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from "INTERRUPTIVE" by Phillip B. Williams

Beautiful questions for the war poem to host:

Who among us could weave one ghost

into another? Where find water hosted

beyond the tulip’s snapped back and tilted

cup? How count the escaped’s speed by silt

dragged from one ruin to another? Wilt,

sings the sky’s day fabric unwoven into grayscale

as though night could goad from a star a paler

face, but when night arrives on the felled

back of a mule winged on either side by baskets

of water and rotten grapes, what verb is tasked

with this weight? How many missiles cast

their light above a child’s gait? When do lions,

banished to the hills, water their hunger, lie on

their roars till the vultures pile on?

How many ways can I write exile

having myself never been exiled?

What is the face of exile

but the one hidden beneath the pyre

of music peeling from a liar’s

head? Bless the Maenads, that they retire

only after the last laughable poet is dead.


What is the poem that will heal?

Asks the poet at the podium kindly dogmatic

before an audience whose healing is not in repose.

What paycheck to be rhetorical?

What academized loitering.

What is the episteme of the dead?

Ask the dead. Ask every final breath if it has breath

enough to hmmm at the end of a lyric. To gasp at

pain they won’t go home to. A kind of safety.

What would our ancestors think of our pessimism?

Ask a skull this conditional in its condition.

Assume you could ever know the will of the various.

Ask the ones beneath the ocean who they asked

for permission.

Ask those whose suicides were weapon.

Compile the quotes from a levitating medium.

The perfect publisher finds you bleaching

bones in your mouth for the cleanest version.

Grandpa is that you? Can you ask DuBois a question for me? Qaddafi?

If I say “ask the dead” and you respond that you’re alive

is that a bomb’s report

channeled through you? To you,

every burning church is just possessed

by the ghost of a church that burned

years before. Pray it away.

Dance the fire into exorcism.

What is the power of our joy today?

Last night I laughed and Jeronimo Yanez grew wings.

If it’s not resurrection then can it be

called justice? Who asked that, obituaries

on the breath, book tour and Bible pages

flippantly flapping in the wind

of a spirit’s passing. You? Be un-

afraid when asking if the dead

have found peace and in response

your own voice croaks from the void:

But I am alive. A selfie. A ploy.


To kill is not so hard. To watch a killing? even simpler.

We must see as proof that proof is what we need to see.

The satin ego altruistic with surveillance of sacrifices.

Understand what burns will burn whatever stands beside it.


PHILLIP B. WILLIAMS is the author of Thief in the Interior, winner of the 2017 Kate Tufts Discovery Award and a 2017 Lambda Literary award. He received a 2017 Whiting Award, 2013 Ruth Lilly Fellowship, and fellowships from Bread Loaf, Franklin and Marshall College, and the Kenyon Review Writers Workshop. Phillip is the co-editor in chief of the online journal Vinyl. He is currently visiting professor in English at Bennington College.


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