Philip Arnold grew up in the Blue Ridge Mountains of North Carolina. His poetry, which has appeared in The Iowa Review, Midwest Quarterly, Sou’wester, Southern Poetry Review, The New Shetlander, Skald, and Northwords, is inspired from his travels overseas. He is drawn to poetry that conveys a strong sense of presence within place.
What is left of the world narrows to the mud-track
and rises slowly above the white wash of cottage
and barn. Rootbound, the lea heaves up the mountain,
its revelation of ridgeline elevating the Coomcalle.
Scoured, stone-fetched, the River Gaddagh rims the footpath.
High-heeled, I hinge and heft my way up the Devil’s Ladder.
Clouds overgrow the sky, tuck into the jut
and chiseled creases of the corrie.
I can smell the air, the damp underside of the wind-lifted,
upland lough. I rummage foot-holds
through the edgeless fog, scuttle scree, forfeit any windfall
of the sublime in the views below. Misted, cloud-tethered,
a steel cross centers the mountain’s
dim pinnacle: the door to the dark tabernacle closes.
In shortness of breath the song of the creator begins:
sulfurous, flame-fringed. Smoke declares the occupancy of fire.
Then ash. Then black earth, seepage. Then ice.
I return in the afterhour as if I walk there now.
Darkness advances my solitude the way the wind polishes
a wing. I drift through corridors of stone, slacken their hold,
dislodge one myth of the underworld after another
as the light pours in.
My fingers auger to the depth of a seed’s tender sleep;
the ingrown moonlight awakens the mountain.
The mist enters me; pellucid globes that hold the memory
of the lough and sea. An unfinished billow of the black sky pools
on my forehead: a water bead blooms. My tongue swims
in the wind’s current. The gate of the sky-fallen fog opens.
Shadow-lines vein the waters along the return
of bloodshot passages. Throated through waves,
a metaphor unlocks the oar; recalibrations
in the flexed acoustic of landfall.
The prowl is a rimmed moon, eclipsed
in the shoreline glaze of iron oxide and algae:
beneath, inflections of footfall, buoyant
in the clutch of recurrent light.
A knife slices through it before it is blessed.
Beneath a smoldering sun the sea
is smoked out; undercurrents of ash surface
through the offered bowl.
The space that holds their absence empties:
drawn in, shouldered to the next in the public house.
Rain skims the windows, the infinite scale
of voices and the inherited winds.
Eloquence weathers the ear.
In the breath between notes, lungs seize
the mingled air, summon the unsounded.
Silence answers the silence after the song.
Spurs of starlight flow downstream, seaward
into the boundary waters. Sprays of light
tossed, tide-lofted: an utterance
like a coming wave, transfluent and familiar.