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Recorded as part of the Poem-a-Day series, October 26, 2015.
About this Poem 

“There’s the usual kind of swimming—as in, through water—and then there’s that swimming that the mind always seems to be doing, I find. This poem feels to me a bit like both things, the combination of thrill and fear when there’s finally no land in sight.”
Carl Phillips

Swimming

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 trees
for so long, their bowed shapes seem a kind of star—
worth trusting, I mean, as in how the helmsman,
steering home, knows what star to lean on. Do
people, anymore, even say helmsman? Everything
in waves, or at least wave-like, as when another’s
suffering, being greater, displaces our own, or
I understand it should, which is meant to be
different, I’m sure of it, from that pleasure
Lucretius speaks of, in witnessing from land
a ship foundering at sea, though more and more
it all seems related. I love the nights here. I love
the jetty’s black ghost-finger, how it calms
the harbor, how the fog hanging stranded just
above the water is fog, finally, not the left-behind
parts of those questions from which I half-wish
I could school my mind, desperate cargo,
to keep a little distance. An old map from when
this place was first settled shows monsters
everywhere, once the shore gives out—it can still
feel like that: I dive in, and they rise like faithfulness
itself, watery pallbearers heading seaward, and
I the raft they steady. It seems there’s no turning back.

Copyright © 2015 by Carl Phillips. Originally published in Poem-a-Day on October 26, 2015, by the Academy of American Poets.

Copyright © 2015 by Carl Phillips. Originally published in Poem-a-Day on October 26, 2015, 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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intending to do. So they lay untouched by regret,
after. The combined light and shadow of passing
cars stutter-shifted across the walls the way,
in summer,
                the night moths used to, softly
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And it was as we’d been told it would be: some stumbling wingless;
others flew beheaded. But at first when we looked at them, we could
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Coral-bells purpled the fallen sycamore leaves, dead, the dead 
versus those who attempted death, versus those who effectively 
fashioned out of such attempts a style akin to electric guitar 
shimmer swelling and unswelling like starlings when they first 

lift off, or like stars when, from their fixed sway,