"[P]oetry makes nothing happen: it survives, / [...] a way of happening, a mouth." -W. H. Auden

Sunday, November 21, 2010

Featured Artist: Emilia Phillips

Photo by Patrick Scott
Vickers, 2010
Emilia Phillips is a young poet you should know. She is my second "featured artist" (the first was photographer Meghan Rand), and with her permission I have selected three of her poems to reprint here as an introduction to her work. Her poetry is evidence that she is finely attuned to the intricacies of individual thought and feeling and to the complexities of human relationships. She is a maker of beautiful phrases, a discerning teller of small but powerful stories, a writer who at the end of her poems leaves the reader in a state of meditation. It is a testament to her abilities that perhaps her finest poem is quite a long one--"Honeymoon Hiking," the last poem in my selection below.

Emilia is the current Lead Associate Editor at Blackbird and she is a student in the MFA program at Virginia Commonwealth University. She received a BA in English at the University of Tennessee at Chattanooga. Her poetry has appeared in 42opus, The Adirondack Review, Asheville Poetry Review, Cutthroat, Poetry Miscellany, Sixth Finch, Unsaid Magazine, and elsewhere. She was named the 2009 Discovery Poet by Cutthroat. Her chapbook of poems, Strange Meeting, was published by Eureka Press in March, 2010. Her chapbook can be purchased by contacting Eureka Press at eurekapress@gmail.com.

All poems reprinted by permission of the author.

Creation Myth*

for Bill Root

I wouldn’t drink from the creek next to my house
that runs like a vein of old blood
to the Tennessee. Somewhere in Kentucky,
a poet is leading his congregation
in a service for the Church
of Elkhorn, but there’s no god,
just a low mist standing in for the Holy Ghost,
just kayaks and wet suits on Sundays, and the day’s
collect taken from Byron or Shelley. I ought to be
thy Adam, the creature says to Frankenstein,
but the creature was never as pretty as the Adam
on the walls of the Church of the Holy Trinity
in Hrastovlje where a fault line waits beneath
its stone, waiting to open the earth like a bloom.
As a child, my grandfather ate dandelion
sandwiches, just weeds placed between Wonder
bread, when there was nothing else. I sat in chapel,
as a child at an Episcopal school, watching the rain, wanting
the school to flood until we were stuck there living
off of communion crackers and paddling the halls
in canoes made of church pews. Even now,
as I sit on the bank of the creek, I root my feet
into the cool sludge and mud and touch
the healed rib that was broken years ago.

*originally appeared in Asheville Poetry Review; reprinted from Strange Meeting



The technician, in training,
pulls a blade through a blue bar
of soap, carving to the size
of a bullet, then the fine
etching—the exact angle
of a lingual ridge, the precise
contour of a right maxillary
cuspid’s cingulum. To know
human anatomy one must
recreate it, little by little:
porcelain tooth, glass
eye, artificial heart.


When the blue tray arrives in the lab
bloody, craters of teeth gummed up
with a patient’s breakfast of Total, eggs
over easy, he begins sterilizing, cleaning,
spraying COE on the impression
as his father, the doctor, comes in
saying the patient is HIV positive.

Before lunch, wash your hands several
times or wear an extra pair of gloves if 
it’ll make you feel better, he says and sling-
shots his glove into the biohazard bin
as one of the guys on finishing turns
the radio up and the blood thins
in the water going down the drain.


As a child, he never wanted to lose
his teeth, so his older sister used to pull
them because she said it was gross
when one fell from his bottom row
like a collapsing thumb puppet. She forced
him into the bathroom after school, locked door,
a paper towel printed with flowers and ribbon
in her hand, stomped on his toe so he’d open
his mouth to yell. That’s when she snagged
the tooth, the root giving way like loose
thread from a school shirt his mother let out
because he was getting so big now, but he cried,
his tongue in the tender gap until sleep, until the next
morning, under his pillow, he found money
that smelled of his father’s leather wallet.


The tech hands the impression off
to the modelers to begin their recreation
of what a human mouth should look like,
and he sneaks into the office, peeks
into the room where the patient waits,
easing out of the gas. She raises her head,
her thin neck strung with a bib painted
brown with blood, and she smiles. Her teeth,
what’s left of them: black, soft, jagged.

*reprinted from Strange Meeting

Honeymoon Hiking*

St. John, USVI

We’ve seen the donkeys, their white
brutish heads through our rented Jeep

window, snuffling for Reese’s Pieces
in the door handle, and the goats

that stand in the middle of undular
mountain roads, billies knocking

heads, sound like clapped stones,
or steel striking flint. We saw Carnival in Cruz

Bay: torches, masquerading women,
pasty stands, and spits of pig, lobsters laid

whole on the grill, red shells scarring with flame,
and now we go for the Taino’s

petroglyphs, only two miles down
the Reef Bay trail. A steep gully, path laced

with darting lizards, their brown bodies blending
with leaves. My feet in sandals, cinched

tight—I didn’t expect hiking on my honeymoon.
No boots in my bag, or awkward ankle

brace, Velcro and laces, holding
my gait together unsexily. Sweating,

short of breath, we climb over roots, rocks.
My ankle turns, once and then again,

pull of old surgery scars, ache of two screws
in my left heel, steel heads visible beneath

skin. We find the dry waterfall, the pool
that stays the same depth all year through

rainy season and drought. Mosquitoes feast
on us, their buzzing burrowing in our ears.

The carvings rim the pool,
reflect off the still green, reflect on the Tainos’

belief in duplicity, parallel worlds, earth
and sky, gully and mountain. Unseen birds

open their throats. My ankle swells to the size
of breadfruit and I sit on the rocks

near empty Park Service cages, bars
gone rusty, metal skeletons spurred

with the waterfall’s mineral deposits. A sign that reads:
Please do not touch, feed, or release this animal.  I swat

a mosquito, a splatter of blood. Two nights before,
drunk on dark rum

housekeeping left in the ice bucket and stoned
on the green bought off the shuttle driver,

Roger (who pronounces his name more
Like Rah-juh, so we kept singing songs

In a fake accent, lyrics like “Rah-juh, the coolest fuck-uh
on this whole island”), my husband cut his foot wide open

on shell or dry coral. He didn’t notice.
It was dark, he couldn’t feel pain—

blood soaking into the white
sand, puddling on the tile of our room floor

when he went in for the Cruzan. Three donkeys
slept underneath seagrapes that lined

the beach. I went in when my husband
passed out on an Adirondack

chair. I nearly slipped on the blood, my heart opening
to a faster pumping, and ran outside

to wake him. One donkey raised his head,
lowered again, hot breath stirring

sand. I helped my husband in to see the blood—
Where was it from? But, as he walked, stumbled

ahead of me to the bathroom for tissue, his foot,
his heel, left a new trail.

I made him recline on the bed,
Though he asked if he was back on the boat

to Virgin Gorda, and I poured the rest
of the rum into the gully of muscle on his sole,

jagged skin, gone white. We hardly slept
that night, his nerves slowly growing

resonant to the pain, and me, unable
to sleep with the birds that call all

night—voices like warnings,
voices mating in song.

*reprinted from Strange Meeting

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