As water dripping for years lathes stone,
so words on a mouth, a tongue. Every year I'm made
more suitable for the poem, as the flooded valley
for the flood; the dove, the crumb.
If you call
the brook river, one terrain erodes & you shovel
in another. I hear languages I don't
speak like underground rivers above
which I stand, their distant
worming away my footing in the world. Let us
avoid the theories one language yields
more philosophers than another—or better
kissers for the way a speaker embraces an o
like a longneck
bottle or rolls rs like coins between their finger
& thumb just before they're spent. Instead let's say that
in speaking we build a temporary world
over which we roam nomadic, that tent makes a tent
shape—the pole pitched
& fabric draped in the tongue's
descent. Because our spines are not
made of bone but breath, which is all we have
to give to the earth, if you look into a word you'll see a shadow
of a self
from the wind
and the rain
and the sun.
Mornings I wake to one place, and at dusk
another. There are many kinds
of sleep. As a child I believed
sleeping with one's eyes
open was the world
according to John. I called
a ghost, who.
A scarecrow, that.
I wake standing at the window
telling you I don't see
the fire in the street. I wake
standing in red light
as emergency workers carve a woman
out of steel
horseshoed around the sugar
maple. Sometimes I half
expect to peel a clementine
& find nothing inside.
My mother calls to say
my grandmother just walked down
the hall. My grandmother,
dead for years. I do not know
whether to trust my mother
or the ghost's side of the story.
All prophets perform
of context. As does light.
As do birds in the morning.
Emilia Phillips is the author of Signaletics (University of Akron Press, 2013) and three chapbooks including Bestiary of Gall (Sundress Publications, 2013) and Beneath the Ice Fish Like Souls Look Alike (Bull City Press, forthcoming in 2014). Her poetry appears in Agni, The Kenyon Review, Narrative, Poetry Magazine, and elsewhere. She’s the recipient of the 2012 Poetry Prize from The Journal, 2nd Place in Narrative’s 2012 30 Below Contest, and fellowships from Bread Loaf Writers’ Conference, U.S. Poets in Mexico, and Vermont Studio Center. She is the 2013–2014 Emerging Writer Lecturer at Gettysburg College, the prose editor for 32 Poems, and a staff member at the Sewanee Writers’ Conference.