National Poetry Month Day 7: Carl Phillips





That the Gods Must Rest

That the gods must rest doesn’t mean that they stop existing.
Is that true? Do you believe it’s true?

                                                          I could tell it was morning

by all the crows rising again from that otherwise abandoned husk
of a car over there – so ruined, who can tell the make of it now,
what color. Or maybe if being stranded on a wind farm at night
with no stars to sing to could be a color – that color, maybe…
The way an unexpectedly fine idea will sometimes emerge from
what looked on the outside like the mind as usual treading water
was the crows, rising. A misleading clarity to the air, like logic:
he only wants what he deserves; he deserves everything he wants;
I deserve all I’ve ever built and fought for; we deserve our loneliness.


On Coming Close


The horses we rode: they must all be dead by now.
But the self – who I was then – can almost seem
unchanged, still, if I meet no mirrors to allow
what’s outside to betray what’s in; if I think of
regret as I’ve always thought of it, no more useful
than apology, no less impossible to believe in
than forgiveness; if I forget – as I tend to – regret’s
               Without mirrors, my eyes are the color
of river water crossing a bed of stones, river stones,
in summer. Without mirrors, I can almost say yes:
yes to holiness, the river lower than usual, because
summer, but the sky Novembering, so the water
the color of what’s from the start been at once
                     yet understood, somehow. Not
one of those horses ever came even close
to that color – being horses; not rivers. Which
makes me want to forgive them, just a little, in
spite of myself. Or to say I loved some small part
of even the worst of them. Love –  Isn’t love
what they used to call holiness once, long ago, on earth?

Carl Phillips is the author of fourteen books of poetry, most recently Wild Is the Wind (FSG, 2018), and Reconnaissance (FSG, 2015), winner of the PEN USA Award and the Lambda Literary Award. He is also the author of two books of prose: The Art of Daring: Risk, Restlessness, Imagination (Graywolf, 2014) and Coin of the Realm: Essays on the Life and Art of Poetry (Graywolf, 2004), and he is the translator of Sophocles’s Philoctetes (Oxford, 2004). A four-time finalist for the National Book Award, his honors include the Los Angeles Times Book Prize for Poetry, the Kingsley Tufts Award, the Kenyon Review Award for Literary Achievement, and fellowships from the Guggenheim Foundation, the Library of Congress, and the Academy of American Poets. He teaches at Washington University in St. Louis. More from this author →