Only Portions of the Map Still Legibly Survive

Carl Phillips

Having had their moment or, if luckier, the better part
of a day in the sun as proverbed, it was time to move on.
Some died, not because of this,
                                                         but as if so. Some retreated
into the memory of their earlier triumphs, others chose
not so much to remember as to fill those in who had never
known of said triumphs, having been born so much past
all of that—what can history be
                                                         expected to mean,
honestly, to those who have no history, yet, of their own?
But the waning of influence is not the same as a loss of power—
it doesn’t have to be, said the wisest who, understanding this,
found their trust where they’d always put it, in what by
sheer definition is all but impossible to argue with, or
against: detachment. Look at us now,
                                                                    entering our days
no differently than we did before: pity in one hand,
for the few who with time may come to deserve it; and
in the other hand, an indifference that,
                                                                       with enough
practice, detachment leads to, though that was never
the plan, not on our part, an indifference we’ve wielded
so long we forget it’s
                                     there, almost, until something
reminds us: gulls scattering before us, say, the way
the letters that spell loneliness can scatter, eventually,
as if weary with meaning—with having had to mean—
from what loneliness really deep down feels like:
magnetic, unignorable; why,
                                                    the waves themselves bow down.

Carl Phillips is the author of Then the War: And Selected Poems 2007-2020 and the prose book My Trade Is Mystery: Seven Meditations from a Life in Writing, among many other books.
Originally published:
September 1, 2020

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