On Why I Cannot Promise
Once, to ring the base of a tree's trunkmeant protection; if the tree died,or failed to flourish as hoped for, then the ring had been somehownot perfect, or the stonesweren't the right ones; either way, protection got confusedwith invitation, and what was far,what we'd hoped to keep far, came close, settled in: not love, nevermind what it felt like, and notregret, which I still can't believe in — I've tried — and not shame,which I long ago lostsight of, though I remember waving to it, as it wavedback to me, its slowwave back, for hadn't the two of us, for a good while, been pretty muchunstoppable, even if it hurt inside,isn't that where hurt belongs, why should yoube different, a question Istill don't get, to be honest. Say the part about fear when you're ready to, if you'reever ready to, you don't have to,they used to say, with that flexibility that distinguishesthe second-tier godsfrom the first tier. I couldn't think, and then I could think, but as whenthere's only starshine for a lightto go by, does that count as thinking: we step away, we canhear them still rattling — dead leaves —though we hear from afar.
First published in Michigan Quarterly Review 62.1, Winter 2023
Copyright © 2023 by Carl Phillips.
All rights reserved.
Reproduced by Poetry Daily with permission.
Michigan Quarterly Review is an interdisciplinary and international literary journal, combining distinctive voices in poetry, fiction, and nonfiction, as well as works in translation. Our work extends online as well, where we publish cultural commentary alongside reviews and interviews with writers, artists, and cultural figures around the world. The flagship literary journal of the University of Michigan, our magazine embraces creative urgency and cultural relevance, aiming to challenge conventions and address long-overdue conversations. As we continue to promote an expansive and inclusive vision, we seek work from established and emerging writers with diverse aesthetics and experiences.
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