Rock Harbor

Rock Harbor

by Carl Phillips

Paperback(First Edition)

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Wind as a face gone red with blowing,

oceans whose end is broken stitchery—

swim of sea-dragon, dolphin,

shimmer-and-coil, invitation. . . . You Know

the kind of map I mean. Countries as

distant as they are believable . . .

—from "Halo"

Carl Phillips lyric explorations of longing and devotion, castigation and mercy, are unrivaled in contemporary poetry.

In Rock Harbor, his sixth book, Phillips visits those spaces, both physical and psychological, where risk and safety coincide, and considers what it might mean to live at the nexus of the two. Sifting among the upturned evidence of crisis, from Roman Empire to westward expansion, from the turn of a lover's face to the harbor of the book's title—a place of calm fashioned of the very rock that can mean disaster—these poems negotiate and map out the impulse toward rescue and away from it. Phillips's pooling, cascading lines are the unsuppressed routes across his unique poetic landscape, daring and seductive in their readiness to drift and reverse as the terrain demands.

Product Details

ISBN-13: 9780374528850
Publisher: Farrar, Straus and Giroux
Publication date: 09/08/2003
Edition description: First Edition
Pages: 128
Product dimensions: 5.50(w) x 8.50(h) x 0.30(d)

About the Author

Carl Phillips is the author of seven books of poems, most recently Rock Harbor; The Tether, winner of the Kingsley Tufts Poetry Award; and From the Devotions, a finalist for the National Book Award, and the recipient of an American Academy of Arts and Letters Award in Literature in 2001. He teaches at Washington University in St. Louis.

Read an Excerpt

Rock Harbor

By Carl Phillips

Farrar, Straus and Giroux

Copyright © 2002 Carl Phillips
All rights reserved.
ISBN: 978-0-374-52885-0



    There, behind the raised
    and extended
    wing to which
    no bird
    no fiend
    no haloing is
    attached: two bodies,

    fucking. It is difficult
    to see, but that much—
    from the way, with great
    then greater
    effort, their mouths
    seem half to recall or
    want to

    a song even older,
    holier than the one they
    fill with—I can
    guess. The rest,
    I know: that it's dream;
    that, in dream,
    to know a thing is to

    have a gift and
    not to, especially. Like
    refusing to prove what
    anyway all scrutable
    signs point to. Stopped
    trees are the least of it,
    the still standing

    but decidedly aslant
    version of unanimous,
    what looks at
    first like approbation;
    then—like trees,
    and how a wind will
    pass through. To turn

    with and not
    against it
    no more means
    the wind is with us than
    the gods are. I don't
    believe each gets what
    each deserves.


    Love, etc. Have been remembering
    the part in Sophocles
    where a god advises the two heroes

    they should be as
    twin lions, feeding—how
    even the flesh of late

    slaughter does not
    distract them from keeping
    each over the other

    a guarding eye.
    What part of this is love, and
    what survival

    is never said,
    though the difference it makes is
    at least that between a lily and, say,

    a shield. I think of you
    often, especially here,
    at the edge of the world or a

    part of it, anyway,
    by which I mean of course
    more, you will have guessed, than

    the coast, just now, I
    stand on. Against it,
    the water dashes with

    the violence of two men who,
    having stripped it, now take for their
    own the body of

    a third man on the bad
    sofa of an even worse
    motel room in what eventually

    is movie—one
    we've seen ... The way
    what looks like rape
    might not be. You'd like
    the light here. At
    times, a color you'd call anything but blue.


    Briefly, an ease

    akin to those parts of
    the air that

    allow the bird respite from
    the effort of muscle

    flight entails.

    As I said: briefly.

    It does not matter, I
    understand now, my having

    hoped in no way to
    resemble anyone—

    this, the reason
    why the difficulty, I have

    often been sure, with
    death will be less

    the dying than the having been
    finally always like

    everyone else; that

    humiliation: to admit
    as much.

    Very briefly, it
    seems now.

    In the manner of happiness

    or an only-half-grounded
    fear or whatever

    else can at once
    be both pressing and

    ignorable, until—as when
    the evidence has grown

    embarrassing, so why
    shouldn't we, let us

    throw it away—until it is
    like that and, soon, it

    is that. We'll assume again

    our new positions: myself, at
    last arcing

    the body
    over. —Up. Into yours.


