Rumpus Original Poetry: Four Poems by Maya Phillips






I magic myself a man: ta-da!   and it’s done   the deed  the

dirty  the down-there  down-home  hello  hoe is me  a bit too

witchy bitchy pussy  a cooch like a clamp a clutch to turn

a trick a dick  sick hungry woman   I take and take too much

this miss  mistress  distrust me disgust  me  wanting woman

wanton woman   I a mouthing  a tonguing  an in-cheek kinda

sly-slippery-snakebite of a woman   bite of a woman who licks—

sick, such a woman (not-wife)  wily whet-thirst of a woman

with wit tits cunt   we don’t like that  (a woman)  the way

she walks  the hips  the lips  surely a trick an abracadabra ta-da

ha!   I hunger a husband   (right?)   I bite the beast and feast   I beast-

summoning woman  beast-loving woman   I make me a man

a meal   I snare  I snake   I hungry and  I swallow  whole



they’ll arrive   at the house
in the poem  where the man,
who is the father,  who is
the husband,  who is    the body
in the earth—
            but we haven’t
gotten there   yet;

we are   in the car
with his mother and sister,
who are talking—  people-talk,
  busy-talk,  light nothing-talk
of a weekend afternoon—
on their way to   visit
the son,  the brother,        after
two days,  no  word  and
the         fear

that lives      like a soreness
in the back of the throat.   and now
his mother thinks   maybe
of silence, of her   son, who
has always been  a child of

silence, and  now  is this all
it will be?   but
not yet, there’s just time
now for these still- harmless
thoughts,  these nothing-
thoughts   nervous nothing-
thoughts   of the living.

because when the car pulls up
to the house, it is only   a house
and not a foreshadowing  or
a place of     ends     or beginnings.
It is just plaster and bricks

and a door where there is no
answer,   which sounds like —
[what they already know].
    but they have been wrong
before; they may be wrong
again.   please let them not be
prophets;   let them not be

the ferrymen to their own grief.
    let them be
wrong and human and
unknowing.    and if the side door
is open,  let them go in

and greet only    the living.
and if his sister calls and there is
    no answer, perhaps her brother
is simply unhearing,   silent.
perhaps her brother is simply sleeping
   in silence—but

is there only such a silence
    as the grave?
because his mother knows
before she sees  it—
the it,    not him,      of the son—
       no longer

son,                 no longer
the breath or voice of her
son.       there he is.      and she
already knows but   still
tests the air with the question,
calls his name      once  just
to watch it   fall.


January 3, 2015

would have been

his birthday, 2

days after New Year’s,

the day of the blizzard

named for the Greek hero,

his 12 labors

of redemption,


1 year after

the divorce, 10 years

since the affair, 3

years since we’ve

spoken, 3 years

since the first poem

and there have been

poems and will be

poems but no


father, today, of the 52

would-be birthday

candles, after 3

trips to the hospital,

5 stitches in the

chest, 1 heartbeat

gone dumb, 1 hearse,

3 limos, 52


roses for the grave,

no cake, no

celebration, but candles,

52 candles, these

52 small fires, 1

body, 1 wooden

box: kindling.



Let us agree, then, to no longer beat our chests
and tear our hair. There’s no need
to balance the accounts or get things in order;

we have been disorderly before so let us return
to the rooms as we left them where no time has passed
at all—we have no use for it here, though we may

watch it from a distance; we all need some sport—
and music! finally something we can dance to,
improper though it is, that we still have bodies

that can dance, and clothes, immodest
and in every possible color, and it will be
the shapes of our mouths that give us away,

the way they arch in the corners
despite—         and our volume, unsuited
to whispers in respect of—

                                                how long has it been,
exactly? Is it time yet for the streamers
and champagne? Happy new year to all

of our losses. What a shame such time,
in the end, should go to waste. Suddenly
it’s too late and the guests are leaving.

The management, annoyed, is dimming the lights.
We know better than to idle in the silence
but surely we can’t help it when

we hang up the armor, when the ship’s sails
are black…      Now that the band has left
and the radio’s broken, let’s toast

to the bottom of the punchbowl, one more
round till we take it to the street: Let’s all
of us agree to our bodies unstoppable.
There’s no music but god knows we need to dance.

Maya Phillips was born and raised in New York. Maya received her MFA in poetry from Warren Wilson's MFA Program for Writers. Her poetry has appeared in American Literary Review, At Length, BOAAT, The Gettysburg Review, Ghost Proposal, Hayden's Ferry Review, Vinyl, and more, and her arts & entertainment journalism has appeared in the New York Times, Vulture, Slate, The Week, American Theatre, and more. Her debut poetry collection, Erou, is forthcoming in fall 2019 from Four Way Books. Maya currently works as a web producer at the New Yorker and as a freelance writer. She lives in Brooklyn. More from this author →