,
        where Collegio Americano del Nord on the Janiculum
        had rooms like cells, but always pasta and Frascati wine.

        I see you standing at the top of the Spanish Steps
        pointing to my first view of St. Peter’s dome,
        telling how three of you seminarians walked to Naples
        to meet the new men, then hitchhiked back to Rome.

        I hear the splash of water and voices announcing
        the Fontana de Trevi around a corner from
        the Gregorian University where Jesuits lectured
        in Latin about philosophy, theology, and Greek.

        I see San Clemente, your favorite basilica,
        eleventh century mosaics above the altar,
        fourth century frescoes down steep stone stairs,
        and a crypt with water from an ancient aqueduct
        lapping beneath the niches of a Mithraic temple.

        Dispatched to a convent to contemplate your decision,
        you learned from Blue Nuns in Florence how to play pinochle,
        left the seminary, and boarded a ship in February 1957,
        so we would find each other.

        I remember we found peace in a pilgrimage
        to Santa Cecilia in Trastevere, pondering  
        an early martyr, and two grandchildren —
        Cianan and Cecilia — gone home to God.

On this day, as Taxol and Avastin, carefully-calibrated
prayers to mute clear-cell cancer, come dropping slow,
in my deep heart’s core I find Rome, and you.

This poem first appeared in Poetry (2020).
Used here with permission.


Sheila Murphy has published one chapbook, edited several essay collections, and her poems have appeared in many journals. A retired teacher, she has led memoir workshops for seniors in her local library and for Wesleyan University's Institute for Lifelong Learning. Married for 61 years, Sheila is the mother of four and grandmother of ten. She revels in the company of books, words, chocolate, family, and friends. When not traveling to Ireland and Rome (pre-COVID), Sheila and her husband divide their time between Connecticut and Massachusetts. Her current project is a memoir about her mother, who served as a Navy yeoman (F) in Boston during World War I.





Post New Comment:
What an exquisite memory, so vividly captured! And what a testament to a long and loving relationship!
Posted 02/05/2021 04:25 PM
Lori Levy:
Beautiful, moving poem.
Posted 02/04/2021 02:59 PM
Thank you.
Posted 02/04/2021 02:22 PM
You've shared with us a memorable journey.
Posted 02/04/2021 12:21 PM
Sharon Waller Knutson:
Wonderful, poignant powerful poem of the importance of having loved ones by your side and wonderful memories when we are fighting for our life.
Posted 02/04/2021 11:17 AM
Only the very smart were sent to the North American College to train for the priesthood. One of my classmates attended.
Posted 02/04/2021 09:04 AM
a song of the heart- I challenge anyone to read it with dry eyes. Such a gift, Sheila. Thank you from my heart.
Posted 02/04/2021 08:40 AM
This is so beautiful and rich!
Posted 02/04/2021 08:02 AM
Larry Schug:
An extraordinary poem. It is truly art blended with humanity and insight, mercy, love, memory.
Posted 02/04/2021 07:47 AM

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