Barbarian

Carl Phillips

—You know that moment when you’ve left someone,
even knowing you could stay with him and it could work,
and there’s no one else, nothing like that, still you don’t
go back, is that what’s meant by free will, or is that
fate—what it’s been,
all along? Sometimes—even here,
in what I hope is the early part, still, of the second half
of my statistical life, where I’ve figured out how to be
mostly alone, left alone, as in that’s how I want it—it’s               as if I’ve let myself down, which only has to mean
I’ve expected too much of myself—“of,” not “for”; about
that much, I think I’m still quite clear. Likewise,
like being told to write a love poem without images or
maybe two exceptions
can seem the only way I’ve known how to love a person,
but that makes it sound like a bad thing. That
can’t be right … At this time of year, the best light arrives
just before nightfall. It’s when the trees seem most               what they’ve always been: trees not questioning
their necessarily unpersuadable selves, trees beneath
which, after storms especially, I find the occasional
downed bird, dead or, more difficult, still dying. Who can
say what it counts for, but I believe
not nothing. That I’ve rested my head
on the ground beside it. That in
what was left of the light I sang to it. Hush now.
You’re not the first piece of gentleness to have crossed this hand.

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Carl Phillips’s most recent book of poems is Wild Is the Wind (Farrar, Straus & Giroux, 2018).

West Branch

Fall 2018

Lewisburg, Pennsylvania

Stadler Center for Poetry
Bucknell University

Editor 
G. C. Waldrep

Managing Editor
Andrew Ciotola

West Branch is a thrice annual magazine of poetry, fiction, essays, and reviews, founded in 1977 and housed at the Stadler Center for Poetry at Bucknell University.

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