“For Night to Fall”

Carl Phillips
Selected by Elizabeth Lund

For Night to Fall

I love this way this poem unfolds, beginning with the evocative opening line that pulls you into the vivid landscape Phillips has not just created, but conjured. His subtle music, gorgeous phrasing, and remarkable insights become wonderfully complex in the span of a few short lines. That is the power of poetry. So of course a snowy owl appears midway through, because it, like Phillips’s writing, travels to secret places and the far reaches of the human heart.

—Elizabeth Lund


For Night to Fall

You could tell from the start that the best

were frailing. We made the wishes we made,
beside the wishes we also hoped would
come true, for there’s always a difference,

the way what we remember of what happened
is just memory, not history exactly, and
not the past, which is truth, but by then

who cared? The truth by then as a snowy
owl becoming steadily more indistinguishable
from the winter sand in twilight, feathered

emptiness filling/unfilling itself for no one,
no apparent reason—who? who says?
who says the dead are farther away from me

than you are?—across the hard, hard shore.
 

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Carl Phillips is the author of twelve books of poetry, including Silverchest, a finalist for the International Griffin Prize, and Double Shadow, winner of the Los Angeles Times Book Prize. His most recent book of prose is The Art of Daring: Risk, Restlessness, Imagination. Phillips teaches at Washington University in St. Louis.

Elizabeth Lund reviews poetry each month for The Washington Post.

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