    If to be patient were less
    an exercise

    and more a name to be worn, say,
    in the middle—

    that he might wear it—

    Of the linen sash to
    his robe, of linen,

    that his hands have
    fashioned a knot such that
    the knot suggests now a dragonfly in

    flight from what is harmless and

    not, entirely—
    that he might, if at all, know this

    only as when without understanding it
    we know we have and have come to

    expect we shall have always

    upon others
    an effect we do not

    His face:

    a face, turning. And
    then a turned one.


    for Percival Everett

    Fleetingly, the mule is neither
    justice nor injustice, but
    another muscled

    abbreviation in which
    right and wrong take in
    each other no apparent

    interest, as if—impossible, on
    purpose—to remind how
    not everything is

    vengeance, not everything
    wants reason. The mule
    intends nothing of the contrast he

    makes inevitably
    in a field otherwise all
    horses: five of them, four

    standing around and nosing
    the only one whose flesh, white
    entirely, lacks pattern, unless

    the light counts,
    the only one not standing,
    lying with the particular

    stillness of between when
    a death has occurred
    already and when we

    ourselves shall have
    learned of it. Until then,
    that which before was

    patternless and not standing
    stands up, white, patterned
    by the countable light,

    the five horses step
    into then just past a shy
    gallop, the mule

    among them, then beside them,
    the mule falling in time behind
    slightly, not like defeat—don't

    think it—like, instead one who,
    understanding (as a mule
    cannot) in full the gravity

    of the truth always that he carries
    with him, can
    afford to pity

    honestly a glamour that
    extends even to the legs, classical,
    on which each horse for now outruns the mule.


    Names for the moon:
    Harvest; and Blue; and
    Don't Touch Me—

    and Do.
I dreamed I had
    made a home on the side
    of a vast, live volcano,

    that the rest was water,
    that I was one among many of
    no distinction: we but

    lived there, like so many
    birds that, given the chance
    not to fly for once in

    formation, won't take it, or
    cannot, or—or—but
    what of choice can a bird know?

    Down the volcano's sides,
    in the pose of avalanche
    except frozen, and so

    densely it seemed impossible
    they should not strangle
    one another—yet they

    did not—grew all
    the flowers whose names
    I'd meant to master;

    it was swift, the dream—so
    much, still, to catch
    up to—though I could not

    have known that, of course,
    then: isn't it only in
    the bracing and first wake of

    loss that we guess most cleanly
    the speed with which what held us
    left us? In the dream, the world

    was birdless, lit, yielding, it
    seemed safe, which is not to say
    you weren't in it. You were, but

    changed somewhat, not so much
    a man of few words,
    more the look of one who

    —having entered willfully
    some danger, having just returned
    from it—chooses instead

    of words his body as
    the canvas across which to
    wordlessly broadcast his coming

    through. We lived
    in a manner that—if it
    didn't suggest an obliviousness

    to a very real and always-there
    danger—I would call heady;
    it was not that. Think,

    rather, of the gods: how,
    if they do in fact know
    everything, they must understand

    also they will be eventually
    overthrown by a new order,
    which is at worst a loss

    of power, but not of life,
    as the gods know it. I was
    not, that is, without

    ambition: the illicit, in
    particular, I would make it
    my business to have studied;

    and of that which is gained
    easily, to want none
    of it. Flowers; names

    for the moon. It was
    swift, the dream, the body
    a wordless and stalled

    avalanche that, since forgivable—
    if I could—I would forgive, poor
    live but flagging, dying now

    volcano. And the water
    around its sides receding with
    a dream's swiftness: everywhere,

    soon, sand and sand, a desert that,
    because there was no water,
    and because they missed it,

    the natives had called a sea, and
    to the sea had given a name:
    Friendship, whose literal

    translation in the country of
    dream is roughly "that which
    all love evolves

    down to"—

    Until to leave, or
    try to—and have drowned

    trying—becomes refrain,
    the one answer each time
    to whatever question:

    what was the place called?

    what was the house like?

    what was it we did inside it?

    how is it possible that it cannot be enough to have given
    up to you now the dream as—for a time, remember—I did give

    my truest self? why won't you take it—if a gift, if yours?


    Had the light
    changed, possibly—or,

    differently, was that how I'd
    seen it

      always, and not
    looking? Was I meant for

    a vessel? Did I only
    believe so and,

    so, for a time, was it true but

    only in that space which belief makes
    for its own wanting?

    What am I going to
    do with you

      —Who just

    said that?

    Whose the body—where—that voice
    belongs to?

      Might I turn,
    toward it, whinny

    into it?

      My life
      a water,

      or a cure for
      that which no water
      can cure?

      His chest
      a forest, or a lush

    Even now, shall I choose? Do I
    get to?



    Have I chosen
      or is choice a thing
    hovering yet, an

    intention therefore, from
    which, though
    late, could I hurry back?

    What am I going to do with you— or

    Whom for?

      If stay my hand—where
    rest it?


