Three Poems by Emilia Phillips




In the beginning there was no way to say

in the beginning.There was only the ah!

of those with lice and itches who were happystartled

by the seemingly miraculous

growth of their fingernails, underscored

in dirt. In the beginning

could only be mortared

together by someone who had felt water

running through their fingers in the grammar

of dying words. Death, like all children, grows bored of repetition.

And therefore, inventive: thorns

baked in a farmer’s simple loaf, an elegy written

prematurely so that it becomes a curse.

All language is anachronism, so why not

give the first woman sensible

shoes with laces with which to walk

through the garden.


Birth control. In the beginning of understanding

beginnings, there were no prepositions

so that whatever was in

whatever else was whatever else.

In this way, the water was

fish. The sky birds. Even some eyes

were the sun

until they beetled up. There was never one

man to name the animals. Only a man

to name the man to name

the animals. Even now I speak with his

vestigial tongue.



* * *





And so began the formality

of my embarrassment. The nightly


polishing of the borrowed brass

buttons that open & close


my heart like a soldier’s

jacket. In time, I learned


how to tie the bluesilk

ampersand (under, over, & in)


at my throat, just below the absence

where a crabapple would have


bobbed if I had swallowed

one it in the womb. Now


I wear white gloves when attending

to my worry’s tripleting:


what if what          if what if—

I am made of a man who took himself


too seriously, whose naked chest

was an advertisement


for undershirts, & of a woman

who made him a season,


only to despise his storms.

If I had been a boy, my name


would have been Alexander.

(If I had been a boy, my father would’ve excused my behavior.)


Sometimes I fool myself

into believing my eyelids crash


like cymbals when I refuse to

look dead in the mirror, silkblue


in the seemly dawn. Sometimes

I imagine myself with a third leg, pantomimed


with the butt of a rifle, so I can dance

properly in time to the murmured 3/4.



* * *





In a time before wars

there were wars


elsewhere, just

as there were

rotting mulberries


because there

were too many

& not enough


birds because the wars

we needed & the wars

were boredoms


which have never favored

speechless others


or the diplomacy

of distance, a borderless


country in which


are quickchanged

currency. There


is no such thing

as allegory,


not when men make

of their hands calluses.



* * *


Emilia Phillips (she/her/hers) is the author of three poetry collections from the University of Akron Press, most recently Empty Clip (2018), and four chapbooks, including Hemlock (Diode Editions, 2019). Winner of a 2019 Pushcart Prize, Phillips’s poems, lyric memoirs, and poetry reviews appear widely in literary publications including Agni, American Poetry Review, Gulf Coast, The Kenyon Review, New England Review, The New York Times, Ploughshares,Poetry, and elsewhere. She’s an assistant professor in the MFA Writing Program and the Department of English at the University of North Carolina at Greensboro.

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