Emilia Phillips


after Laura Kasischke


Andrew, an evening regular, rattled

the mint tin he presented from his pocket like a carat
promise or faith in the face

of doubt, and set it on the counter
where I counted tills, replacing payday
twenties for coin rolls and lower

denominations. “I did this
for you,” he said, Herod Antipas to my oblivious

Salome. He asks me to
open the box, and so I do—to chalkwhite

burrs, four, from pencil
eraser to the size of a sugar

cube. Kidney stones.

Of course, my co-workers’ voices slur

on the headset:
“Oh, Emilia, I want
to show you where these

passed.” But I’m only a server then, a junior

in college who’s learned less about
saying no than how to seduce
bills into the tip jar from men’s

wallets that smell animal, like a horse

that sweat under the heat
of a saddle that once rocked me flushed and wet before I’d ever been

All these ways our phrases twin toward
opposites. He looked

expectant, his eyes always
reflective as if he were crying but not

letting go
of the salt,

the way one fragments, reassigns
part of one’s own body to

become the body
of the lover one desires
but cannot have
in a room alone tonight, window open, not so much

with a distance between them, but

within that distance,
which is amnesiac as horizon and blue
in the way we say water

is blue, although it has
no color except in its depths. I wanted

to say “yes”
then, if only so that our humiliation
was complicit, a coat
in which we each had an arm. My boss

leaned his shoulder
into mine and whispered, “Is this guy
bothering you?”
but the sun was
setting, and the milk hissing under the steam wands like a white

mouse with fangs set
in it, and there is no other devotion
as real as separateness. I
tossed off a joke about how unhealthy I was
for him, which he liked. Just months

before I’d pleaded with
a tweaked-out vagrant to stop
snorting the Splendas
and Equals he
ripped and poured
out on the condiment
bar. But when I asked

him to leave, he said he
couldn’t because
I couldn’t see him—he was

invisible, or not there at

all, he insisted, as he started for
the Sweet-n-Lows. I didn’t

see Andrew for a long time after
he brought his gift, and after closing,

I quietly stacked the safe full
of what we’d earned
and then chained together the chairs
on the patio, picking

up cigarettes butts with my bare
fingers so I could smell the razored acridity later as I fell
asleep without feeling

guilty. But the wind, strong

from the west in
warning, like all ineffable forces,
gave me back

my body—my belly sour, all rewind
and glower, the way
memory of grief has no cause, only the lyric
shove that sends the ground

up to us, fuming the
smell of rain, ozone, grain—
He spit on the sidewalk

as he left. When I
told him to put his ruins away and turned to get his usual, I

thought I heard him say, “Emilia, you will

love me,” and, playing toward my pocket money, I said, “Is that

a promise?” I said: “I already do.”

Emilia Phillips is the author of two poetry collections from the University of Akron Press,
Signaletics (2013) and Groundspeed (2016), and three chapbooks, most recently Beneath the Ice
Fish Like Souls Look Alike (Bull City Press, 2015). Her poems and lyric essays appear in Agni,
Boston Review, Gulf Coast, The Kenyon Review, New England Review, Ninth Letter,
Ploughshares, Poem-a-Day, Poetry, Verse Daily, and elsewhere. She received StoryQuarterly’s
2015 Nonfiction Prize, The Journal’s 2012 Poetry Prize, as well as the 2013–2014 Emerging
Writer Lectureship from Gettysburg College and fellowships from the Bread Loaf Writers’
Conference, The Kenyon Review Writers’ Workshop, U.S. Poets in Mexico, and Vermont Studio
Center. She is the Assistant Professor of Creative Writing at Centenary University. With her third
poetry collection Empty Clip now completed, Phillips is at work on new poems, a collection of
lyric essays titled Wound Revisions, and Offset: A Poetry Broadside Digitization Project.
Additionally, every month throughout 2016 and 2017, her craft essays will appear on the
Ploughshares Blog.