    Whether it more was like
    the ocean,
    or more

    those plates in the earth that
    shift abruptly according to
    laws that, even if I

    give to them here
    no name, apply
    nevertheless outside, in

    spite of—
    I forget,
    as so many somewhere always have

    just said. Exaggeration,
    to say I never thought
    I'd lie among them; more exactly: I

    had not hoped to. How
    brief, comparatively
    at least, that

    feathered phase—
    less Roman,
    more Greek, more

    birch than
    ash, none of shame's
    nobility attached, but—

    worse—the embarrassing
    thud of blunder, to
    ever have laid

    the blue-to-black,
    then blue

    familiar of self full-length
    and down, ringside, as if there'd been
    a ring, or as if by

    long traveling at last done
    in, as who would
    not be? I

    had not guessed it.
    As when to find a stone
    is to find revealed

    no truth unless the truth
    of stones, which
    is to say the fact of

    themselves only. Or
    as when the song
    of wanting is understood as

    not at all the song of
    being wanted,
    not like thirst,

    not like hunger,
    not the disappointment
    of only the one leaf gone

    vermilion inside of
    the tree's saffron majority,
    not a godlessness in

    the wake of a habit of prayer, neither
    that sort of wind, nor a tunnel, or through one, it
    was not like that.


    All the glories—
    ribbed, and

    Shut them.

      To have wanted
    more, where has that
    carried me,

      if what
    so much matters
    now can be proven

    later to all
    along have been doomed
    not to?

      The governing
    drift was from
    sensation to

      distraction to
    irrelevance: "they came
    to nothing," it says here,

    "en route
    settling for things like
    heat falling mostly

    against, light mainly
    falling, between them
    a bush or

      a skull
    shimmering like another
    example of absence of

    heat only,

      Do I make
    a difference? or
    What is it

      so persuades, I
    must make one?
    The text breaks like a road

    forking where none
    warned of ...
    Look at yourself,

    Look at you.
      Have I not
    looked there—

    possibility for
    —into it?
      How small,

    without effort almost,
    can be the leap from
    it-is-findable to

    Though not water,
    not the flash, even,

    as if off of that which
    could be water, could
    also not be—

      To have
    called it water. "They
    crossed themselves,

    they gave
    utterly themselves over
    to what

      wasn't there,
    that it might
    save, or drown them..."


    No dream—but as

    if so, moving at first
    with the force of

    idea purely; and
    then of a man convinced
    he has justified

    brilliantly himself to
    himself; and then
    of the yearling that,

    haltered at
    last, remains
    still to be gentled, to be

    broken-to-ride, although
    no yearling, not a horse
    ever, and not dream.

    I turned.
    I could see,
    across the room,

    heaped there like fouled
    linen like memory like
    detritus stepped

    away from, the truth of
    —of myself: glintless,
    yes, but no

    more so for my having (how
    long?) disavowed it.
    Suggestive of sorrow,

    or the cool irreversibility that
    attaches commonly to
    larger mistakes

    of judgment—so did it
    lie there: undiminished.

    I take it, in the darkness, to my face.


    Of the body: most,
    its resilience, have you
    not loved that, its—its

    that too?
    And the unwitting

    prayer getting made
    between them,
    as when we beat at

    what is closed,
    closed against us, and call
    the beating, in time,

    song. To have been
    among the hands
    for which the stone lets go

    its sword,
    or the tree its gold

    what must that
    feel like? With what speed

    does the hero grow
    used to—necessarily—
    the world's surrender

    else—how call it
    strange, how

    not inevitable? Heroes,
    in this way at least, resembling
    the damned

    who are damned
    as traitors, some
    singing We could not

    help it], others

    made me
—as if
    betrayal required more than

    one party, which it
    does not.
    Admit it: you gave

    yourself away. We are
    exactly what
    we are, as you

    suspected, and—
    like that—the world
    obliging with its fair

    examples: rain and,
    under it, the yard
    an overnight field

    of mushrooms,
    the wet of them, the yellow-
    white of, the

    nothing-at-all, outside
    themselves, they
    stood for. You've been

    a seeming
    exception only. Hot;
    relentless. Yourself the rule.


Excerpted from Rock Harbor by Carl Phillips. Copyright © 2002 Carl Phillips. Excerpted by permission of Farrar, Straus and Giroux.
All rights reserved. No part of this excerpt may be reproduced or reprinted without permission in writing from the publisher.
Excerpts are provided by Dial-A-Book Inc. solely for the personal use of visitors to this web site.

Table of Contents


Title Page,
Copyright Notice,
Quarter-view, from Nauset,
Moving Target,
As a Blow, from the West,
The Clearing,
The Deposition,
By Hard Stages,
The Clarity,
Loose Hinge,
The Threshing,
The Silver Age,
To Break, to Ride,
Blue Shoulder,
Spoken Part, for Countertenor Voice,
Rock Harbor,
To the Tune of a Small, Repeatable, and Passing Kindness,
To Speak of It Now,
Those Parts That Rescue Looked Like,
Via Sacra,
The Use of Force,
Return to the Land of the Golden Apples,
Also by Carl Phillips,
About the Author,

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