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Williams, Phillip B.

Williams, Phillip B.


Phillip B. Williams is a Chicago, Illinois native. He is the author of the book of poems Thief in the Interior (Alice James Books, 2016). He’s also co-authored a book of poems and conversations called Prime (Sibling Rivalry Press). He is a Cave Canem graduate and received scholarships from Bread Loaf Writers Conference and a 2013 Ruth Lilly Fellowship. His work has appeared or is forthcoming in Callaloo, The Kenyon Review, Poetry, The Southern Review, West Branch and others. Phillip received his MFA in Writing from the Washington University in St. Louis. He is the poetry editor of the online journal Vinyl and the 2015-2017 Creative Writing Fellow in Poetry at Emory University.


O darling, the moon did not disrobe you.
You fell asleep that way, nude
and capsized by our wine, our bump

n’ grind shenanigans. Blame it
on whatever you like; my bed welcomes
whomever you decide to be: hung-

mistress, bride’s bouquet, John Doe
in the alcove of my dreams. You
can quote verbatim an entire album

of Bone Thugs-N-Harmony with your ass
in the air. There’s nothing
wrong with that. They mince syllables

as you call me yours. You don’t
like me but still invite me to your home
when your homies aren’t near

enough to hear us crash into each other
like hours. Some men have killed
their lovers because they loved them

so much in secret that the secret kept
coming out: wife gouging her husband
with suspicion, churches sneering

when an usher enters. Never mind that.
The sickle moon turns the sky into
a man’s mouth slapped sideways

to keep him from spilling what no one would
understand: you call me god when it
gets good though I do not exist to you

outside this room. Be yourself or no one else
here. Your do-rag is camouflage-patterned
and stuffed into my mouth.

Black Witch Moth


The moth lifts its dress and everything beneath

its hem’s shadow sings—the grasses where lie

the dead bull and flies skating across its still-

open eyes, its mouth crusted over with clover

and spit while the maggots swim their

patient circuits where the bull’s genitals

have rotted and dropped their bells. The moth

slips through gnat-swarmed air onto the bull’s hooves

and flies past the bull’s corpse, beyond the outskirts

of the barnyard. No dust from the moth’s pleats—

opening and closing—drops onto the dead

animal’s choir. A boy sees its black dress bob

above him, sees in its shadow an angel to call his own.

Let a sudden finish overcome him wherever

the wild shadow lies flat its news, lies motionless

its wingdom among the barnyard grass.

Let the earth take in the boy as it will the bull.

And the worm-work done unto him as unto the bull.

His color gone and bone given into an end

making permanent the final pose of his suffering,

crux into crux his body returning into itself

as though into the first cell that split

until skin, until marrow, until muscle, until the maggot

is king over body. Let the boy’s skin be a tearing,

to see it torn from him and wonder how

then wonder how far until the next time, the next boy.

The moth flashes open its dress then not,

flash then not, flaps over the dead boy,  its shadow

moving up his thigh to the hip, to the torso,

lifting its garment across his nakedness.

And the bull into the earth. And the boy into the earth.

And the earth not full, the earth not full.



A Rottweiler is the shadow of an angel of vengeance.

The dog blows out a star’s light while scratching

its ribs. It augers the fallen leaves like tarot, decodes

the hot scales of a salamander as it burns through

a cave’s void. It watches the just-born children

like watching a dream it cannot wake from. When it claws

its own grave in a junkyard to the voice of Bessie Smith

tumbling from a transistor radio, it stays for good.


There is a pack of them, ravaged, made savage

by cage and raw meat, BB gun pellets shot

into their faces till the red ponds of their wounds

spill down. The cold ovals of metal chain interlock

jowls against the onyx fur of dogs stolen

from their owners. Howls scar the night. Some beasts

bite when fear tells them to. They destroy other dogs

and the angel of their shadows looks away.


In their old age, where do fighting dogs go? Where

rest their abused bodies made four-legged hauntings?

These precise lovers forced into vicious servitude,

their eyes rejecting moonlight, shake at first when held,

having not known such softness. Bathed and brushed

they whimper, are hushed. Softly, they begin to snore.

Thief in the Interior (Alice James Books, Jan 2016)

Prime (Sibling Rivalry Press, 2014)

Frequencies Volume 1: Burn (YesYes Books, 2013)

2017 Etching Press Whirling Prize Winner
Recipient of a 2017 Whiting Award for Poetry
2017 Kate Tufts Discovery Award Winner
Nominated for the 2017 NAACP Image Awards for Outstanding Literary Work in Poetry
2017 Publishing Triangle’s Thom Gunn Award Finalist
2017 Lambda Literary Awards Winner
2017 Eric Hoffer Book Award Finalist
2017 Nominee for 2017 Hurston/Wright Legacy Award for Poetry
Shortlisted for Chicago Review of Books Award in Poetry
2016 INDIES Book of the Year Award Finalist
One of BET’s “12 Must-Read Books for 2016”
2013 Ruth Lilly Fellowship