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Online Feature: “Domestic” by Carl Phillips

If, when studying road atlases

while taking, as you call it, your

morning dump, you shout down to

me names like Miami City, Franconia,

Cancún, as places for you to take

me to from here, can I help it if


all I can think is things that are

stupid, like he loves me he loves me

not? I don’t think so. No more

than, some mornings, waking to your

hands around me, and remembering

these are the fingers, the hands I’ve


over and over given myself to, I can

stop myself from wondering does that

mean they’re the same I’ll grow

old with. Yesterday, in the café I

keep meaning to show you, I thought

this is how I’ll die maybe, alone,


somewhere too far away from wherever

you are then, my heart racing from

espresso and too many cigarettes,

my head down on the table’s cool

marble, and the ceiling fan turning

slowly above me, like fortune, the


part of fortune that’s half-wished-

for only—it did not seem the worst

way. I thought this is another of

those things I’m always forgetting

to tell you, or don’t choose to

tell you, or I tell you but only


in the same way, each morning, I

keep myself from saying too loud I

love you until the moment you flush

the toilet, then I say it, when the

rumble of water running down through

the house could mean anything: flood,


your feet descending the stairs any

moment; any moment the whole world,

all I want of the world, coming down.


This poem appeared in Indiana Review 16.1, Spring 1993.

Anni Liu (Poetry Editor): “For the first time in years, I am trying—and failing—to write love poems. This early poem by Carl Phillips, in which love and the simultaneous distance from the beloved are held up and examined, shows me a way to make the poem about love with both the how and the what. It reminds me that even poems addressing the beloved are still an argument with the self, and that every poem is an opportunity to seduce the reader. “If,” the speaker begins, and we follow, each successive line a sinuous movement delaying the completion of the thought. And how can we not be charmed by a poem with “morning dump” and “Cancún” in the same opening stanza?”


Carl Phillips is the author of 14 books of poems, most recently Wild Is the Wind (FSG, 2018).  He teaches at Washington University in St. Louis.