Well-Tempered

Meghan Purvis 

(for Ben Murphy)

I am tremendous fun at dinner parties
I say this as a joke but it’s true, I talk

and hardly pause for breath, a ticking metronome
of story punchline setup story and only rest a moment

for laughter, a lull like a singer riding the backphrase
still knowing when the downbeat will crash like a wave.

Being funny is my blood, you see when we annoyed him
our father would lunge to the side, pinch us, the weight of him

creaking the linoleum beneath our feet. He’d grab and twist,
folds on our arms that would go purple the next day

now I bruise and don’t remember how, blotches of aubergine
and jaundice-yellow like I belong under a lamp, under a klieg light

like a bassoonist at the open of The Rite of Spring. It was written
too high, you know, so they would play it badly and in dissonance

but Stravinsky didn’t know how hard those players could work,
how badly they needed to learn how to scream.

MEGHAN PURVIS

Meghan Purvis received an MA and PhD from the University of East Anglia, and an MFA from North Carolina State University. Her translation of Beowulf was published in 2013 and won the 2011 Times Stephen Spender Prize for literary translation. Her poetry has appeared, among other places, in Magma, The Rialto, and The Interpreter’s House. She is currently working on her first novel.

Read more from Meghan at The Selkie:
For the Bear