Cover image for Looking for the parade
Looking for the parade
Murray, Joan, 1945-
Personal Author:
First edition.
Publication Information:
New York : Norton, [1999]

Physical Description:
ix, 124 pages ; 22 cm.
Format :


Call Number
Material Type
Home Location
Item Holds
PS3563.U7694 L66 1999 Adult Non-Fiction Central Closed Stacks

On Order



In this collection, Murray observes the character of the last century and some of the lives that were part of it. She then turns inward to examine herself as an artist and a woman. In the final section she celebrates the courage that allows us to be death's great opponents.

Reviews 1

Booklist Review

One poem in each section of this book is set in a cemetery. "At Caesar's Grave" reflects on "the last slave to die outside the Confederacy," and how hard it is to do right in this life (Caesar "outlived five generations of [his first master's] children," never a free man); it is a standout among poems that protest injustices little and large. In "New England Graveyard," Murray finds the graves of "the recent dead-/ who look too much like us," thereby reminding us to appreciate the world now, as all the poems of the second set do. At the conclusion of the title poem, last in the final set of poems concerned with specific animals and persons nearing death, a fruitless search for a Memorial Day parade--a "dead" tradition, it seems--ends in communion, once more, with the buried. These are poignant, not morbid, poems that fervently embrace life because it is never long enough. They and the narrative poem Queen of the Mist make this a banner year for Murray. (Reviewed March 15, 1999)039304727XRay Olson



