Three Poems by Emilia Phillips

 

FACESOFDEATH.COM

 

On my grandmother’s PC monitor
        the size of a Butterball

turkey with its dial-up modem like Casio

        keyboard trumpets cut with a razor

on glass, my cousin, a half
        year older

        than me, pulled up the website, slow

to boot—first the black
        background and the gallery

outline of thumbnails

        and red links to categorize Causes: Car

Crashes, Gunshot, Suicide, some
        duplicated across tallies. The logo,

last to arrive: a pixelated

        shock font. Blood dripping or as if slashed

into skin—I can’t
        remember. We kept something

else open in case someone

        else walked in, cartoons on in the living

room and our parents with second
        or third helpings. I saw the faces,

hollow eyes wide, and I looked

        for blood, and I looked away

from blood, and I looked at my cousin
        to realize then that he would die

and that anyone could—

        First cousin, first friend,

first person I lost touch with, now
        just a photo in my Facebook

newsfeed: camo and a rifle,

        a shotgun, a .44 with a

silencer.
        Buckshot, BB, some high caliber

slug. The voicemail

        from my stepmother: Your father’s

been shot. Not how. Not alive
        
or dead. I called again and again

until someone, anyone

        picked up. An accident—he did it

to himself, and the tourniquet.
        His tongue slugged by morphine, he said

on the phone, I don’t want this

        to deter you from owning

a gun. He said, I’ll buy you
        
one. I said no. I said, No. I said,

I have my grandfather’s service

               sidearm just to button up

the issue. I admit I wondered
        what it would be like to hold

the barrel between my teeth

        back when I was looking down the barrel

of days of grief,
        but statistically women don’t shoot

 themselves. I remember one

victim—was it suicide or murder?

        Does it matter?—how the bullet

grooved clean into the skin below
        her clavicle. A buttonhole, a baby’s

mouth. No. A window, a rose,

        the space into which someone goes.

 

 

 

 

FINGERS IN A THROAT

 

        Because
lack feeds
        on lack
the body turns
        out
what is not
        yet body
or shit.
                You

        were
excused
        from chorus to wet
your mouth
        at the water
fountain, but not
        just for
song
            but heave, your

        belly
has grown
        taut. When
someone else
        comes in
the girls’
                room, you

        hold
the retched-up
        in your mouth
until it sours
        your nose.
You’ve learned
        to keep
saline
            spray

        and spearmint
toothpaste
        and the cheap
Curve
        perfume
in your
            purse.

        You know every
girl by her
        ankle,
that crescent
        shadow
under bone, their
        shoe-
                laces,

        the way
their weight
        molds the uniform
shoe. You know
        how long
and if they pause
        at the mirror, more
slender
            in how

        they are
rendered
        by the frosted
glass, each dark
        anonymous,
lashed across
        the floor
to the stall
                    door.

 

 

 

TO THE PREVIOUS TENANT

 

On the overhead
                beams in the basement

I found the hypodermics

                stolen from your diabetic
mother—or that’s the story

                I’ve offered—

and, behind the loose brick
on the wall behind the well, the pipe
                rigged

from an Advil bottle

                punctured and fitted
with a ballpoint pen’s halved

                shell, a crude carb hatched
in, the top limned
in aluminum foil. The papers
                stuffed on the spare bedroom

closet’s shelf tell of lost
                custody and back child
support. Unemployment, and delinquent court

                appearances. I’ve kept

a pile of your summons
                and collection notes
in a box by the front door,

                as if you might return
for something you left—

                a hidden stash, a home, an idea

of self. But I should warn you

                the police have stopped by
twice now, and I told them

                I don’t know
you, but I’m not so sure

anymore. Sometimes
when I’m pushing
                my cart through the Giant

past the gentle
                mist on parsley and the thunder
sound

on a crackly speaker, I wonder
                if I’d recognize you

if we met in the bread aisle
                or at the automatic sliding door.
I’ve given you

                a hair color
and style, a ball cap frayed
                at the bill, but I don’t know

your eyes—
you squint so much
in my imagination of you.
                But I do too, at the mirror—

the right cheek slack and hatched
                in scar. The detective said you renewed

your driver’s license
                with my address. So I take the dog out
to the old chicken coop to sniff,
                                and think, if he takes to a smell,
                we’ve got you.

But he just hikes

and whizzes, the snow steaming

where it hits. I leave
                a light on

for you most nights, but I don’t know if I would
                meet you

with warning
                shots from the inherited pistol,
or a bowl of leftovers. Some nights,
you’re as distant as

before, but others, as I do

                the dishes alone—
I find a space
                for you

at the tree line, in the long-gone

                where you’re hiding. There

you are, I say. There
                you are, right there. As close
as you’ll ever get, as far
away.

 

 

 

Emilia Phillips is the author of two poetry collections from the University of Akron Press,Groundspeed (2016) and Signaletics (2013), and three chapbooks. Her poems and lyric essays appear in AgniBoston ReviewGulf CoastThe Kenyon ReviewNew England ReviewNinth LetterPoetryPloughsharesStoryQuarterly, and elsewhere. She is the Assistant Professor of Creative Writing at Centenary College of New Jersey.

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