On Why I Cannot Promise

Carl Phillips

            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.

Feature Date


Selected By

Share This Poem

Print This Poem

Photo of Carl Phillips
Reston Allen

Carl Phillips is the author of Then the War: And Selected Poems 2007-2020, which won the Pulitzer Prize. His new book of poems, Scattered Snows, to the North, will be published by Farrar, Straus & Giroux next summer.

Cover of Michigan Quarterly Review 62.1, Winter 2023

62.1, Winter 2023

Ann Arbor, Michigan

University of Michigan

Khaled Mattawa

Poetry Editor
Constanza Contreras

Managing Editor
H.R. Webster

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.

Twice a year, we curate an array of perspectives on a single theme. Past special issues have included writing on the Flint Water Crisis, the Great Lakes, Greece, China, and Caregiving.

Poetry Daily Depends on You

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