Back to Issue Twenty-Nine.

One of the First Girls on Whom I Had a Crush Was Named Hope


I once believed in god, an intelligent design at least.
But I also believed my youth was for mistakes,

and so I kept a fake journal, in case I was ever called
into the principal’s office again to see Mrs. Wood

with her New Balance on the desk, her gray muumuu
slipping back to reveal a bunched ankle-socklet, white

as a symbolic lamb. More unyielding than Saint Peter
at the gate, she of course didn’t believe in saints. Or girls

having sex. And so I wrote my fiction in bed—
temptations conquered with my boyfriend and not

his bass-player’s fingers slipped under my skirt
on the band bus while coming back from

a game, his sweatshirt covering everything
like a well-made plan. But there were other things

I couldn’t admit to myself, much less lie about.
She was one of them—Hope. Sometimes I liked to imagine

her as an allegorical figure like Justice or Fortuna,
but, instead of the accoutrements of a cornucopia

and blindfold, her arms would be covered in disappearing
tattoos that constellated the classroom

daydreams of whoever looked upon her, and she’d hold
a radio antenna, a voice for the dark hours.

I bought CDs she liked, Blink-182 and Weezer.
We were friends, I said, and then we weren’t

so much when she became popular. And I was jealous
of phantoms; of her copy of Anna Karenina,​

well-worn and foxed as the image of what could be;
the future like an unattended dance, the one

at which everyone else is. But our school didn’t
allow them. One teacher said girls could get pregnant

from dancing, and I remember Hope and I laughing
together, on the way to our next class. If she was a sentence,

she was a question I thought was rhetorical.
But the world really wanted to know the answer.



Poem About Death Beginning With a Humblebrag and Ending With a Shower Beer


Today, for once, I did not think of Death. I avoided him like all men
    in public by pretending to read, by putting in

my earbuds to drown out his I​ still need you, babys​ with Patsy Cline’s
    I go out walkin’.​ I watched the unglued soles

of his black Converse hightops pass in front of the bathroom stall
    into which I’d retreated when I needed to

decompress from teaching. But I didn’t say anything, only fished
    in my purse for a pink clonazepam

that had spilled out into the bottom with all the pennies and single
    sticks of gum. ​I have to take

this​, I said when he later approached, and then I helloed​ into my phone
    although it hadn’t rung. I tried to look busy

all day. I answered emails I’d been putting off and I even remembered
    to say ​thank you for your patience instead of sorry

for my delay​. I invited students into my office to ask about their summer
    breaks, and I heard about a job

petsitting four dogs, two cats, some Sea Monkeys, and a snake. I asked
    the student if she had to drop mice by their tails

into the hot tank. They were brown and frozen in bags, with freezer burn
    on their noses. I remembered then

that snakes smell with their tongues, remembered one flick against a glass
    enclosure. I remembered then what it was

like to be kissed by Death—his tongue like an old, limp carrot left too long
    in the crisper drawer. Sometimes, I imagined

sticking it into one of those old-fashioned pencil sharpeners mounted
    on the wall. The sizing guide, the little crank,

the shavings coming out in coils, you know. Once, when we were
    together, Death forgot my birthday. I had

to plan the party and smear the cake with buttercream myself, but Death took all
    the credit. He was often like that. A​ man

of consequence,​ some would say. He never laid a hand on me, but any time
    I told him he had hurt me he would say, ​I don’t 

know what you’re talking about.​ I began to think that maybe I was
    making it all up. Maybe you are​, he said

without moving his lips, and I began to worry he could talk to me
    telepathically. That seems like something

Death could do, I reasoned. But maybe his voice in me was me too.
    It sounded funny after all, a little off, like Bob

Dylan in the late 80s, his voice just starting to turn to wet concrete.
    Most of the time, I don’t think

about Death, except when he drunk-texts in the middle of the night
    or happens to run into me buying

milk. Sometimes when we’d make love​, as he like to call it, I was too drunk
    to say ​no​. Sometimes when I was under

him, his sweat dripping off his brow and stinging into my eye, I
    would think about a woman and how she tasted

after we walked around the city for hours, finding every excuse to delay
    returning to the hotel room we could

barely admit we had for reasons we couldn’t say aloud, even to one
    another, even though we both knew.

Today was a small triumph. As I said, I didn’t think of him at all. But I can’t
    say he wasn’t there. Isn’t still. Here in the muscle

after I’ve undressed. In the brown bottle at my lips, in my hand on my breast.
            And in the steam I inhale.



The First Boy I Thought I Loved Was in a Band Called Romanticide


after I broke up with him    He used to call me


as a way of flirting    A man came


to the house the other day

and I stood

on the other side of the locked storm

door, the dog a low

growl at my heel    The man pleaded

for me to ​open up

and take

the free gift of laundry detergent

out of his hands

so he could show me what else

he had    My father told me

to always be in a position of leverage, to maintain

a range

of motion so I could always turn

away or into

an assailant’s grip and get away    Lately, my husband

has been sleeping

on the sofa and so I’ve learned

how to

stretch my body out as far as it will

go to the mattress

corners  to take up space and dream

of her

who made strong the wound by honoring

the tenders

car that men are

always reaching out to touch without

asking and asking, ​did you

get that in a cat fight, sweetheart​ ​without a question

mark at the end because they don’t care

about the answer only

that they define the violence I was followed by

a car for ten minutes and at a traffic

light the passenger leaned

out his window and yelled, I’d love

to pound your cunt to pulp

while my buddy rips your ass

apart  ​  Some mornings when I wake

I think I can

unthink my body, to make it salt or sand—

my head the top

chamber of a halved hourglass


into the wind, but I’m trying

not to violence

myself as a way to protect ​    this

will make a kind of tongue

should mine be pulled out,

I think while looking at the end

of my soft-worn belt and not at the blue-scarred abdomen

in the mirror in which I dress.

Emilia Phillips (she/her/hers) is the author of three poetry collections from the University of Akron Press, most recently Empty Clip (2018), and four chapbooks, including the forthcoming Hemlock (Diode Editions, 2019). Her poems and lyric essays appear widely in literary publications including Agni, American Poetry Review, Ploughshares, Poetry, and elsewhere. She’s an assistant professor in the MFA Writing Program and the Department of English at the University of North Carolina at Greensboro.


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