29 March 2006

Patrick Phillips

Last weekend I attended the Virginia Festival of the Book in Charlottesville and heard readings by many very good poets including Sarah Gambito, Jane Hirshfield, Charlotte Matthews, Gregory Orr, Vijay Seshadri, and Natasha Trethewey.

After the very young-looking Patrick Phillips read from his remarkable book Chattahoochee, the 2005 Kate Tufts Award winner, my friend Susan Meyers bought me a copy.

If you don't know Phillips's work, you should. The following is an excerpt from the title poem from Chattahoochee:


Some tragedies are comic:
a man dies for twenty-three dollars
but would’ve done it for less.
In coveralls, a ball cap, black whorls of beard,

he crouches like a catcher
to bury his jar under the magnolia.
He stamps on the mound, smoothes it with his shoe.
There is movement, of course,

order to disorder—the brown river rising,
flooding the house, the barn,
the blossoming magnolia. There is the man
wading down the steps of his porch like a Baptist,

cool water filling his pockets with mica
as he dog paddles over the place
where the shimmer should be, the glint
of the pickle jar through the Chattahoochee.

He takes a long breath before going,
then goes. A small act in the story,
one body floating downstream,
becoming a creature of water:

the brown eyes open,
the blue skin spotted with leeches,
the throat filled with pollen and leaves—
floating upstream the day the flood crests.

Only the living need a spirit
for the physics of buoyancy. For us
there’s always a message swirling in the eddy,
a voice in the movements of water.

If the drowned man must speak, then—
as his body, stripped bare, floats away—let him say this:
the oldest instinct is to find what you bury,
to come back and dig up your bones.


  1. Glad you got something out of the weekend. It was great to see you!

  2. A major treat to see you also!