Gold Leaf

Carl Phillips

To lift, 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.

Feature Date


Selected By

Share This Poem

Print This Poem

Carl  Phillips

Carl Phillips is the author of thirteen previous books of poetry, including Reconnaissance, winner of the PEN Poetry Award and the Lambda Literary Award, and Double Shadow, winner of the Los Angeles Times Book Prize. He teaches at Washington University in St. Louis. (Author photo by Reston Allen)

Wild Is the Wind

New York, New York

In Wild Is the Wind, named after the jazz standard, Carl Phillips reflects on instability—in love, especially, and in life, more generally—and asks how “to say no to despair.” How do we, instead, take the greatest risk, that of believing in what offers no guarantee? Phillips examines the past as history versus the past as memory as well as the past’s capacity both to teach and to mislead us—to make us hesitate in the face of love, given the loss and damage that are, often enough, love’s fallout. Wedding the philosophical, meditative, and lyric modes, these poems mark a new stage in the work of Carl Phillips, “one of our major poets, one who continues to find a way to define the ways we experience and imagine our language” (Keith Taylor, The Southern Review).

“[Wild is the Wind is] as haunting and contemplative as the torch song for which the collection is named . . . [Phillips] startles readers afresh with his talent for transcendent metaphor leavened by rueful humor . . . Skillfully balancing philosophical discourse and linguistic pleasure, Phillips’s much-admired capacity for nimble syntax unfurls like a sail, ‘each time, more surely.’”
Publisher’s Weekly

Poetry Daily Depends on You

With your support, we make reading the best contemporary poetry a treasured daily experience. Consider a contribution today.