Thursday Mar 30

PhillipsEmilia Emilia Phillips is the Levis Fellow for the Coordination of the Levis Reading Prize at Virginia Commonwealth University and the associate editor emeritus of Blackbird. Her poetry appears in or is forthcoming from Beloit Poetry Journal, Copper Nickel, Gulf Coast, Indiana Review, and elsewhere. She lives in Richmond, Virginia.

Latent Print

Besmeared upon the plate, gelatin
cooked to harden with chrome alum,
cooled & then the layer of emulsion
poured center & tilted to cover
the surface entire. For two days,
Eakins frames the plates. The model
by the window fingers the sash
of her robe. Unnamed
in the photo, she sprawls, deadweight
in his arms, nude, hard shadows
beveling her curves. She seems
helpless: fallen head, neck exposed.
If you’re ever kidnapped, bite
the car door, my father said one Sunday
after the divorce, Crown Vic en route
to his office. Teeth marks. I can find you
that way. Inside he sat me down & held
each of my fingers to an ink
pad, smothering ridges in black,
& then from left to right, prints
he rolled on a white card. These are yours—
they can’t change. In his portrait
carrying a woman, Eakins too is naked,
shoulders slung back. Behind him
an empty chair, three easels. Shuttered
by a student, the  camera sears image
on dry-plate. As I stare
the woman grows heavier
& heavier in his arms. A lover maybe,
paid girl. Never let go, he will never.
I will find you. My father points to
the scans on the IBM. Whorl. Loop.
Whorl, whorl,     whorl.

The Ear: General Form & Separation
of the Internal Windings

Even in the lock a spring is quivering
a note   stunned by the unfit precision
of my mother’s bobby pin
& it must be
my mother’s for she’s what’s held
& kept in its place
& what isn’t       (How many times she’s left
the doors unlocked when she was  home…)
She breaks
the pin in the lock—            She’s lost
her keys again   & the color on her lips…
Once a man came at sunrise into the kitchen
for a cup of coffee with cream
& extra sugar     She heaved the cast iron
skillet over her head       & the man’s
nose like a walnut cracked—
congealed grease
wobbled & slid from the pan & smacked
the linoleum
& my legs
I was young
a baby     My mother stayed
up the whole night…
to the police     radio
to my father.
This is Badge 490…
the hot pursuits he was in
The dispatcher
told my mother to get off the air
when she called in the intruder
Kenny, come home.

The morning after my mother breaks into her own
home    two joggers find a hen
on the wrought-iron fence of the cemetery
where her family is   buried
every last one except me—         dried blood
at the hen’s throat a fruit knife opened     to silence
its terror     like rust eating
a hole
Day Is Done.
It’s nothing

my husband says when I wake him thinking    I hear
the floors creak downstairs,
or a flower pot broken for the missing key.
They were all black
the old police geldings
on the farm my father used
to look after
whenever the owner
took his wife
on trips to unswimable waters
cold & turbidly beautiful.
I stood on a pine stump
a horse named Robert chewed
& held the salt
lick for him as long
as his tongue would slug
its length. One day
a white truck with silver trailer
arrived while my father
was off at the feed store
& its driver said he had to take
the horses to town
for a funeral.
I watched from the stump
as the man led one
by one the six geldings
muzzled grey
up the ramp & into the trailer.
I watched too
as he shut the gate,
& watched the truck stall
before it hawed away.
She has to crawl
in through the window when the lock jams
& her purse doesn’t jingle
with keys settled
in the bottom   She takes off her navy pumps
& lets them fall
A porch nail catches
her hose
as she lifts her leg    knee
to the ledge  Her hose snaps back
now     limp as a half-sloughed
snake skin
How could I know this?
My mother—states
away    on her porch in an irreconcilable
the streetlights buzzed out & maybe…
no   there’s rain       Ears & ears & ears
clot the catalogs of Bertillon—
owing to the many hollows
and ridges which furrow it   it’s the most important
means of identification in the human visage           If one
were to brush black ink
the ear & lay the subject down on a piece
of paper    it’s unmistakeable
as a fingerprint
My father wants to buy me an instrument
just one but any one
I want     as long
as I promise to play for at least three years
I pick the trumpet because it looks the most
confident in its own sound      without
all the extra keys    & reeds
just one
mouthpiece to slide in   & I could imagine
my breath blowing through it        the paths
I could see the pistons
shift the puzzle   change the tracks
I could taste
the metal of my own blood
There’s nothing there,
my husband says
when I say voices
are wraithing in
through the amplifier
when he holds
the guitar
like that.
He shifts in his seat
& the voices
into volume
tuning the strings
to a frequency
of a CB signal,
the local news,
or the stars—
Quiet, now.
I can almost hear
what they’re saying…
Even the men in the saddles believe their ears
are gold
as brittle & brilliant & malleable
They don’t hear the guns anymore
burning through their powder
They wear their hearts
under Kevlar    & the dead
what do they do?
What do they mean?
They’re waiting under the window
flush against the wall
setting off silent alarms
as they leave
in rafts made of the light
bones of birds
My mother in the morning after
wakes to her hand swollen
She wraps herself in gauze
She’s given up the name that is
my father’s
She says   Good morning
Who’s there?
She hears whispers in her ear  & the night’s echoes
at the break of day folding their tents like gypsies
& as silently stealing away.
Reading Joyce on US Flight 2309
Forgive the body
its inordinance: sweat, flush, & death
grip. Or an instinct ad nauseum
of late, desire. The 727 banks.
Ginger ale & down another
pill. Through the window, below,
the river not a river, navy stocking
sloughed & tossed. In the dark,
a forest can be mistaken for a body
of water. Your mask before others’
He maketh me & leadeth me beside
still waters. The captain has turned
off the fasten seatbelts sign.
You may move freely…

Behind you, encorona, the sun,
& I, looking up, saw a plane
insectile, without my glasses,
fly through your head
in one ear & out the other.
An illusion. The first love poems I knew
were prayers. What then of free fall’s
rash grace, wings sheared & released
into other trajectories? Dedalus winds
the alleys, gathered as wreckage
in the arms of a harlot.
It’s been so long since—the river
not a river through the thick
glass. A name. Tennessee, Liffey,
Lethe. I hold my cup
of ice against my neck, the stranger’s
hand next to me grazed
in the turbulence quaking.