Published on Academy of American Poets (

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

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—


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.


Copyright © 2020 by Emilia Phillips. Originally published in Poem-a-Day on March 11, 2020 by the Academy of American Poets.

About this Poem

“This poem came out of an experiment: could I turn self-deprecation into self-celebration? As someone who suffers from anxiety, I used to spend hours fretting over tiny interactions, what I should or shouldn't have said, how I appeared to someone else. Now, I think I've been able to reframe these reflections in tenderness—I can love my most imperfect self.”
—Emilia Phillips


Emilia Phillips

Emilia Phillips is the author of Groundspeed (University of Akron Press, 2016).

Date Published: 2020-03-11

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