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tearing the rag off the bush again
Three Poems to the Eternal Beloved by J.J. Phillips PDF E-mail
J.J. Phillips rearranges Plato's Cave! Then she puts everything back!

For W.J. F., S.J. 

Who taught me how to read The Handwriting on the Wall




Port Moresby Valediction


Ia lao gunika lokohu taraika gwauria”*


If someone should ask for me

say, One night white-hot

molten with desire

she went inland


into the rain-forest, deeper

into the cloud-forest she went

to douse the fire


she went inland

into the trackless

hinterlands of the heart.

She took blow-pipe and dart.


She went inland alone

that night she said to shoot

the footless bird of paradise.


* Translation: “He went inland to shoot birds of paradise.”  This phrase, copied from a grammar of Police Motu, a formerly dominant New Guinea pidgin spoken around the environs of Port Moresby.  A useful phrase one must suppose.  In the exquisite pain and delirium of my hypertrophied but thwarted desire for the Eternal Beloved, I desperately thought about leaving everything behind, flying off to New Guinea carrying nothing but a Cynic’s wallet (whatever that was), and disappearing into the bush to begin a new life in a wild and remote land far away from everything familiar.  Only an act so drastic could exorcise this harrowing l’amour fou.  I thought I’d prepare myself by learning some Police Motu so that I could begin to communicate as soon as I arrived, and found an old grammar in the UC Berkeley Library.  But I never got much further along than memorizing a few phrases such as the one that inspired this poem, and “sisia ia mass to boroma ia mauri” – “the dog is dead but the pig is all right,” another undoubtedly indispensable everyday phrase which completely flummoxed me.  During the Age of Exploration, Europeans often received the carcasses of birds of paradise, much valued for their plumage, minus their feet and sometimes their wings (thus the taxonomic designation Paradisciea apoda for the Greater Bird of Paradise).  Legends arose that they had no feet, so were perpetually in flight until death, and continually oriented toward the sun.  Spaniards called them birds of the gods (birds of paradise).

Fallen Idylls  (an anti-pastoral)

Love never settles on that which has lost its bloom

or that which has no bloom




For the last time I lie

down with my dreams of you

such dreams as Sibyls have

who whore with words

but could not love

for lack of faith

yet would kill time

asking why they do not die

when blood runs cold

and heart goes faint.


The Furies spread their couches

down there in the cave

there I lie

there I rave

thin of skin

glazed of eye


feeding on the word of gods

while all the things around me die.


Deep in the cave the secrets

turn in me like larvae turning

in the grave I see

the sky is falling

the planets recede

my world goes flat

I sink by degrees

down between the seconds

pitched into the void

space and time collapsed, destroyed


because some hungry goats believe

I write secrets on the leaves.





Now all my myths and dreams are gone

and time is long of tooth.

Still this smitten flesh

can find no rest to lie

alone among the leaves

my clicking tongue

marking time

waiting for some words to rise

while all my gods break down and die.


But if some autumn afternoon

the wind disturbs the leaves

leap up the secret lost they dance

this is not circumstance.


Look and see

how Logos lies

raveled in my thighs





Stern Eros

             after Callimachus


Stern eros says

desire must die


flense your skin

poke out your eye


cut the cords of your tongue

pierce the tympanum


no songs can be sung

no rhythms sprung

no changes on the body rung.


Chop off your lips

lop off your breasts.


As for the rest

old girl

seek entropy at best.

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