Philip Schaefer

2018, Poetry


First a certain friend must die
too young in the middle of the night. Then spend
a dragonfly’s entire afterlife ironing a tablecloth, a tuxedo
filled with moths, the unfamiliar rivers flooding through the farmland
on the back of your hand. Then slide a blade through the brain
of a cantaloupe and scoop with the convex mirror of a spoon
until what’s left is succulent flesh, a bad appetite
for a failed desire you feed again and again. And when your friend is good
and gone long enough for you to fill your head with blood
roses, the names of old lovers who wanted to leave you months before
you had a clue, take the cue: everything you touch
is serrated. Everything you drink grows needles. You must learn
to become a cheap microphone in a cardboard box
or a trinket tucked under the janitor’s pockmarked desk. The dullest robin
who never found a mate. These days it’s always getting late
so plant birthday candles in the yard until it’s an orchard
of unfulfilled wishes. It’s possible to be culpable, too capable of yourself.
Think hard enough and the tongue is a machete cutting through
the velvet sun. Now close your tombstone eyelids and walk
until a warmth fills your mouth with halloween
butterflies. Swallow them until you’re as light as a battery
on the stomach of the ocean. Hum a gas station hymn then hum it again.


Birds roll down my sleeve like Mississippi rain whatever
that means. Lately everything smells like my neighbor’s late
night morning breath, styrofoam coffee, this fat stack
of how-to gardening magazines. Makes me want to cut a duck
out of the cardstock sky, dance in satin, deliver the mail.
They say when she’s gone she’s gone but still I wrist-trick
the cat by wearing her bra and lipstick. Flick my hair apocalyptic.
Overall it’s still The South up here and no one’s growing older.
So I sniff a stiffer glue, consider what it would feel like to attend
a youth group service. You know, stand in the back with crossed arms
until some baby Jesus shark asks if it’s my first time which it always is
with gum in my cheek. A raw joke, a sutured truth. And you,
down in Hy-Vee Kansas City, licking the stickers off discount fruit
for a glimpse of salvation residue, give god a new kerosene name
to pull out of a top-hat and light on fire. There’s a little bit of Julie
in all of us, isn’t there? Something pure therefore ignitable. On the radio
this morning a dog fell off a roof and died. I suppose there are no mistakes
in nature.


Even sleep has its own curfew, water
its own pearl coffin. Starfish,
on that glittering neon beach, cough
through the heavens the way
my friend Colin even on his best
behavior is still without his wife.
It kills me all this stopping
and starting again. A nod
to the maker of time.
A quick flick head gesture
to the greatest imposter ever.
Yeah, God, we’re in this together
or forever or forget I said anything
at all. I miss my brothers
but will never tell them, and I am
certain this is the rotten core
of the bitter gold apple
of who we all are: losers
in the olympics, closers under
the lights but the game ended years
ago. I toss my hair like boring innings
across the sky. I get so ridiculous
with this living. Last week
I decided to open a business
called the tree of forgiveness
but no one was invited.
Here, lord, take my delicious red
chest. Paint a target and forge
an arrow. I want you to call me Jonathan
or Newton. Whistle out your best
shot then whistle it again. Then kiss my sins.

Philip Schaefer’s debut collection of poems Bad Summon (University of Utah Press, 2017) won the Agha Shahid Ali Poetry Prize, and he’s the author of three chapbooks, two co-written with friend and poet Jeff Whitney. He won the 2016 Meridian Editor’s Prize in poetry and has been featured on Poetry Daily, Verse Daily, and in the Poetry Society of America. Individual work is out or due out in Kenyon Review, Prairie Schooner, Thrush, Guernica, The Cincinnati Review, Salt Hill, Bat City Review, The Adroit Journal, Baltimore Review, Redivider, and Passages North among others. He tends bar in Missoula, MT. 

Philip Schaefer

2014, Poetry


We close our eyes to arrive in the middle of a field.
A field with holes rifled through aluminum cans
and dogs whose eyes have been mistaken
for cans. We grow up all over again:
the road’s gravel in our skin, the drunk sunset
drilling crimson holes down the sky’s open throat.
In the distance a coal train crawls across these hills
like a glinting necklace. Grass makes sauce
of last fall’s pumpkins and a horse falls to its knees
before the changing season. When we open our eyes
we will surely die, mountains only as large as our thumbs
will allow. We cannot say anything. We are so immense.


I’ve been running a thumb
over my gums all week, tonguing

sugar, curious but not yet
ready to give in to wonder.

Jack bought a sack of powder
and I’ve never smoked the Christ

out of crystal. It’s true,
my zodiac is a razor-fish

and tonight I’m going to shoot
for blue. What happens happened

forever. The bowling ball blow,
nitrous ecstasy. Anything with a hose

that isn’t green. Down the street
a pair of shoes dangle like wet

laundry from telephone wire.
A kid without teeth runs

through the bushes, the fence,
pretending his hands are fire

trucks. His mother’s eyes
turn to glass each afternoon,

two moons slow to orbit,
and I know when she reaches

for the mail she often forgets
who he is. Don’t we all.



Someone once told me
if I could dream it I should
drink it. So I let the word boil
like black, unlit oil in my throat,
waiting for anyone to strike
a match. Tell me you could
hate me. Tell me and I will turn
into a bouquet of white and blue
flames. Last week in Montana
a woman took a cattle brand
to her stomach. The small,
not-quite-body inside her body
pinched out by the red fingers
of hot metal. I have an addiction
to stories like this. I cannot sleep
anymore. My eyes light up
like aquarium fish in the night.
Give me the farmer who slow-bleeds
his pigs, the old professor who cuts
harmonica slits into his wrists.
Let me feed off. Let me hate
and be hated. There are
immeasurable qualities
in the dark. A face without
a hand to trace it. The voice
taken from the mouth, saying
come with me and don’t look back.


Philip Schaefer’s poems are out or forthcoming in The National Poetry Review, RHINO, Fourteen Hills, Pacifica, Calliope, Toad, The Chariton Review, Noon and elsewhere. He is also the recipient of an Academy of American Poets prize. Philip can usually be found tending bar at the local distillery in Missoula, where he is an MFA candidate at the University of Montana. He is haunted by waters.