Volition by Carl Phillips (Poem#7)


by Carl Phillips


We lay sleep in summertime.

We’d let our bodies by their own gravity settle into
the stillness of it, where they moved now with the sluggish
grace of plants under water, when they moved at all. Peaceful,
but the kind of peace that comes just after the laying of
arms down in surrender, which is to say, it felt a lot like defeat,
as if we’d come to an end, finally, not so much of wickedness itself
as of an impulse toward it that we’d long ago, having straddled it,
thought we’d mastered – and yet here we were, as if thrown
dismounted, but never quite hitting the hard ground
of reason, reason itself having given away, we had nothing but
instinct now, in a world where moral valence no longer seemed
to apply; a bruise could be triumph could be one more
sunset could be perversion, and the question was not
How to tell the difference but Who says we have to,
or should? It was as if morality, like light, were now retractable:
we could see the colors, but what do colors mean, ever, except
what we want them to, and nothing at all? We lay asleep
in a stillness that anyone might confuse with paralysis, or
with a stalemate between recklessness and detachment, as they
vie for possession of a single body – but it wasn’t that:
couldn’t we turn away whenever we chose to? Any moment,
we kept telling ourselves – so often, that it seemed sometimes we
already had turned, but as from a violent hand to which nevertheless
the mind still attaches some small affection; we draw the hand
briefly close again, so as almost to kiss it, yes, before letting it go.

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