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Karen Skolfield

Epiphenomenon

About this Poem 

“I know very little about philosophy, but I delved into it when I began writing this poem and considering our sleeping selves—how in sleep we roll over, we dream; sometimes we speak out loud, all without conscious thought. In philosophy, epiphenomenon refers to a mental world that runs parallel to the physical world; various philosophers have argued which world has control and whether free will exists. It was my pleasure to dip into these philosophers’ collective musings, and it was a chance to speak to the body, my body, lovingly, to console.”

—Karen Skolfield

Epiphenomenon

Karen Skolfield
I spend a long time considering pillowcases.
Which pillowcase does my head want for rest? 
A lace edge so that the cheek does not grow bored? 
 
All night the face turns on its pillow, 
bridging the day gone with its divination of tomorrow. 
The brain sleeps but the body twitches and kicks, 
 
lashes out, steals the sheets, twists the blankets 
into thick, furred knots. Thomas Huxley believed 
the mind’s shrill whistle contributed nothing 
 
to the locomotive body; Plato, that the mind 
knows great truths while the body lives in shadows.
What I know is how sleep releases the body 
 
from me telling it where to put its feet, its fingers, 
how the tongue should roll its Rs, when the teeth 
may bite or gnash. I give it my consideration 
 
of pillowcases, of lotions and textures it may like, 
or farther afield—an actual field—clover against 
the skin. The sound of insects rising as the sun sets, 
 
the head leaned back into a cradle of hands, 
how the head adores the hands though they 
are separated by so much and the jealousy of arms. 
 
Body, I will lay you down beside 
another body you have grown to love. 
I will bid you still in the moments before sleep 
 
and then I will hand you the keys to the house 
and let you spend the night plying all the locks. 
In the morning I will wash you with care 
 
and lead you around and treat you kindly 
and if there is sobbing it is not my sobbing 
and we will both pretend not to hear it.

Copyright @ 2014 by Karen Skolfield. Used with permission of the author. This poem appeared in Poem-a-Day on July 23, 2014.

collection

Classic Books of American Poetry

This collection of books showcases the masterpieces of American poetry that have influenced—or promise to influence—generations of poets. Take a look.

collection

Poets in Conversation

In this collection of conversations, poets talk with one another about what inspires them most about the art form.

collection

Poetry and Place

In this collection, we examine the significance of place in contemporary American poetry. Here you'll find a range of poems, commentary, and essays that revolve around what we mean by the idea of "home" or of "homelessness" resulting from travel or displacement. Some works deal with a specific time and location, while others focus on a more socially-constructed view of place through the lenses of pop culture and identity. In the end, we hope this collection both confirms and challenges your notion of place in American poetry.

For a more thorough exploration of our theme, check out W. T. Pfefferle's anthology Poets on Place: Essays & Tales from the Road.

Photo credit: Brian Palmer
Photo credit: Larry Fink
collection

Poetry and Sports

While sports fans may not be widely known for their literary passions, the relationship between literature and athletic competition can be traced as far back as ancient Greece where spectator sports often included literary events as part of the festivities, and champion athletes were known to commission poets to write their victory songs. Even our own Walt Whitman was a baseball lover. Reporting for the Brooklyn Daily Eagle in 1846, he wrote: "In our sun-down perambulations, of late, through the outer parts of Brooklyn, we have observed several parties of youngsters playing 'base,' a certain game of ball...Let us go forth awhile, and get better air in our lungs. Let us leave our close rooms...the game of ball is glorious."

We hope this collection not only demonstrates a variety of play and seriousness, but also frames poetry itself—the craft and game of it—as a lively and reactive art form, a pastime as great as any sport.

collection

Summer Reading

If you're looking to catch up on your reading this summer, take a look at this roundup of poetry collections published in the past year.

poem

Do not go gentle into that good night

Do not go gentle into that good night,
Old age should burn and rave at close of day;
Rage, rage against the dying of the light.

Though wise men at their end know dark is right,
Because their words had forked no lightning they
Do not go gentle into that good night.

Good men, the last wave by, crying how bright
Their frail deeds might have danced in a green bay,
Rage, rage against the dying of the light.

Wild men who caught and sang the sun in flight,
And learn, too late, they grieved it on its way,
Do not go gentle into that good night.

Grave men, near death, who see with blinding sight
Blind eyes could blaze like meteors and be gay,
Rage, rage against the dying of the light.

And you, my father, there on the sad height,
Curse, bless, me now with your fierce tears, I pray.
Do not go gentle into that good night.
Rage, rage against the dying of the light.

Dylan Thomas
1937