Carl Phillips
Featured Writer
For this Soap Bubble Set feature, Carl Phillips has curated a series of eight poems that span his career. These poems, from X to Of the Shining Underlife, appear in chronological order, providing a retrospective overview of the scope of Phillips’ vision and voice.



Several hours past that 

of knife and fork


laid across one another 

to say done, X

is still for the loose 

stitch of beginners,

the newlywed 

grinding next door

that says no one 

but you, the pucker

of lips only, not yet 

the wounds those lips

may be drawn to. X, 

as in variable,

anyone’s body, any set 

of conditions, your

body scaling whatever 

fence of chain-metal Xs

desire throws up, what 

your spreadeagled limbs

suggest, falling, and 

now, after. X, not

just for where in my 

life you’ve landed,

but here too, where 

your ass begins its

half-shy, half-weary 

dividing, where I

sometimes lay my head 

like a flower, and

think I mean something 

by it. X is all I keep

meaning to cross out.  



As from a Quiver of Arrows

What do we do with the body, do we 

burn it, do we set it in dirt or in 

stone, do we wrap it in balm, honey, 

oil, and then gauze and tip it onto 

and trust it to a raft and to water? 


What will happen to the memory of his 

body, if one of us doesn’t hurry now 

and write it down fast? Will it be 

salt or late light that it melts like? 

Floss, rubber gloves, a chewed cap 


to a pen elsewhere – how are we to 

regard his effects, do we throw them 

or use them away, do we say they are 

relics and so treat them like relics? 

Does his soiled linen count? If so, 


Would we be wrong then, to wash it? 

There are no instructions whether it 

should go to where are those with no 

linen, or whether by night we should 

memorially wear it ourselves, by day 


reflect upon it folded, shelved, empty. 

Here, on the floor behind his bed is 

a bent photo – why? Were the two of  

them lovers? Does it mean, where we 

found it, that he forgot it or lost it 


or intended a safekeeping? Should we 

attempt to make contact? What if this 

other man too is dead? Or alive, but 

doesn’t want to remember, is human? 

Is it okay to be human, and fall away 


from oblation and memory, if we forget, 

and can’t sometimes help it and sometimes 

it is all that we want? How long, in 

dawns or new cocks, does that take? 

What if it is rest and nothing else that 


we want? Is it a findable thing, small? 

In what hole is it hidden? Is it, maybe, 

a country? Will a guide be required who 

will say to us how? Do we fly? Do we 

swim? What will I do now, with my hands? 



Return to the Land of the Golden Apples

Blue wash. The winged horses look 

like horses – artless, free 

of connotation. They hide

just now their wings, 

or they forget, or do not 

think to make

much more of a gift 

for flight than 

of the water viewable

behind them – a sea, 

a lake – 

which they ignore, pulling

at the record-of-where-a-wind-was, 

the now-resist-now-don’t, 

and other flowers 


whose growth has even  

outstripped the grass, the colors 

wind as far as the ruined tower, up 


even to the room that 

crowns it, over the half moss, half 

ledge of window, glassless, 


into the room, which is small, 

not empty: the body, 

and a mirror. Inside 


the mirror, the body 

turning, stopping 

– sometimes the way, in 


sudden shadow, will any 

animal; sometimes, 

as the hero stops 


in the gathering light of reputation 

he soon must recognize 

is his own. The body 


inside the mirror, turning, 

singing I am the one who forces, 

I am the one who stays 


to watch,  

I am the grit gone somehow 

shine, the blow, 


the forced thing, opening 

– Singing inside the mirror, 

to no one, to 


itself, the body folding, and 

unfolding – as if 

map, then shroud – its song. 



After the Afterlife 


Bones, for sure. Feathers almost the white 

of an eagle’s undershaftings in its first year. 

Any wind, that stirs. Punishment in death 

as it is in trembling: how it lifts, descends, 

though – like having meant to be kind yet 

failing anyway – it can do no good. After 

the afterlife, there’s an afterlife. A stand of 

cottonwood trees getting ready all over again, 

because it’s spring, to release their seeds that 

only look like cotton; they’re not cotton, at all. 

What we lose, without thinking to; what we 

give, for free. Distinctions that, if they even 

did before, now don’t matter. Any shadows 

that break break randomly across these waters. 



Gold Leaf 


To life, without ever asking what animal exactly it once belonged to, 

the socketed helmet that what’s left of the skull equals 

up to your face, to hold it there, mask-like, to look through it until 

looking through means looking back, back through the skull, 

into the self that is partly the animal you’ve always wanted to be, 

that – depending – fear has prevented or rescued you from becoming, 

to know utterly what you’ll never be, to understand in doing so 

what you are, and say no to it, not to who you are, to say no to despair. 



Overheard, Under a Dark Enchantment 


Compassion first, we were told – and it that won’t work, 

compassion’s shadow, pity, to smooth what’s rough. 

                                                                                                                   We find 

just holding the victim’s hand, lately, has been exactly enough. 



And If I Fall 


There’s this cathedral in my head I keep 

making from cricket song and 

dying but rogue-in-spirit, still, 

bamboo. Not making. I keep 

imagining it, as if that were the same 

thing as making, and as if making might 

bring it back, somehow, the real 

cathedral. In anger, as in desire, it was 

everything, that cathedral. As if my body 

itself cathedral. I conduct my body 

with a cathedral’s steadiness, I 

try to. I cathedral. In desire. In anger. 

Light enters a cathedral the way persuasion fills a body. 

Light enters a cathedral, the way persuasion fills a body. 



Of the Shining Underlife 


Above me, the branches toss toward and away from each other 

the way privacy does with what ends up 

showing, despite ourselves, of 

who we are, inside. 



       Then they’re branches again – hickory, I think. 



– It’s not too late, then.