Now in Our Most Ordinary Voices
By Carl Phillips
There's a kind of shadowland that one body makes, entering
another; and there's a shadowland the body contains always
within itself, without resolution...as mystery a little more
often, perhaps, should be... For a moment, somewhere
between the two, I can see myself as I begin to think
you must see me: a stranger to helplessness,
spouting things like To know is to live flayed, and Ambition
means turning the flesh repeatedly back -- toward the whip,
not away, I can still hear myself saying that, believing it --
now it all sounds wrong...
Look at the trees: willows, mostly --
They move in that way willows move -- as if wanting to
pace themselves, slow, impossibly, in a building wind, as if
the wind were fate, and the trees' response one that could
maybe make a difference. Frankly, it's the inevitability part
that I most adore, still, in the inevitable. It makes of blame
an irrelevance. We'll take up once more the two positions that --
favoring depth over range -- we've mastered, finally: this time it's
your turn to be the bonfire; I'll be the distance through which
the bonfire, unspecifiable, could at first be any small point
of restlessness -- lit, contained --in a blackening field.
"The title of my poem suggests a resistance to what's deceptive or elaborate, but the poem opens with a conceit about sex that can't be true: How can sex be composed of landscape and shadow?" asks Phillips in this week's Poet's Choice. "This poem is very much about how we refuse to see ourselves clearly or sometimes can't, even as others fail to see us clearly, often because of the illusions we present to them as our true selves. To enact this dilemma, the poem constantly shuttles between moments of clarity (admitting error, seeing inevitability for what it is) and moments of creating illusion, turning willows into oracles, pretending that relationships are in fact a game to be mastered. It's as if, by pretending long enough, we might believe it, and that will make it true -- which is perhaps this poem's most troubling illusion of all." The poem is from Phillips's new book Speak Low.
I had a lovely day in Richmond with my family. We went to the Virginia Museum of Fine Arts, which is in the midst of renovations and will be closed soon, to see the largest collection of Faberge eggs outside Russia, plus the collection of English silver, a gallery of English country art, and the Impressionist gallery, which are just about the only things still open. Then we went to Cold Harbor, which is part of Richmond National Battlefield Park and which is commemorating the 145th anniversary of the battle there this weekend. There was a big Confederate encampment and a much smaller Union encampment, with artillery demonstrations, marching drills, and the opportunity to visit with soldiers -- well, reenactors -- talking about everything from what they ate to how their weapons worked.
We took the walking tour of the battlefield earthworks, then drove to the site of the battle of Totopotomoy Creek -- now the front yard of Rural Point Elementary School -- where an ancestor of apaulled's mother was injured fighting for the Union. After stopping at the creek and a couple of markers where the fighting took place, we drove back into Richmond to meet dementordelta for dinner at the fabulous India K'Raja restaurant. Then we got home just in time for Pushing Daisies, which I watched half-distracted by kids and cats, but any show that has Gina Torres and Robert Picardo in a neo-noir with references to Chinatown demands repeated rewatching anyway!
Both rifles and artillery were presented by the 26th North Carolina Infantry...
...who brought their Fife & Drum Corps, too.
The large North Carolina encampment...
...rather dwarfed the Union encampment. I suppose that's what happens so close to the Confederate capitol.
Only a few galleries remain open in the VMFA, which is in the midst of a massive renovation project with a grand reopening scheduled for next year.
The Faberge Eggs, one of the main draws, will be displayed through next weekend, then that gallery will close as well.
A forebear of my mother-in-law was wounded at Totopotomoy. These are the Confederate earthworks built around the creek.