I Tried to Write a Poem Called “Imposter Syndrome” and Failed

The way that the sea fails

to drown itself everyday. And entendre alludes all those not listening.

The way unfertilized chicken eggs fail to have imagination,
           dozened out in their cardboard trays,

by which I mean they will never break
           open

from the inside. The way my imagination (née anxiety) has
           bad brakes and a need

to stop sometimes. The way I didn’t believe

it when he told me we were going to crash into the car idling
           at a red light

ahead of us. To know our future like that seemed unlikely.
           But to have time to tell me?

—Nearly impossible. I may have broken
           several ribs that day

but I will never know for sure. I’m okay,

I guessed aloud to the paramedic. It doesn’t matter
           if you’re broken if you’re broke,

I moaned in bed that night, after several glasses
           of cheap red. I thought it would make a good blues

refrain. I made myself
           laugh and so I made myself hurt—

MEMOIRS BY EMILIA PHILLIPS, goes the joke.

A friend of mine competes in beard and mustache tournaments,
           even though she can’t grow one herself—

Once, she donned a Santa Claus made entirely out of hot-glued tampons.

It was as white as the spots in memories I doubt.

           The first woman
I kissed who had never kissed a woman before

couldn’t get over how soft my face is,
           even the scar. Once,

a famous poet said what’s this and touched my face
           without asking—

his thumb like a cat’s tongue on the old wound.

He must have thought he was giving
me a blessing.

More by Emilia Phillips

Scar

Sometimes it’s
        bigger than my
              body, the body

that gave it
        life, that is
              its life—as if I’m

a frame for
       it, as if it
              continues beyond

my end, although no
        one, not here,
              can see where

it goes, how
        far, & now
              it finds

its way into
        every possible
              place I

imagine, even
        the past, which believes
              in my scar like

a prophecy, & like a god’s
        work, I have no
              memory of it breathing

into me &
        abstracting me
              to myth from which to

remake the world
        into the rising
              & falling

action of fiction—my body
        as denouement. Sometimes I feel
              it without waiting

for its hum on
        the nerves, its shivering
              arc from eye

to jawbone. How often
        I want to
              give it a voice so

it can tell
        me what I want
              it to say—that it knows

me like tomorrow
        does. That a need lives
              in lack’s because.

Age of Beauty

This is not an age of beauty,
I say to the Rite-Aid as I pass a knee-high plastic witch
whose speaker-box laugh is tripped by my calf
breaking the invisible line cast by her motion
sensor. My heart believes it is a muscle

of love, so how do I tell it it is a muscle of blood?

This morning, I found myself
awake before my alarm & felt I’d been betrayed

by someone. My sleep is as thin as a paper bill
backed by black bars of coal that iridesce
indigo in the federal reserve of

dreams. Look, I said to the horse’s
head I saw severed & then set on the ground, the soft
tissue of the cheek & crown cleaved with a necropsy
knife until the skull was visible. You look more
horse than the horses

with names & quilted coats in the pasture, grazing unbothered

by your body in pieces, steaming

against the drizzle. You once had a name
that filled your ears like amphitheaters,
that caused an electrical

spark to bead to your brain. My grief was born
in the wrong time, my grief an old soul, grief re-
incarnate. My grief, once a black-winged

beetle. How I find every excuse to indulge it, like a child
given quarters. In the restaurant, eating alone,

instead of interrogating my own
solitude, I’m nearly undone by the old
woman on her own. The window so filthy,

it won’t even reflect her face, which must not be the same
face she sees when she dreams

of herself in the third person.

Pathetic Fallacy

the sap that I am springtime
               makes me want to reread Virgil’s

Georgics while eating cacio
              e pepe with fresh-shelled

peas this morning over coffee I
              watched a video of spinach

leaves washed of their cellular
              information and bathed in stem

cells until they became miniature
              hearts vascular hopes capable

of want to roll down a hill
              of clover to cold-spoon chrysanthemum

gelato or to stop whenever
              their phones autocorrect gps

to god the sublime is a suspension
              of disbelief the earth has gotten

sentimental this late in the game
              with its smells of gasoline

rosemary and woodsmoke the Rorschach
              of vitiligo on my eyes mouth

and throat the ongoing
              argument between self

and selfhood the recognition
              of the storm the howling

wind I wish I could scream
              into someone else’s rain

 

Related Poems

Atlantic Elegy

We see a little farther now and a little farther still
—C. D. Wright

                                  *

I ask the rain to remit, but not because I am ungrateful
A raincheck for the rain—is such a thing possible?

In Florida, even the cold is warm by comparison
We sit at the ocean’s lip as it licks the sand from our toes

Consider instead—the terrifying beauty of alternative

                                  *
I ask the sun to pumice our faces, blind us humble and good
Incumbent sun, so long accustomed to winning the stars’ wars

Consider although—like trying to whistle with a mouth full of             Saltines

We only know what we know
We only see what we see

                                  *
I ask the space to persist after the hyphen that separates
Birth from death, to leave the parenthesis like a gap tooth

Then to no one in particular, I say: What age is not a tender                 age?

                                  *

This hapless haptic misses her Blackberry
Such tender buttons, were they not?
The tiny Underwood slick inside her pocket

                                  *

I ask the lifeguard not to hang the purple flag
For jellyfish and sting rays and the floating terror

Imagine if that were your name!

Also answers to: bluebottle, Physalia physalis, man-of-war


                                  *
Consider except—Luminara of a word—bag of sand with a light            inside

Synonym for human perhaps?

                                  *
I am not opposed to the idea of being lost—
like the red balloon, Mylar with a silver underside—
buoyed along these stubby waves


Consider forever—which is a trick command

A seagull tugs the string of the beached balloon
You see it more clearly now: a webbed design, the visage of                     Spiderman

                                  *

When the rain comes, it is warm kisses, little white beads

Grown-ups stick their tongues out like children do
It’s not over till it’s over—and then, too soon
 

Memoir

Orwell says somewhere that no one ever writes the real story of their life.
The real story of a life is the story of its humiliations.
If I wrote that story now—
radioactive to the end of time—
people, I swear, your eyes would fall out, you couldn’t peel
the gloves fast enough
from your hands scorched by the firestorms of that shame.
Your poor hands. Your poor eyes
to see me weeping in my room
or boring the tall blonde to death.
Once I accused the innocent.
Once I bowed and prayed to the guilty.
I still wince at what I once said to the devastated widow.
And one October afternoon, under a locust tree
whose blackened pods were falling and making
illuminating patterns on the pathway,
I was seized by joy,
and someone saw me there,
and that was the worst of all,
lacerating and unforgettable.

When I Hated My Body

The elders gathered from the cornices of the island's arms and we had nothing to say. Even hedge funds with the power to hoover it up and offer it back like tightly packed cigarettes were silent. 

When you were a child, your eyelashes were so long.
We used to call you pilik mata.

I almost posted this on "social media"

You eat like you are being chased.

You who are living. What is your responsibility?

Illuminated light and

holding the hymnal with your boyfriend, 

I wanted the poems to breathe prettily, 

to be ecstatic and extroverted citizens.