Dunbar’s Apparition

by Jim Murphy

The byzantine cage snaps shut,
poet keys the box, calls the floors—
a flesh-and-metal case ascending.

Some passenger’s hand strokes
his shoulder—two soft fingers
ply the collar, spidering his neck,

cradling closer. Can feel her
breasts heavy against his back,
traced along the gold brocade.

Buttons eased open on his uniform,
a cough from one of the gray wool
Dayton drummers behind the pair,

black men half-asleep themselves.
No exchange of words. His protest
is a sudden stop. The car jolts dead.

Needling attack and decay of a faint
Brahms being played on another level.
He looks. No crowd, no car, no woman,

just receding rows of caneback chairs
set in shallow water, all empty—
out and down until they disappear.

Jim Murphy teaches at the University of Montevallo, just south of Birmingham, Alabama. His chapbook, The Memphis Sun, received the Stan and Tom Wick Poetry Award, and is published by Kent State University Press. His poems have appeared in Gulf Coast, The Southern Review, Triquarterly, and other journals.