The Way One Animal Trusts Another

- 1959-

              Somewhere between what it feels like, to be at
one with the sea, and to understand the sea as
mere context for the boat whose engine refuses
finally to turn over: yeah, I know the place—
stumbled into it myself, once; twice, almost.  All
around and in between the two trees that
grow there, tree of compassion and—much taller—
tree of pity, its bark more bronze, the snow
              settled as if an openness of any kind meant, as well,
a woundedness that, by filling it, the snow
might heal…You know what I think? I think if we’re
lost, you should know exactly where, by now; I’ve
watched you stare long and hard enough at the map
already…I’m beginning to think I may never
not be undecided, about all sorts of things: whether
snow really does resemble the broken laughter
              of the long-abandoned when what left comes back
big-time; whether gratitude’s just a haunted
space like any other.  This place sounds daily
more like a theater of war, each time I listen to it—
loss, surprise, victory, being only three of the countless
fates, if you want to call them that, that we don’t
so much live with, it seems, as live for now among.  If as
close as we’re ever likely to get, you and I, is this—this close—

More by Carl Phillips

Passing

When the Famous Black Poet speaks,
I understand

that his is the same unnervingly slow 
rambling method of getting from A to B
that I hated in my father,
my father who always told me
don't shuffle.

The Famous Black Poet is
speaking of the dark river in the mind
that runs thick with the heroes of color,
Jackie R., Bessie, Billie, Mr. Paige, anyone
who knew how to sing or when to run. 
I think of my grandmother, said
to have dropped dead from the evil eye,
of my lesbian aunt who saw cancer and
a generally difficult future headed her way
in the still water
of her brother's commode.
I think of voodoo in the bottoms of soup-cans,
and I want to tell the poet that the blues
is not my name, that Alabama
is something I cannot use
in my business.

He is so like my father,
I don't ask the Famous Black Poet,
afterwards,
to remove his shoes,
knowing the inexplicable black
and pink I will find there, a cut 
gone wrong in five places.
I don't ask him to remove
his pants, since that too
is known, what has never known
a blade, all the spaces between,
where we differ .  .  .

I have spent years tugging
between my legs,
and proved nothing, really.
I wake to the sheets I kicked aside,
and examine where they've failed to mend
their own creases, resembling some silken
obstruction, something pulled
from my father's chest, a bad heart,
a lung,

the lung of the Famous Black Poet
saying nothing I want to understand. 

Leda, After the Swan

Perhaps,
in the exaggerated grace
of his weight
settling,

the wings
raised, held in
strike-or-embrace
position,

I recognized
something more
than swan, I can't say.

There was just
this barely defined
shoulder, whose feathers
came away in my hands,

and the bit of world
left beyond it, coming down

to the heat-crippled field,

ravens the precise color of
sorrow in good light, neither
black nor blue, like fallen
stitches upon it,

and the hour forever,
it seemed, half-stepping
its way elsewhere--

then
everything, I
remember, began
happening more quickly.

Aubade: Some Peaches, After Storm

So that each
is its own, now—each has fallen, blond stillness.
Closer, above them,
the damselflies pass as they would over water, 
if the fruit were water,
or as bees would, if they weren't
somewhere else, had the fruit found
already a point more steep
in rot, as soon it must, if
none shall lift it from the grass whose damp only 
softens further those parts where flesh
goes soft.

There are those
whom no amount of patience looks likely
to improve ever, I always said, meaning
gift is random, 
assigned here, 
here withheld—almost always
correctly
as it's turned out: how your hands clear
easily the wreckage;
how you stand—like a building for a time condemned,
then deemed historic. Yes. You
will be saved.

Related Poems

Hurricane Song

Lady, won’t you wait
out the hurricane

all night at my place—
we’ll take cover like

the lamps & I’ll
let you oil

my scalp. Please, I needs
a good woman’s hands

caught in my hair, turning
my knots to butter.

All night we’ll churn.
Dawn

will lean in too soon—
you’ll leave out into

the wet world, winded
& alone, knowing

the me only
midnight sees.