Christopher Brean Murray

The Nine Unknown

The first is a face
bathed in darkness. A light-sliver
streaks a quivering lip. The mouth
utters a prayer. To whom?
A fear-widened eye
glares at the light.

The second: a black & white photo
you found behind a panel.
It’s water damaged. It depicts
a child in a striped shirt
by a fountain. The image
is cropped at the neck.

The third’s a room. You enter
through one door, someone exits
by another. A cup of coffee
rests on a table. Beside it, a list:
fork, tapestry, physics, steam engine,
Korea, hope.
The coffee reflects
your puzzled expression.

The fourth & fifth
are one: two thumps
through the motel’s thin wall.
Was a head slammed twice
against the floor? Did a hockey player
hurl his skates in anger? Were twins
birthed, their mute mother
hugging the doorframe?

On the wind you catch a whiff
of the sixth. Vagrants somewhere
huddle by a fire. Laughing,
drinking, they burn the limbs
of a toppled cedar. Or do flames
sweep through a forest?
Is that acrid odor news
that a moose has been consumed?

Seven. A postcard through
your mail slot. Pictured:
a lodge, perhaps in Canada.
Windows shattered. Weeds
through cracked pavement.
No caption. On the back,
your address & a message:
Never underestimate the current
for it does as it wills & the same
goest for all creatures who rage
to find their prey. All the best…

As you take out the garbage,
you encounter the eighth.
A cool breeze & a warm one.
Dogs bark. Then, silence.
In a starless sky, a satellite
becomes two, then six,
then a triangle of blue lights.
It swivels & points westward.
You cast your glance there
as lightning cleaves the sky.

The ninth you find
while walking in the woods.
You might’ve fallen in
had your hound not howled.
A mesh of sticks & leaves
draped over the hole.
You call into the abyss,
which swallows your voice.
The stone you drop in
never hits bottom.



Beyond the shattered piazza on the outskirts,
there was not a hangar, not a horse. There
was no mane to claw at in the atrocious wind,
our bicuspids savaged by air, the blimp of discord
sequencing its message through lithe white beds
of sea-mud. Fragments of the song turned up,
squinted at the sky. Fragments of the victorious factions
hauled lumber through the tirade of the sovereign sun.
The fjord bloomed fat with fish, our tin cups chilled
and beaded. Behind the mansion, fate choreographed
its horrendous torrential dance, its laconic farce
violating the laws of dramaturgy. Unpeeled reason
flung its plot-threads to the rafters like waves
interrogating a sky sketched with clouds.
You bought a crimson sash. Heath auctioned
a clog to the peasants of Bavaria. Why? Why
was the bullfinch defiant, its lungs like beans,
like lanterns spinning in the rainless storm
sashayed with wit or whirling dusts
that got in your eye. You longed for home.
You volleyed that longing and denied
the fervent air. You refused the meager notions
that scavenged at the rim. What was left?
Tracks of a deer in the snows above tree line.
Etch another day to the slate. Make it count.
Unloose your falcon to the chill meandering
breeze. Watch it trace the silt-hemmed river.



Christopher Brean Murray’s book, Black Observatory, was chosen by Dana Levin as the winner of the 2021-2022 Jake Adam York Prize. It was recently published by Milkweed Editions. His poems have appeared in American Poetry Review, Bennington Review, Colorado Review, and other journals. He lives in Houston, Texas.