View All Available Formats & Editions
Choose Expedited Shipping at checkout for delivery by Wednesday, May 19


A powerful, inventive collection from one of America's most respected poets

. . .There’s

a trembling inside the both of us,

there’s a trembling, inside us both

The territory of Reconnaissance is one where morals threaten to become merely “what the light falls through,” “suffering [seems] in fact for nothing,” and maybe “all we do is all we can do.” In the face of this, Carl Phillips, reconsidering and unraveling what we think we know, maps out the contours of a world in revision, where truth lies captured at one moment and at the next goes free, transformed. These are poems of searing beauty, lit by hope and shadowed by it, from a poet whose work “reinstates the possibility of finding meaning in a world that is forever ready to revoke the sources of meaning in our lives” (Jonathan Farmer, Slate).

Product Details

ISBN-13: 9780374536558
Publisher: Farrar, Straus and Giroux
Publication date: 09/06/2016
Edition description: Reprint
Pages: 64
Sales rank: 631,633
Product dimensions: 5.39(w) x 8.26(h) x 0.19(d)

About the Author

Carl Phillips is the author of twelve books of poetry, including Silverchest, a finalist for the Griffin International Poetry Prize, and Double Shadow, winner of a Los Angeles Times Book Prize. His most recent book of prose isThe Art of Daring: Risk, Restlessness, Imagination. Phillips teaches at Washington University in St. Louis.

Read an Excerpt


By Carl Phillips

Farrar, Straus and Giroux

Copyright © 2015 Carl Phillips
All rights reserved.
ISBN: 978-0-374-71339-3



    All the more elegant forms of cruelty, I'm told, begin
    with patience. I have practiced patience. As for piety
    being, to superstition, as what had seemed a fortress
    can be to not-a-fortress-in-the-end, at all: maybe so.

    — Why not move like light, reflected, across the snow?


    Even if you're right,
    and there's in fact a difference
    between trouble unlooked-for, and
    the kind of trouble we pursued,
    ruthlessly, until at last
    it was ours,
    what will the difference
    have been, finally? What I've
    called the world continues
    to pass for one, the room spins
    same as ever, the bodies
    inside it do, flightless, but
    no less addicted to mastering —
    to the dream of mastering — the very
    boughs through which
    they keep falling without
    motion, almost,
    that slowly, it seems they'll fall
    forever, my
    pretty consorts, to whom
    sometimes — out of pity,
    not mercy, for
    nothing tender
    about it — I show the darker
    powers I've hardly shown
    to anyone: Feel the weight of them,
    I say, before putting them back,
    just behind my heart, where they blacken
    and thrive.


    You could tell from the start that the best

    were frailing. We made the wishes we made,
    beside the wishes we also hoped would
    come true, for there's always a difference,

    the way what we remember of what happened
    is just memory, not history exactly, and
    not the past, which is truth, but by then

    who cared? The truth by then as a snowy
    owl becoming steadily more indistinguishable
    from the winter sand in twilight, feathered

    emptiness filling/unfilling itself for no one,
    no apparent reason — who? who says?
    who says the dead are farther away from me

    than you are? — across the hard, hard shore.


    The Golden Age, the Silver ... And then there's the nothing
    everything returns to, flies to a bloated stag found
    strangled, say, among the reeds,
    the reeds where the roseate,
    the thick in the head but all the lovelier for it, the lion-
    muscled, graceful, syphilitic — all the lovers you've
    ever had, meaning all the bodies you've variously given
    sway to
    or made sway — rise as one before you: not ghostly,
    more like perennials you'd forgotten to expect again,
    finding their way back into the violence and non-violence
    of light, sunlight. They're what the light falls through.


