February 2000

Philip St. Clair


Philip St. Clair Philip St. Clair's fourth book, Acid Creek, was published by Bottom Dog Press in 1997. His poems have appeared in Black Warrior Review, Gettysburg Review, Harper's, Poetry Review [London], Ploughshares, Prairie Schooner, Shenandoah, Quarterly West, and elsewhere. He has received fellowships from the National Endowment for the Arts and the Kentucky Arts Council and was awarded the Bullis Prize from Poetry Northwest.

Woolwich     Click to hear in real audio


The middle-aged man with a plastic brace on his leg
        sits in an overstuffed chair
in front of a television set, and he wears the soft,
        shapeless clothing of the invalid,
the damaged athlete, the newly-redundant. His flat
        is almost at the top
of one of the tower-blocks that rise above the railway
        like giant menhirs,
and he can see the great gray crystal at Canary Wharf,
        made hazy by distance,
whenever he chooses to turn his head. Right now
        he is watching
an afternoon drama about the lives of ordinary folk
        as they open doors
to small rooms, as they briskly walk from parking lot
        and corner bus stop
to sweetshop and cafe and clinic, to the Anchor,
        the Red Lion, the Trafalgar.
He is sad that his leg no longer does what he tells it,
        sorry that his life will never
be much of an example, but suddenly he remembers
        it's time for the World Cup
and tunes in. The apprehensive team from Scotland
        lines up for the camera:
tomorrow they must cross the Channel to play Brazil
        and all-but-certain defeat.
Don't come back too early, a pretty girl sings to them,
        and he sings too.


Two women have left their building to wheel baby-prams
        over the low hills
close to the railway: thousands of bicycle tires have made
        a narrow furrow
along one side of the path they take—a slash where grass
        struggles to grow.
Not far away is the rusting body of an automobile:
        its engine and tires,
its seats and bonnet and boot carried off; its windscreen
        of safety glass
smashed into tiny cubes that are strewn about like salt:
        the children,
finding nothing left to break, now leave it alone.
        One woman says
You ought to thank God he's still alive—you need to
        get over it,
harping on about what's past and gone, about what's
        not going to be.
The other woman coughs as she turns her face away:
        I never did, she says.
Suddenly a gust of wind rises from the west: a lone gull,
        hovering above them,
lets itself be carried away. The women stop, tuck hair
        beneath their scarves,
glance down at their children, who are wide awake and silent.
        The fat sun
has begun to set: its light tints the hood on each black pram
        gunbarrel blue.




Philip St. Clair: Poetry
Copyright � 2000 The Cortland Review Issue 10The Cortland Review