Joseph Murphy

A poem about my great grandfather, who came over from Ireland, we think, around 1849.


Black Jack

I wonder if you lived to celebrate a new millennium.


Grandmother knew only that you had fallen

When a scaffold broke apart.


I hope the bricks you last laid are still in place.


By the time I was adopted

By one of your 13 children, 

Two world wars had come and gone.


You, a family legend: Boston Irish, first over, 1849.

Dark hair and dusky skin

Sparked a nickname: Black Jack Murphy.


You sized up your share; took it

By luck or cunning; a fit patriarch,

Jabbing or dogging

Until a way could be found. 


No kin has matched your storied verve.


What of that other tale passed down? 

Your father stealing sheep; fleeing

From Spain to Ireland; thus, the Moorish coloring.


What of your famed Robins’-egg-blues eyes?

Had an Irish girl loved that thief

Unknowingly? Willingly?


I wonder if she lived to see you set off. 


I picture your hand releasing hers; she in prayer

As your ship neared the horizon; you on deck,

Facing the open sea.

Copyright © 2009 Joseph Murphy

Joseph Murphy
won the Eisner Prize for poetry, Berkeley’s highest aware for the arts, in the early 1970s and began writing again about 10 years ago. He also recently began sending work out and has been published in The Externalist, Flutter Poetry Journal, and Chantarelle's Notebook.