A collage of images of a statue of a man, with a blue finger-print smudge over his face and another off to the side
Miki Lowe

As From a Quiver of Arrows

A poem by Carl Phillips, published in The Atlantic in 1995

By Carl Phillips
Illustrations by Miki Lowe

Carl Phillips, the former chancellor of the Academy of American Poets, has often described poetry as a way to wrestle with ambiguity—to attempt to contain it. “Poetry is a form of control,” he once said. So Phillips chooses subjects—love, power, freedom, grief—that are particularly hard to grasp.

In “As From a Quiver of Arrows,” Phillips wrestles with death in a series of questions that progresses from the specific to the existential: What do we do with the body, he begins asking. How are we to / regard his effects … do we say they are / relics and so treat them like relics? / Does his soiled linen count? By the end, Phillips has weaved his way to a broader wrangling with mortality and human frailty, and a sense of wonder for what death will bring. Ultimately, he asks how we should live while we wait for it.

Phillips has written “It’s a human need, to make of shapelessness a form.” He hasn’t reached answers in this poem, but he’s given shape to some of the most essential questions.

The original page of the poem with a blue collaged image of hands above the poem