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Among the Enlighteners.

And two more poems


Among the Enlighteners

Affecting appropriate gravitas,
the granite heads hold their ground.
Long gone, they’re famous still –
though less for us than those
who sought their immortality.

Not that I can place them all.
History retains its opacities.
Few stop, preferring shade.
Fewer still take photographs.
Quivering with excess light,
the afternoon goes unrecorded.

Beyond alleys of founders,
poets, rebels, enlighteners,
other unnamed figures
stand at pathway junctions –
a cloaked mother and child,
heroic uniformed worker –
the abstracted exemplary
fixed at woodland’s edge.

Time drifts off from them
towards the distant cenotaph
on which the declining sun
will, for a moment, spear itself.

Brought into Focus

‘Blue necklace left on a charred chair
Tells that Beauty was startled there’
—Alun Lewis, Raiders’ Dawn’

So fleeting, over a crag the sprig of lightning,
spider-web gleams in hedgerow, human shape in glass.
Yet also a shield bug’s sheen roving pale leafage,
drifts of wood smoke turning streaming sun-glints blue,
sea glitter, ramparts, bombsite ragwort, curve
of a long bay whose scarp erodes in deep time …
So invitation’s understood among crabbed roof beams,
scree scattering valleys, unpreserved for any reason.
Or in this painting, hyperrealist, of oil refinery tanks:
the hammer as detailed as the worker’s hand that grips it.

Where we look is a decision, not seeing things entire.
The moon squints within its penumbra of cloud
and a house might flatten to an oblong turned edgewise
with practice in loosening degrees of concentration –
when the world’s blur tunnels down to first sight
and the eyes distinguish where their I will become.

The Shape of It

A single blaze of light
across the turning’s swagged
with grey cables. Its rhombus
leans into cloud shadow,
leaf mulch, spattered cherries.
It isn’t asking to be observed.

It isn’t an intention.
Planes intersect a view
we’ve grown familiar with.
How good to overlook
pure function, stand
as if astonished
by simple arrangements
of colour and form –

the etched face, for instance,
a woman crossing the street
or syncopation of lamps
coming on, going out
across a whole evening –
and then from that reduction
return to the stories
which shape those fleeting apparitions.

TOM PHILLIPS is a writer, translator and lecturer living and working in Sofia, Bulgaria. His poetry has been widely published in journals, anthologies, pamphlets and the collections Unknown Translations (Scalino, 2016), Recreation Ground (Two Rivers Press, 2012) and Burning Omaha (Firewater, 2003). He teaches creative writing and translation at Sofia University St Kliment Ohridski and is the editor of the volume of essays Peter Robinson: A Portrait of his Work (Shearsman, 2021). Forthcoming publications include Geo Milev: Selected Poems and Prose Poems (Worple Press, 2023). Published with a selection of his Milev translations.

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