The Best Poem I Read This Month: Sade Murphy’s “Entry 098 &/or Monday Night Before Thanksgiving or//Venus & Mars in Libra”
Sade Murphy pauses time in her prose piece(s) “Entry 098 &/or Monday Night Before Thanksgiving or//Venus & Mars in Libra” in DREGINALD. A series of moments—walking down Grand Street, pivoting on Putnam, taking the bus to Greenpoint—become infused with back-and-forth switches of vision, allowing Murphy to double her text. This doubling is literal: two prose blocks appear that use different syntactical structures to reveal two perspectives on this journey home. But it also affects the temporality of “Entry 098 &/or Monday Night Before Thanksgiving or//Venus & Mars in Libra.” When we experience a situation, we live it singly: when we reflect back on that situation, write about it, enter the memory into a journal, compose the pieces while watching the movements of planets, time can stop, and multiple viewpoints run together in the same instance.
“Oh man,” the piece begins. This “oh man” is a sigh, an invocation, an anxious mutter, and a two-word summation of the piece’s remainder, as the path home Murphy doubly relates will involve: “men standing in a hemisphere talking…[one] addresses me as ‘child’” and, later, “an intoxicated man threatening and intimidating the woman he is walking with.” While the speaker, in the first prose block, describes men as “animals,” she also mentions that the man who calls her child “actually saw me,” still noting that the name “child” was “patriarchal.” In the second block description, the situation repeats, though with the man saying: “‘make way for the queen yo’ & then to me ‘hold your head high child.’” This constellation of stranger-men inform most of the thoughts Murphy gathers together throughout “Entry 098,” ending on, in the second section: “i don’t want to feel guilty or be shown that it was wrong to trust the men that i trust.” Like the overall structure of the piece, we see a grappling to live two opposing definitions together in one space. Predatory “animals,” though they “make space” for us, lead the speaker, on encountering the drunk man near the bus stop, to reflect:
“sometimes when i love men it feels like i might have to betray myself.”
An external love and an internal betrayal orbit this piece like two planets, leading to the thought-based balance beam act of “that isn’t what i mean maybe i mean.” Murphy’s piece operates under the condition that we live in a world with men, and our societal training, especially walking alone at night, orients our thinking to violence, protection, and animal instinct. “In the dark I’m confused and get off at the wrong stop” runs the second-to-last line of the first section. The thinking remains a constant stream even as the speaker shifts locations, sometimes arriving at incorrect destinations. It’s the “Monday night before Thanksgiving,” according to the title, and the speaker, in encountering one of the men of this piece, thinks: “i hope that i’m invisible.” An invisibility for separation from this intoxicated man yelling at a woman, but also invisibility for separation from the body: “i’m not even in my body so it doesn’t matter now i’m on the bus.”
Murphy takes us through a specific place at a specific time (with a specific alignment of the planets), and yet this situation could happen in any place, at most times of year, with these thoughts unmoored from the specific stranger-men forcing themselves to be encountered. However, it is important that no matter how “routine” the elements might feel—coming home, taking the bus, another Thanksgiving—Murphy’s method of “pausing time,” both structurally and in terms of content, permits us to slow down, rewind, and double our own experiences, especially those surreal day-to-day journeys that do not often receive attentive treatment.