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Recorded for Poem-a-Day, April 6, 2017.
About this Poem 

“I think this poem is circling the idea of refusing to change the self, even when it’s understood as deeply flawed, given that we have to believe in something…”
—Carl Phillips

Dirt Being Dirt

The orchard was on fire, but that didn’t stop him from slowly walking
straight into it, shirtless, you can see where the flames have
foliaged—here, especially—his chest. Splashed by the moon,
it almost looks like the latest proof that, while decoration is hardly
ever necessary, it’s rarely meaningless: the tuxedo’s corsage,
fog when lit scatteredly, swift, from behind—swing of a torch, the lone
match, struck, then wind-shut…How far is instinct from a thing
like belief? Not far, apparently. At what point is believing so close
to knowing, that any difference between the two isn’t worth the fuss,
finally? A tamer of wolves tames no foxes, he used to say, as if avoiding
the question. But never meaning to. You broke it. Now wear it broken.

Copyright © 2017 by Carl Phillips. Originally published in Poem-a-Day on April 6, 2017, by the Academy of American Poets.

Copyright © 2017 by Carl Phillips. Originally published in Poem-a-Day on April 6, 2017, by the Academy of American Poets.

Carl Phillips

Carl Phillips

Born on July 23, 1959, Carl Phillips's collection The Rest of Love won the Theodore Roethke Memorial Foundation Poetry Prize and the Thom Gunn Award for Gay Male Poetry.

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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
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Some nights, I rise from the latest excuse for
Why not stay awhile, usually that hour when
the coyotes roam the streets as if they’ve always
owned the place and had come back inspecting now
for damage. But what hasn’t been damaged? History
here means a history of storms rushing the

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              Somewhere between what it feels like, to be at
one with the sea, and to understand the sea as
mere context for the boat whose engine refuses
finally to turn over: yeah, I know the place—
stumbled into it myself, once; twice, almost.  All
around and in between the two trees

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