On Carl Phillips’ “Gold on Parchment”

Excerpt from “Gold on Parchment”

from Carl Phillips, Speak Low

. . . though I do not forget, mostly, the difference
between the kind of invisibility one can wield—a form
of power—and the other kind, that gets imposed from
outside, and later fastens like character, or dye, as if
invisibility were instead a dye, and the self a spill
of linen, Egyptian cotton: whore


In Phillips’ richly crafted “Gold on Parchment,” natural imagery evolves into a meditation on invisibility. What is the result of getting forced into the margins and unseen, or of controlling or not controlling our own presence? The poem pushes onward, “the self a spill of linen,” triggerinSpeak Lowg a chain of associations with beds and bed linens—and then the unexpected, accusatory leap—whore. The self made from woven threads, but at the same time also touched by carnality and corruption. Is that the result of trying to deny, or make unseen, the part of self that is sexual? As always Phillips’ serpentine syntax drives the poem onward into an eroticized contemplation. Readers briefly ponder, look into the unseen folds of their own selves, read on.

“Gold on Parchment,” from Carl Phillips, Speak Low. Farrar, Straus, Giroux, 2010.


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