Part Physics, Part Faith, Part Void

Rowan Ricardo Phillips shares four poems from his new collection.

El Greco (Domenikos Theotokopoulos), View of Toledo (ca. 1599–1600), oil on canvas, 47 3/4 x 42 3/4 in.

H. O. Havemeyer Collection, Metropolitan Museum of Art. Bequest of Mrs. H. O. Havemeyer, 1929.

Among the highlights of Broadcast’s first print issue is a poem by Rowan Ricardo Phillips, “El tiempo indeciso,” that hails poetic language “as ambiguous as algebra.” Phillips’ own language—tuneful and erudite, resounding and precise; or, as his poem puts it, “part faith, part physics, part void”––has made him one of our favorite contemporary poets. We’re thrilled to present here four poems, including “El tiempo indeciso,” from his stellar new volume of verse—a book for which the poet has also graciously curated a playlist of songs, by artists ranging from Horace Silver and Roberta Flack to Sonic Youth and Ken Boothe, that we’d recommend sounding with its lines.

—The Editors

En el tiempo indeciso

The horizon hour with its awful
Power puts all abandoned dreams to bed.

Stars. Stars gone. Glaucous clucksong. Dawn. Sky. Sky
And the vanishing of tomorrow's plane

As it describes the future in its fade:
The plane silver, its vapor trail silver,

Silver filling the spaces where they've been.
And I—no, no I; you will see for yourself

And I will be nothing but poetry,
A blank in the blankness of the long game,

I as ambiguous as algebra,
Something cosmic mistaken for something

Chronic, some flex to figure out as it
Blows the heart open approaching the end

Of the self, the one you bought the ticket for,
That temporary solution for X.

The Triumph of Song

I mean, the only zone I think I might
Know, and by “know” I mean “this thing hasn’t
Quite killed me yet,” is the triumph of song.
All my poems mean that, I think, really—

This is the edge of my observable
Universe: I can’t see what doesn’t sing,
Or what I haven’t coaxed from some notes out
Of air. Like the first time I must have heard

“Strawberry Fields Forever.” I was twelve
And cupped the soft black sponges to my ears
While sitting cross-legged on a friend’s twin bed
As the janky copy of the cassette

Copied over my memory of where
I was, whom I was with, and even who
I was. All I remember is the song,
All that confident lack of confidence,

Which is what writing poems is really like:
The dark blood zoning forwards and backwards
In the brain, the heart like grass in a bowl,
And the burning horizon’s sharp swagger

All of it part physics, part faith, part void.

Fantasia in a Time of Plague

Went to see the River Man
Told him all I could about my plan
He said, “Nah, son . . . I’m good”
You might be surprised
To find that he
Spoke like he was from the hood
But look around
Shade covers every square inch
Of the ground
Night is the political symbol we’re unable
To make less literal
A blindness to simple
Basic kindness
That’s the hood not the hood
The River Man and all the rivers Milton
Shouted out to for Lycidas understood this
But he was the myth of a mourning kid kidding himself
That he cared about King or sin or killing kings
(But let me take that back—
He got locked up for that)
Poetry is séance and silence and science
Holed up in the hood and haring through the wood
Part pasture and part hood
A rendition of tradition unplanned
Black hoodie pulled back
So the ears can see what the eyes don’t see
Like a silver river that bends out of sight
But still roars in your head
As the River Man said it would
On those sleepless nights
When you hear the living
And the dead
Complicit as kites
Rhyming about civil rights.

The God of Stories

I learned to listen to what I see
But never quite to see what I hear
And something has always been missing
In the hearing: unglamorous truth
No that’s been there no it’s something else:
The origin story of the god
Of stories yes that’s it that headless
Moon not swollen with night but the moon
As it dissolves dawn’s haptic canvas
That self-portrait of the first silence ♦

Excerpted from SILVER: Poems by Rowan Ricardo Phillips. Published by Farrar, Straus and Giroux. Copyright © 2024 by Rowan Ricardo Phillips. All rights reserved.

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