Poetry by Carl Phillips

Art: Concubine


The Dark No Softer Than It Was Before

Now that neglect only half excuses the field’s contagion,
it’s not enough to look back at the past as at a thing
to shy from, this is not
nostalgia, you must look at it,
try to, just as steadily as, for entire days, you watched
bees ferry water up from the moss-conquered
birdbath to their hive, presumably, in the chestnut’s
branches, that moment-at-last in summer when
the release that fall will be
again seems possible, the way
within aggression you still want to believe
always something more tender, given a chance, will show
too, eventually, as if “flowers
first, then the fruit” were what you’d meant
all along by a clean arrangement, the door this time
closing not so slowly, your hand turning the lights down
democratically upon the heat, the night, its night-song…

 

What I See is the Light Falling All Around Us

To have understood some small piece of the world
more deeply doesn’t have to mean we’re not as lost
as before, or so it seems this morning, random bees
stirring among the dogwood blossoms, a few here
and there stirring differently, somehow, more like
resisting stillness…Should it come to winnowing
my addictions, I’d hold on hardest, I’m pretty sure,
to mystery, though just yesterday, a perfect stranger
was so insistent that I looked familiar, it seemed
easier in the end to agree we must know each other.
To his body, a muscularity both at odds and at one
with how fragile everything else about him, I thought,
would be, if I could see inside. What’s the word
for the kind of loneliness that can feel like swimming
unassisted in a foreign language, for the very first time?


Carl Phillips is the author of more than a dozen books of poetry,
including Reconnaissance, winner of the PEN Poetry Award and the
Lambda Literary Award, and Double Shadow, winner of the Los Angeles Times Book Prize. He teaches at Washington University in St. Louis. His latest collection, Wild Is the Wind, is published by Farrar, Straus and Giroux.

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