139.1: Leigh Phillips:: The Men & Old Hag 139

When we read Leigh Phillips's poems, we quickly find ourselves reading more than poems. We are reading a person's nerves. We, like the men behind liquor store counters in Phillips's first poem, come to know the speaker through her lyric meditations on living in the wake of losing something beautiful. These poems are deeply pained, and in reading that pain, we find that there is something at the bottom of it all, something redeeming about the act of exposing: “Ask me about the time I was angelic in 2006, and I'll tell you where she touched me. Ask me about the aurora borealis.” At the center of these poems is a belief in transformation through telling, that through bearing witness to ones own pain, rebirth can be made possible. Phillips sings dark, haunted songs that fall asleep on trains and wear language like skin. Poems that dream and drink. Poems humming electric that spark and pop when you touch them. Matthew Siegel

The Men

The men behind the counter know me; my face is a house that is blown by a hurricane. They know my Saturday sweatpants, how poetry dies in a ditch of bars, turned bodies, trashed to ash, sleeping in sweatshirts the color of smoke. Ask me about the time I was angelic in 2006, and I’ll tell you when she touched me. Ask me about the aurora borealis. Ask me about the time I stood translucent in a slip, the wind blowing me through the bedroom dream of West End Avenue. The men behind the counter say my hands are cold, I say, circulation. My ache is iron, the blood of the fence. The crease in my forehead is a wrinkle drawn by the fingernail of ghosts. The men behind the counter know I am full of precious metals. I am the vacant Domino sugar plant, competing with condos, the ghost of it. I tell them, please don’t get concerned about my childhood, the girls in pigtails falling from trees. I am a petal on water, don’t worry, I just fell asleep on the F train once and I’m lost in a borough without words. I am still angelic, I tell them. The men know my dreams are full of sycamores, the echo of light. My God is the Venus-Jupiter conjunction. The top popping is my north star. The can is my compass. My bodega is open all night, and I am thankful for the light of galaxies. I deliberate a womb of scratch off lottery tickets, where Newports offers their sad permission. The men behind the counter know my that another six pack means my love is getting married to another woman. Another six pack means, my face. I want my edges dodged and burned, black and white sex in black bags for white girls incognito. The men behind the counter know me. They know the softness I unnamed. They know someone rocks to sleep. Someone is rocking. The poet drafts her life. All night. Drifting, to where the angels belly themselves, burrowed in the crevice of a question. The question is just like her body. I remember what it meant to hold something without really holding, night water, music in her thighs. Each night, I see Polish men in the grasses, drunk, fatal in their tenderness. I remember her body, a basin for the waters of light.

Old Hag

There is a membrane between our worlds and I want it out. I will press my tits against the glass like parallel visions of the angel and its other. To be losing you. The doctor says ‘benign isn’t what it used to be’ and I: ‘benign isn’t what I’m used to being’. To be lost of you. I write the book of ghosts. Sleep paralysis, also known as Old Hag, is a known by the world of many cultures. The classic “old hag” sits on a sleeping person’s chest, and whispers: “It is possible to be flayed by the softness of a barely present world and mistake that for a world.” I’d sing or say, “You have no idea how my longing does not participate in your longing.” Tonight I center the quiet shell of joy. The day reminds itself of sea, old hag. To sleep I fall, waves drag my sound. Loss shuffles its woman sequence, mangy in a housecoat. And you know what they say about the shelf life of girls with throats like lions. The story goes, she sang them all away in hopes that one would stay. I say: there is a prison interrogation having itself in my chest right now. Admission of guilt will leak its tendrils to the x-ray. Strangers kiss and I try not to feel sad about it. I said, love, cut a key and let me stay. Poems in the form a finger to my home. Throw down the bones. She hisses, “it is possible to be flayed by the softness of a barely present shoulder.” The dream was one of taking off the flesh. You don’t need your skin anyway. Remember the sharpest angle of your backside pushing storm between your legs? The skin was that bag of chaos you left beyond. And now the chorus. And now for calamity. And where do we meet in this place? Every night is raining down my wrist. The doors in me shudder and move in time with brace. There’s a paragraph in my lips. I cut her a key to the Obsidian House. Now let me stain. Spread the stain now sing now let me calcify with coil of tremble. I believe, because I have to, that my face will light the tip of yours. I climb from here and enter you. I’m ready to drink language now.