Carl Phillips, "Civilization"

As the weeks blend into months and my time with a view onto a succession of gingerbread-like houses fades, a poem called "Civilization" by Carl Phillips has grabbed my attention. The idea of civilization is interesting to me because it is concerned with, at the most basic level, human development, and running into buildings constantly out-dating the founding of the U.S., I find myself in a kind of wonder at how we've made it from cave to hut to...gingerbread-like houses over time. And in Phillips's poem, its development is what I find most interesting.

Beginning with the phrase, "there's an art to everything," and allowing this phrase to bind the poem's multiple subjects, at first outside of the speaker but changing to the speaker him or herself before ending again at a distance, the progression from introduction to conclusion left me asking How far have I traveled in this poem? Rereading reveals that the reader moves a very large distance, from a thought about what the month of April means to a relationship to...not gingerbread-like houses, but a reflection on romantic relationship, which is close enough.

The poem is below, but follow this link in order to view it with its proper formatting.

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
. 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.

image source


Sarah | May 22, 2011 at 8:41 PM

oh, my stars--that's a gorgeous poem. thanks for posting.

Post a Comment