    Sure, I used to say his name like a truth that, just
    by saying it aloud, I could make more true, which
    makes no more sense than having called it sorrow,
    when it was only the rain making the branches hang
    more heavily, so that some of them, sometimes,
    even touched the ground ... I see that now. I can

    see how easy it is to confuse estrangement with
    what comes before that, what's really just another
    form of being lost, having meant to spell out —
    wordlessly, handlessly — I'm falling, not Sir,
    I fell.
As for emptiness spilling where no one
    ever wanted it to, and becoming compassion, as

    for how that happens — What if all we do is all we
    can do? what if longing, annihilation, regret are all this
    life's ever going to be, a little music thrown across and
    under it, ghost song from a cricket box when the last
    crickets have again gone silent, now, or be still forever,
    as the gathering crowd, ungathering, slowly backs away?


    Maybe love really does mean the submission of power —
    I don't know. Like pears on a branch, a shaking branch,
    in sunlight, 4 o'clock sunlight, all the ways we do harm,
    or refrain from it, when nothing says we have to ... Shining,
    everyone shining like that, as if reality itself depended
    on a nakedness as naked as naked gets; on a faith in each
    other as mistaken as mistaken tends to be, though I have
    loved the mistake of it — still do; even now — as I love
    the sluggishness with which, like sacrifice, like the man
    who, having seen, no, having understood himself at last,
    turns at first away — has to — the folded black-and-copper
    wings of history begin their deep unfolding, the bird itself,
    shuddering, lifts up into the half-wind that comes after —
    higher — soon desire will resemble most that smaller thing,
    late affection, then the memory of it; and then nothing at all.


    It's as if forgiveness were, in fact, an animal — wild,
    like animals, the particular wild of animals that have
    lived domesticated their entire lives, when a hand,
    a trigger, something small lets go. All I can hear
    most nights is the howling, even if, sometimes, sure,
    I forget to think about it — if I don't think about it,
    the dark's pieces briefly come back together, they
    lift as one and, like a swarm of bees, thick, ungainly,
    in slow reverse, the dark clears. They say one cloud
    must pass eventually, from beneath the other — and
    I have learned it must: didn't intimacy mean courtesy,
    once, and force mean power? I'll shout the starlings
    loose from the pines again. I swim the field — stitches
    everywhere, your body everywhere, blue cornflowers.



    I miss the sea.

    I miss the storms
    that stopped there.

    How much is luck, again opening,
    and luck shutting itself down, what we
    never expected, or only sort of did,
    or should have?

    The windfalls of my mistakes sweetly rot beneath me.

    Two hawks lift — headed north — from my highest bough.


    So he's seen the blizzard that the future
    looks like, and gotten lost,
    a little. All the same —

    he gathers the honeysuckle in his arms,
    as for a lover. Cloud of bees,
    of yellow.

    His chest, blurring bright with it.

    Who's to say brutality's what he'll be wearing,
    when he goes?


    There's a light that estrangement,
    more often than not, briefly
    leaves behind it.

    Then the dark — blue and damned,
    erotic: here, where — done at last
    with flashing like
    power itself at first, then what power

    comes to — the field
    lays down its winded swords. — My head;
    beside yours.


    Of the many things that he used to say to me, there are two
    I'm certain of: You taste like a last less-than-long summer afternoon
    by the shore just before September;

    You're the kind of betrayal, understand, I've been waiting for,
    all my life. When did remembering stop meaning
    to be lit from within — bodily —

    and the mind, briefly flickering
    again out — wasn't that forgetting? Somewhere
    abandon's still just a word to be turned away from, as from a man

    on fire. Remorse, I think,
    is not regret. How new, as in full of chance, the nights here
    still can seem to be,

    if you keep your eyes closed. Here's a lullaby:
    "No more bondage, no triumph, either, no more the bluing waves
    of shame ..."


    And if I be torn?

    And if torn means mendable?

    And the wayward mission of your body
    be a needle's mission, up and through
    my own?

