Published on Academy of American Poets (

For It Felt Like Power

          They’d only done what all along they’d come
intending to do. So they lay untouched by regret,
after. The combined light and shadow of passing
cars stutter-shifted across the walls the way,
in summer,
                the night moths used to, softly
sandbagging the river of dream against dream’s
return…Listen, it’s not like I don’t get it about
suffering being relative—I get it. Not so much
the traces of ice on the surface of four days’
worth of rainwater in a stone urn, for example,
but how, past the ice,
                                  through the water beneath it,
you can see the leaves—sycamore—where they fell
unnoticed. Now they look suspended, like heroes
inside the myth heroes seem bent on making
from the myth of themselves; or like sunlight, in fog.


Copyright © 2017 by Carl Phillips. Originally published in Poem-a-Day on December 4, 2017, by the Academy of American Poets.

About this Poem

“I suppose I’m ultimately trying to say something about the pointlessness of expending energy on what can’t be changed, because it’s too late. That wasn’t what I planned on writing about, but I happened to come upon some ginkgo leaves beautifully suspended in ice and began thinking of frozen heroes—who can say why that happens?”
—Carl Phillips


Carl Phillips

Carl Phillips is the author of several books including Pale Colors in a Tall Field (Farrar, Straus and Giroux, 2020) .He is Professor of English at Washington University in St. Louis. 

Date Published: 2017-12-04

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