Published on Academy of American Poets (https://poets.org)


Civilization

There's an art
   to everything. How
the rain means
   April and an ongoingness like
   that of song until at last

it ends. A centuries-old
   set of silver handbells that
once an altar boy swung,
   processing...You're the same
   wilderness you've always

been, slashing through briars,
   the bracken
of your invasive
   self. So he said,
   in a dream. But

the rest of it—all the rest—
   was waking: more often
than not, to the next
   extravagance. Two blackamoor
   statues, each mirroring

the other, each hoisting
   forever upward his burden of
hand-painted, carved-by-hand
   peacock feathers. Don't
   you know it, don't you know

I love you, he said. He was
   shaking. He said:
I love you. There's an art
   to everything. What I've
   done with this life,

what I'd meant not to do,
 or would have meant, maybe, had I
understood, though I have
 no regrets. Not the broken but
 still-flowering dogwood. Not

the honey locust, either. Not even
   the ghost walnut with its
non-branches whose
   every shadow is memory,
   memory...As he said to me

once, That's all garbage
   down the river, now. Turning,
but as the utterly lost—
   because addicted—do:
   resigned all over again. It

only looked, it—
   It must only look
like leaving. There's an art
   to everything. Even
   turning away. How

eventually even hunger
   can become a space
to live in. How they made
   out of shamelessness something
   beautiful, for as long as they could.

Credit


Copyright © 2011 by Carl Phillips. Reprinted from Double Shadow with the permission of Farrar, Straus and Giroux.

Author


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: 2011-01-01

Source URL: https://poets.org/poem/civilization