    How softly the after comes
    loose, unraveling, until it's just
    before: bees again in the catnip, the yarrow,
    the last of those hydrangeas that I call
    forgiveness, for their useless unfolding and
    flowering routinely, each time as if
    this time something different will be
    what happens,

    not the usual ghost of
    put-aside-for-now sorrow
    disappearing, none of that
    steadiness with which
    he kept looking back — back at both of us,
    as he lifted away.


    More theatrically than I'd expected,
    the trapped hummingbird won't stop
    beating the mason jar's glass.

    The staghorn sumac's
    splayed geometry
    tilts on the wind.

    You are the knife,
    and you are also what the knife
    has opened, says the wind.


    Not because there was nothing to say, or we
    didn't want to — we just stopped speaking
    entirely, but like making a gift of it: Here;
    for you.
Saturday birds picked the sidewalk's
    reminders of Friday night's losses, what got left
    behind. I've been wrong about more than, despite
    memory, I had thought was possible. I keep
    making my way through the so-called forests of the so-
    called dead, I whistle their branches into rivers
    elsewhere, they tell the usual lies that water, lately,
    can hardly wait to begin singing about: love as
    rescue, rescue as to have been at last set free. If
    that's how it always seems anyway, so what,
    that it did? When I whistle again — not so hard
    this time, more softly — each lie blows out, then
    away: lit candles; dust. — I take everything back.


    — Wild West? Colorless birds
    lift up from the snarl and
    tangle of chaparral. Twice
    I've known the speed of love
    to exactly equal the speed of
    life itself. Not so much
    the saguaro's predictability,
    but the more ignorable
    vegetation. All the smaller
    varieties of almost that, before
    living without them, we thought
    we'd die without. In these parts,
    reptilian, autoerotic, that's
    how the winter works, when it
    comes, if it does come. I keep
    a space for tenderness. The Wild
    West isn't dead yet, it seems,
    no; only harder to find. Is it
    any wonder — were we not
    a wonder — seeing how the skies here,
    how they give everything away too soon?


    In the stories it's different: grief,
    like the dark, lifts eventually —
    an abandonment inside which, with all
    the clarity of bells when for once they
    ring like nothing but the ringing bells
    they are, it can seem that at last you've

    gotten away with something, like
    a horse you've stolen that, now, lighter
    than ash on a sudden wind, or any wind
    at all, takes the length of the field, but
    as if bewildered almost, any man
    for whom to have trusted too easily

    has merely meant disappointment,
    not disaster, and the long
    longing-in-vain for that moment when
    either one could have been the other
    starts to stir a little, slowly it unfurls itself,
    its languorous disease, inside him.


Excerpted from Reconnaissance by Carl Phillips. Copyright © 2015 Carl Phillips. Excerpted by permission of Farrar, Straus and Giroux.
All rights reserved. No part of this excerpt may be reproduced or reprinted without permission in writing from the publisher.
Excerpts are provided by Dial-A-Book Inc. solely for the personal use of visitors to this web site.

Table of Contents

Reconnaissance 3

The Darker Powers 7

For Night to Fall 9

Moralia 10

The Greatest Colors for the Emptiest Parts of the World 11

Steeple 12

Since You Ask 13

Capella 14

Chromatic Black 17

Permission to Speak 18

Discipline 19

For Long to Hold 20

Stamina 23

The Length of the Field 24

The Buried Life 25

After Learning that the Spell is Irreversible 26

From a Land Galled Near-Is-Far 28

Correction 29

Spirit Lake 30

In Which to Wonder Flew a Kind of Reckoning 31

Lowish Hum, Cool Fuss 32

Last Night 33

Foliage 34

The Strong by Their Stillness 37

Thunder 38

Faintly, With Falling Stars 39

Delicately, Slow, the World Comes Back 40

Enough, Tom Fool, Now Sleep 41

Meanwhile, and Anyway 42

Harness 44

Shield 45

At Bay 46

Spring 47

By Force 48

Acknowledgments 51

Customer Reviews