Touch: The Journal of Healing



The Voice of Murray Alfredson

Over the past four years, Murray Alfredson and I have exchanged countless emails, and through these exchanges, I have learned of his poetic inspirations, his aspirations, and his life.  Growing up under an Australian sky filled with war-birds from the nearby RAAF station, he occupied his earliest years by following the progression of WWII on maps of Europe and the Pacific.  In his teens, he moved to Melbourne where half of his schoolmates were Jewish immigrants, some of whom survived the Holocaust.  Murray writes, “the experience has stayed with me.”

Much of Murray’s life has been spent studying not only literature and language, but also history, the natural sciences, and learning about mental illness.  His high school studies included classical training in Latin, exposing him to the works of Aeschylus, Sophocles and Euripides.  He also studied German, and, influenced by the plight of his earlier Jewish classmates, he took interest in German poets such as Goethe.  After graduating from college, infused with a desire to give something to society, Murray chose librarianship.

As is the disposition of many poets, Murray writes about nature, love, and relationships, but the theme of loss has dominated a significant part of his writing.  His work attempts to understand the mental illness that permeated his mother’s life until her death, the effects that her illness had on her family, and the societal discrimination that was born by such families.  He also explores the suffering he witnessed in the young Holocaust survivors who were his schoolmates as well as the loss of three childhood friends to suicide and the “earthquake” of the death of his twin brother.  Murray's writing has brought to light their plight with great understanding and respect.

The four poems we selected from Murray reveal loss and how time can play a role in recovery.  We open with “Friend,” a poem that begins with the eyes but explores many dimensions of vision beyond the clinical including the expression of personality and emotion, and ultimately, one’s soul.  Though time is not directly referred to in this poem, it is implied because of the nature of the characteristics that are portrayed through a life — long lived.  We learn that though the perspective of a viewer is to look inward or outward, it is the perception of the viewer that determines what is seen, what is discovered, and what is felt.  This poem abounds with layers of meaning, both implied and expressed, one of the most important components I look for in poetry.

Next we find “Falls are not simple,” a poem that from beginning to end skillfully conveys several layers of time.  The poem opens with, “She bled into the subarachnoid space,” preparing us not only for the poem’s subject but also the immediacy of the event that is about to unfold.  As the results of an initial clinical examination are given to family members, we sense their apprehension, feel their dread, and sit with them at their bedside vigil.  Ultimately we learn of the patient’s clinical outcome as its aftereffects echo in our minds.

Unlike the first two poems, the subject of the third poem, “Soaked in,” is unknown to the narrator, yet he unfolds for us layers of meaning and history from what he perceives from the subject.  In eight lines this poem reveals the story of an elderly woman to whom time has not been a friend, and we come to appreciate that through perseverance, she was able to maintain her dignity.

The final poem, “Old bones; or, Irene’s aneirene,” was written as a tribute to the poet’s mother who struggled with mental illness throughout her long life.  The poem begins with, “There never was a cure, nor ever would be.”  On my first read, I misinterpreted the line to indicate that a long-suffered or terminal physical illness existed, but as I read on I realized that this was not the case.  We learn this through references and inferences to the terrors and treatments the subject had to endure. As the poem is written in past tense, time is inferred in what has occurred or has been, but it isn’t until the end of the poem where we learn that the passage of time has been ever-present when we read “she lived out life and died / with crumbling bones.”

Through Murray Alfredson’s poems we learn that with the passage of time we can grow from loss, we can gain new insights into its aftereffects, and that though we may have believed we could never heal from them, we can, even if healing comes only in acceptance.  When poetry reflects honesty, understanding, and insight, it can have a tremendous impact on us, not only in the moment, but for years to come. 

It is with great pleasure that I present to you a voice of Touch: Murray Alfredson.

O.P.W. Fredericks, Editor

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Touch: The Journal of Healing

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