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Ars Poetica with Mud

after Terrance Hayes

Poetry, Emma Murf

The boy, squatting on heels, swirled a stick in the banks of

a standing pond, let mud part like spirits in a particularly earthy

form of sorcery. His brother watched on with an eagerness

that bordered on agony, asked if they could try together

to bury the stick completely. Nothing is said of my familiarity

with agony. With the boy, stick in hand, who was already

forgetting the world, forgetting me. Further ashore, behind a

blanket of fog, the parents danced in feigned indifference to the

indifference of one another, repulsing like magnets, each asking

if love is just a form of leaving slower than usual. So when the boy

called out to the parents, he made no note of their silence, or really

made a point not to note it. He set in on the process of releasing

stick from mud altogether, until it freed with an audible smack

that sent him swaying back onto his heels. And this is where

I find the space to mention: I’ve set out to pinpoint

the coordinates of Mutual Revelation, to tell you

precisely where it is, when squinting through a fog,

we become human to one another again. But now

I wonder if obscurity is a form of sight. Which is to say

maybe our fog never means to be a prism, just a

focal point at the sanctity of frustration, the miracle

of giving up on one another at last. All I can offer

is one observation: that by the time the boy’s stick

came loose, there was no mud left clinging to it.


Emma Murf is an American poet living in Madrid. Her poetry often explores her Appalachian roots and the intricate webbing of families. But her first poem (at eight years old) explored attempting to list her brother on eBay. You can find more of Emma at


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