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Entra Tutto

by Emilia Phillips


Why, man, he doth bestride the narrow world
Like a Colossus . . . —Cassius, Julius Caesar

At the opening ceremony of the battle reenactment, the Vice President was to speak on history—his ancestor’s role in the war—but not those slight skeletons or their winking lines of succession inhumed like feral kings in the dusky peat of ordinary memory.

For days, truckfuls of men with medias-bellum beards set up canvas tents along the creek, rattling their reproduction hardtack tins, as over their campfires of newspaper and starter logs they sing, in forma paupris to God, “Lay bare thine arm, stretch forth thy rod . . .”

They are, like the infantry they approximate, trespassing.

(dispatch from Capt. Sam Fletcher Cheney:)

We began to feel as if we should return...

I woke that morning to soundlessness, no thrr-thrr of traffic over Reed’s Bridge, J. already to work, and the throughroad closed. At either end, police barricades. Soon, a patrolman came to the house and said, You can leave today but you can’t get back in.

In Cesare Lombroso’s Criminal Man, the torso of his proto-reprobate is crowded with tattoos. On his penis, we read: ENTRA TUTTO. It all goes in.

I cannot remember if the stump I teetered on, alone, with a handwritten sign, had ever been a tree while we lived there, for memory and landscape are so similar in their attritions, but there, before me, a tree’s shadow, yes, slack as a dead man’s hand, while I became the tree, studying the others that broke the pasture, how each touched another like one might touch a deaf person, lightly but with intention so as not to alarm or startle, but with the trees I had never been so gentle, once digging a bowie into the bark and retrieving a Minié ball, acorn-sized, swirled with lead tarnish, a dark little world cloudy with moods.

(dispatch:)

The messenger brought the wrong message. Longstreet exploded the line. We rode to Chattanooga without stopping or looking behind.

Did we have ghosts? An infestation, like squirrels in the attic, rodents in the walls? Often I walked along the split-beam fence, white as lime, at night and saw movement in the overgrown field behind us—deer or the heifer Mr. X owned, chawing to oblivion with her cud.

Teenage boys gathered under the bridge with The Book of the Dead and encircled themselves with their mothers’ table salt. We found cats with blistered eyes strung up by their haunches, and once, a rat terrier gutted on a boulder as if a rabbit butchered for stew.

Spiders clung, dull starbursts, to their silken constellations in the garage, and to a field mouse on the center rack of my oven, dead, its white tail drooped to touch the coils.

 (eclogue:)

 

                                                                     —Did we have spirits?

they had to move ahead by moving backward

The characters of the Danse Macabre at the Church of the Holy Trinity in Hrastovlje do not dance, they march toward an enthroned skeleton: first the pope, then the royal couple, a cardinal, bishop, monk and burgher, the merchant, an ordinary man, the cripple, and a child who leaps from his cradle to join the procession.

A friend’s mother with whom I carpooled kept us out of school to see the next president speak at the regional airport. When I touched the sleeve of his navy sport coat as he moved through the crowd, his face obliterated in sunlight, he withdrew his hand inside and pushed on.

On the corkboard are two postcards from my father: Salam from Iraq and Greetings from Ancient Mesopotamia. He wrote on the back of one: A view from where I am in the world.

(dispatch:)

We arrived in camp. Beautiful here. Scouts are leaving now.                                       

I waited but no one passed. No motorcade. Only the distant rumblings of false cannon fire, the cracks of rifles. I walked the middle of the empty road, sign at my side, to the park and stood at the entrance where the trees arched and clawed one another to canopy the road.

I did not go any further. But it was all there, somehow, in the distance through the thicket in spits of fire and the fallen. I could see it—like staring at an image and looking away to find it followed your gaze, only now, ephemeral and light, as if woven from golden hair.

 

Emilia Phillips is the Levis Fellow for the coordination of the Levis Reading Prize at Virginia Commonwealth University, an assistant literary editor of Blackbird, and the author of a chapbook, Strange Meeting (Eureka Press, 2010). Her poetry and fiction have appeared or are forthcoming in Beloit Poetry Journal, Copper Nickel, Ecotone, Gulf Coast, and elsewhere. She was a 2011 Mona Van Duyn scholar to the Sewanee Writers’ Conference and a finalist in the 2011 Wabash Poetry Prize. She lives in Richmond, Virginia. (4/2012)


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