The Vanishings (Release Press, 1978). Prose poems appeared in The Paris Review, Virginia Quarterly Review, Poetry Now, and the collection was listed by Library Journal as one of the best small press publications of 1978.
“The now firmly-established prose poem lends itself well to the fableistic imagination, the creative energies of the archetypical trickster; seizing on seemingly limitless possibilities, Philip Graham achieves an impressive match of form and content in this, his first collection. Imagine Sisyphus approaching a great hill–one that may at any moment turn into a meteor–and pushing a stone that might as easily dissolve into a fish, a fist, or a wand, and you begin to grasp the inventive playfulness and sometimes frightening seriousness of these poems.” –from the review of The Vanishings in Virginia Quarterly Review, V. 55, #2, Spring 1979.
Only after handprints appeared on the walls did I realize I walk in my sleep.
No doubt these were my own form of bread crumbs through the forest, and so I memorized their positions in the halls, side rooms–wherever they raised their palms. Then each day before breakfast I’d search out the new prints, hoping to rediscover the paths I’d felt my way to the night before.
But if there were any patterns, they were lost in some dream I couldn’t remember.
Awake, alone and lost, I decided to invest in the hope of common cleansers: I scrubbed down the handprints. Or rather, tried, for no matter how hard I rubbed, they only became clearer, and my colorless wallpaper came more and more to resemble precinct files.
I devoted less time to sleep and more to cleaning, I exhausted myself and my supply of Brillo. The handprints continued to multiply: in number, into themselves. They became concave, a kind of cringe into the wall. They crept inward until–slowly–they developed wrists, forearms. Soon there were over a hundred holes, each reaching in with five fingers to the center of the house.
I began to sleep again, long hours of dreams that it seems only the arms in my walls, still growing, could retain. And in the few hours I dared wake and walk about, I had no choice but to keep, with great difficulty, my hands in my pockets.
And today, all at once, the holes, from shoulder sockets on, began waving inside: some with wistful delicacy, others with a kind of subdued anger. They continue even now. I’ve examined them all, each one as individual in motion as they are identical in shape. And I wait, because I can’t see in beyond their fingertips, and I have no way of telling to whom, or what, they wave, or whether it’s a greeting, or a farewell.
After months of crippled absence we were going to be back together again: you had given up Disappearing Cream, I had given up cold cuts. And as I waited for your train and your face that I could barely remember, I passed the time in my favorite way, a catalogue of body parts. Head? Here! And then the sub-divisions: Mouth? Here! Nose? Here! and so on. Then, Left Arm? Here! and continuing on quietly to myself until soon I had no idea I was asleep on the station bench. My body became, you might say, the stuff of dreams, I was the very air that I was sitting in. I spread out until I was sitting everywhere in the station and the crowds of people, rushing to their own destinations, walked through me and woke me up in time to hear a voice announce the arrival of your train.
Well when I stood up the first thing that struck me was that I was missing a toe. The itching in the empty space was unbearable, and persistent in a way that my toe had never been before its absence. I spent at least a half hour looking for it, and when I finally remembered your arrival I looked for you too, but you were nowhere to be found.
There was nothing for me to do but return home, and I half feared that too would be gone.
Unknown to me, my toe was still dreaming.
It dreamed its nail was a clear pool, a mirror about to be overwhelmed by flesh.
It dreamed it was a young sprout, taking root in a foot.
It dreamed its deepest, most passionate dream: that it was part of a fist.
My toe became less mine, became its own dreams, its transparency toe-like only by virtue of the three invisible hairs on its little knuckle and the equally invisible lint clinging to its base, a reminder of when it was among companions.
It dreams of not only its portion of the ground, but everyone’s. Then not just the ground, but all the space just above it. Then not just a thin horizontal, though all-encompassing slice of air, but all air. Then not just all air, but nestled under a bench in the station, someone spills coffee on it.
Days have passed, and I’m still not used to the wind whistling in my socks. I can be made out, even from a distance, with my minute limp. I’ve become an Eskimo with an unequal team of huskies, and without a landmark to be seen I barely realize I’m slowly being puled off course, so that before arriving where I intended, I’m home again.
And you, you still write to me with passion, with no return address. Yes, I too believe every hill is a successful stone, and that each kiss develops into the evening mountain range; I also believe that opening the refrigerator is a political act, in fact, any change of temperature: we’ve gone through all this before. And even though I’m very impressed with the multiplication tables you send me, what do I do with my corrections, and how can I tell you these calculations aren’t necessary in order to memorize my phone number?
One night in my chair I feel a whimpering. I understand my toe has finally awakened from its dreams and it’s surely still back at the station, chasing after all the shoes that pass by on the floor, searching for me.
I have to return. Just as I shut the door behind me, the phone rings. And I know it’s you.That’s right, the phone rings. Then silence, and my remaining toes petition me for needed haste. The phone rings. In the silence my toe pinkies wail over a larger toe they’re almost too small to remember. The phone rings, silence, and my toe knuckles pucker their joints to kiss my socks into rubbing my shoes further on down the road. The phone rings, sounding more and more like your voice too long unheard, while at the same time my shoe-laces unravel themselves into a nose around my ankles, while above it all I’ve finally made a decision, sighing over this limp that I’m going to have to learn to live with.