Chapter One HER HEAD Near Ekuvukeni, in Natal, South Africa, a woman carries water on her head. After a year of drought, when one child in three is at risk of death, she returns from a distant well, carrying water on her head. The pumpkins are gone, the tomatoes withered, yet the woman carries water on her head. The cattle kraals are empty, the goats gaunt-- no milk now for children, but she is carrying water on her head. The engineers have reversed the river: those with power can keep their power, but one woman is carrying water on her head. In the homelands, where the dusty crowds watch the empty roads for water trucks, one woman trusts herself with treasure, and carries the water on her head. The sun does not dissuade her, not the dried earth that blows against her, as she carries the water on her head. In a huge and dirty pail, with an idle handle, resting on a narrow can, this woman is carrying water on her head. This woman, who girds her neck with safety pins, this one who carries water on her head, trusts her own head to bring to her people what they need now between life and death: She is carrying them water on her head. AUTUMN TOURISTS The roads of our village are jammed by buses with childish, alliterative names: "Blue Bird." "Grey Goose." "Peter Pan"-- But the faces in their windows are mostly old-- they've come to see the leaves before they die. "At this stage, there's nothing else to do," an old man joked this morning when they stopped to ask directions --another reason I'll spend the day inside. I start a fire and listen to the news on the radio. The report's about the tourists in the Philippines, who come to sleep with children. There are thousands every week --the aging Japanese believe it will "revive" them. An Australian and a Briton have been jailed --to set a "harsh example" for the Western press. But the parents protest-- their children are for sale. They're the gross national product (and it's the way to get a television). There are colorful brochures in sixteen languages-- "Sex Tours" is an English one-- they guarantee there'll be "a virgin for everyone." The reporter asks two children to tell about the man who took them to his room. There was a shower ("it was warm"), a bed ("with sheets"), they posed for pictures --they'll be sold on the Internet. The leaves outside are gold and red and dying. But the planes are flying home from Shangri-la-- where every child's still a virgin, where no one's growing old, where nothing changes but the sheets --where it's warm in the stalls. THE LOVERS Despondent from burglaries and muggings, Hans and Emma Kable, close to eighty, took their own lives, Bronx, NY Last night they made love a new way: her skirt draped across the bed, the delicate white blouse beside his suit, the red striped tie laid neat-- Being caught there is no embarrassment. The note won't tell what they whispered in their ritual to ease each other to the bright breaking of blood as on the first night. After fifty years, there was no need to be naked-- to be assured by a hair pelt touched through to the heart's grain. Last night it was a new position: their love binding their necks to doorknobs, razors at their wrists-- releasing one another to supreme escape. Far away in the Arctic, the aged wander to the polar jaw. In Africa, they seek the uplands --and await a predatory kiss. Here in America, they are left behind in cities to make love. For them there is no embarrassment. INFIDELS A mouse--caught badly in a trap --and this morning (while I waited for the coffee to stop trickling), I spotted it beneath the ledge of the cabinet, where it had dragged itself across the whole kitchen --through a maze of cartons of unshelved books. I moved the trash can and looked at its eyes (while it looked at mine), and I remembered Whitman's line that "a mouse is miracle enough to stagger sextillion of infidels." And I noted its modest share of miraculousness --and felt a nudge of faith that even now it could escape me. I nudged it with the broom. (It knew the kitchen better than I did--I was new here.) It would know some hole beyond the purview of my problems. But as it moved at my prodding, the sprung trap, clamped to its foot, clattered behind it --and stopped it in the corner, where it lifted its eyes that said, "More." "Be humane," I thought --I had seen the word on the package of mouse traps and had recognized my species-- the executioners in the Death House, the infidels in the Gulf War --by our aim to "kill swiftly and efficiently." I brought the snow shovel from the porch --the coffee gleamed on the counter-- while the mouse below it was craning its neck for an opening. It knew what was coming--(just as our old cat knew that its last visit to the vet was no ordinary checkup). I lifted the shovel-- it went struggling up the wall along the crack beside the     cabinet --but couldn't make it through. I've seen humans go like that--dragging the pain, the     tubes-- trying to resist the "swift, efficient" blow. I've stood by their beds-- where I've seen what their eyes said --while the rest of us said, "No." AT CAESAR'S GRAVE The Hudson can't be seen from the house --though from the way the land slopes (beyond the unmowed field), it's clear the river isn't far. Why didn't they build their house along its shore? Weren't they the first ones--the first rich, white ones-- and wasn't the river what they had for a road then --back when Indian trails were too narrow for their wagons to pass through? It was the river below that hauled them to their markets --in vessels weighted down with pelts and crops and timber. In winter, they sailed above its surface in their sleighs. They'd shut their shutters, give instructions to their slaves, and go off visiting for weeks --escaping the isolation of their acreage, the daily monotony of privilege. It must be that that huge black conduit (that angles down from the sewage treatment plant) holds the course of the creek I once read about. Perhaps the house once faced the creek (that could explain its odd orientation to the north). But that cemetery--so close to their dwelling --they must have put it there intentionally, knowing it would intrude in any permanent escape-- each son's desire to leave these woods and live among people-- each slave's design to slip among the trees, --each new bride's dream of making it unnoticed to the     river and back to her parents' home. The house has been for sale for three years now (looking vast and affordable in the realtor's booklet), but that conduit--and especially this cemetery --make living here impossible. We have to strain against the cemetery gate till it groans at the effort of admitting us. A rusted plaque informs us that seven soldiers from the Revolution are buried here. But there's no way of knowing which they are. As far as we can tell through the abrasions of the weather, they're all named "Nicoll" and "Sill" --all relations of the old patroon, Van Rensselaer. Which one, I wonder, is the first "Master of Bethlehem," who married here and raised a family --and, at sixty, declared himself "a baby," and instructed Caesar, "the family retainer," to build him a cradle, six-feet long, and spend hours every day, rocking him in it. (When the master drowned-- in the creek that no longer runs here-- I wonder if Caesar was whipped or rewarded.) Here's Caesar now--in the back near the fence. He was the last slave to die outside the Confederacy --a tribute to his own longevity and the irony of a Yankee benevolence that kept elderly slaves unemancipated and dependent. His parents came here on the day of the master's wedding-- two unnamed people, topping the list of presents. Caesar was born the following spring, and I can picture the master, still in his prime, smiling as his pregnant bride gave the child his name --one she might have saved for a stallion or retriever: "Caesar," the swaddling, black "emperor." When he died (at one hundred and fifteen), he had outlived five generations of their children --long enough to see them all ruined, their lands partitioned and sold off-- so that only the house and this little plot remain.   It's not surprising that Caesar's grave   is the most legible. (For the bicentennial,   his single name--with its eternally mocking, imperial      evocation,   was incised on one of the humbler markers   --perhaps it's really his.)   The rumor was that he'd been "beloved"--   a notable example of some benign variation of slavery.   Contemporary accounts portray him as ornery   (chucking stones at little children when they grew too      noisy).   But it's quiet now. The grass is overgrown   --it seems no one's tended it for years.   We close the gate, wondering who it's intended to      keep out (or maybe keep inside). Caesar lived here. Caesar died.   We leave him to the myths that we call "history"--   in that last small plot of human life   --where slaves and masters   share their common legacy. Copyright © 1999 Joan Murray. All rights reserved.