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Try getting into Bar Dynamite in black Dickies

Three poems by Matt Phillips

Matt Phillips won the Zócalo Public Square poetry prize
Matt Phillips won the Zócalo Public Square poetry prize

Work History

  • Bartender’s malaise in my mid-twenties; I smothered
  • fruit flies with cocktail napkins. Sitting at a trolley stop
  • near Little Italy, thinking about City College — graffiti
  • scrawled like Arabic on the sidewalk — I watched sailboats
  • skirt the embarcadero, tourists pry bubble gum from palm
  • tree sandals. Try getting into Bar Dynamite in black Dickies
  • and steel-toed boots, your hands rotting with sanitizer, tequila
  • and sweet and sour mix. Wait in a long line with Shane for Air
  • Conditioned Lounge, pop tall Budweiser cans and grin as
  • bouncers deny you entry. You think you want to make a life
  • for yourself, but you find lines and doors, scrawled messages
  • on the street — you find null paychecks and happy hour, coffee
  • shops on your off-days. Give me Lorca and thin mint cigarettes,
  • give me salt for my lips, a yellowtail taco on Washington —
  • humble wants in this city, its lopsided and too few bridges.

Hear One of Us

  • Sink twice —
  • two old boats in two vast seas.
  • — Broken left thumb.
  • — White Chevy pickup truck.
  • My name? You say.
  • You say, find thirty used cigarettes
  • in a Tiffany vase. Find a voice
  • in my sister’s head. Find
  • bruises on a thigh, checkered patterns
  • below a blue-tiled sky. Who are we?
  • You say. You say,
  • hear it in the mornings (the voice). Hear it
  • while coyotes sing, while the mirror
  • — split purple lips,
  • — dark eye sockets,
  • my two faces in two glass seas
  • — whispers my sister twice, always (my sister) twice.

On This Avenue

  • barbers gab about neck tattoos and pomade, flip slant-eyed gazes at a brunette
  • thumbing the throttle on a pretty little Honda, a gold-flecked café racer
  • her ex-boyfriend bought on an El Cajon corner.
  • Tacos al pastor wafts unseen from alongside a hardware store, smothers
  • Rico’s used cars — Rico knows credit! — in a lunchtime sweat: Mateo says
  • he comes from money, homie, but it got lost
  • when he crossed the border. Like shadows
  • and the Lord’s Prayer, he left it somewhere between two cities —
  • the money is buried in a tunnel he’s forgotten. Mateo says
  • he lives on homemade tortillas and tips, a little tamale now and then.
  • I’m laughing, asking him to deepen my fade, taper to my chin
  • while I open a free Tecate and cherish the brunette’s tan thighs
  • clutching the Honda like it’s a colt. There are skateboard decks nailed to the wall,
  • an old poster from a movie called The Warriors: I think about the girl’s
  • apartment, a one-bedroom filled with sea air and sand dollars, her gold-flecked Honda
  • near the stairs. Mateo lifts a straight-razor to my neck, pulls me from my dream—
  • he says we’re all northless,
  • that even this haircut costs us nothing.

Matt Phillips lives in Normal Heights. His poems have appeared or are forthcoming in Rio Grande Review, Haggard and Halloo, Change Seven Magazine, Apeiron Review, and I-70 Review. In 2016, his poem “Crossing Coronado Bridge” won the Zócalo Public Square poetry prize. He studied creative writing and literature at the University of Texas-El Paso.

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Matt Phillips won the Zócalo Public Square poetry prize
Matt Phillips won the Zócalo Public Square poetry prize

Work History

  • Bartender’s malaise in my mid-twenties; I smothered
  • fruit flies with cocktail napkins. Sitting at a trolley stop
  • near Little Italy, thinking about City College — graffiti
  • scrawled like Arabic on the sidewalk — I watched sailboats
  • skirt the embarcadero, tourists pry bubble gum from palm
  • tree sandals. Try getting into Bar Dynamite in black Dickies
  • and steel-toed boots, your hands rotting with sanitizer, tequila
  • and sweet and sour mix. Wait in a long line with Shane for Air
  • Conditioned Lounge, pop tall Budweiser cans and grin as
  • bouncers deny you entry. You think you want to make a life
  • for yourself, but you find lines and doors, scrawled messages
  • on the street — you find null paychecks and happy hour, coffee
  • shops on your off-days. Give me Lorca and thin mint cigarettes,
  • give me salt for my lips, a yellowtail taco on Washington —
  • humble wants in this city, its lopsided and too few bridges.

Hear One of Us

  • Sink twice —
  • two old boats in two vast seas.
  • — Broken left thumb.
  • — White Chevy pickup truck.
  • My name? You say.
  • You say, find thirty used cigarettes
  • in a Tiffany vase. Find a voice
  • in my sister’s head. Find
  • bruises on a thigh, checkered patterns
  • below a blue-tiled sky. Who are we?
  • You say. You say,
  • hear it in the mornings (the voice). Hear it
  • while coyotes sing, while the mirror
  • — split purple lips,
  • — dark eye sockets,
  • my two faces in two glass seas
  • — whispers my sister twice, always (my sister) twice.

On This Avenue

  • barbers gab about neck tattoos and pomade, flip slant-eyed gazes at a brunette
  • thumbing the throttle on a pretty little Honda, a gold-flecked café racer
  • her ex-boyfriend bought on an El Cajon corner.
  • Tacos al pastor wafts unseen from alongside a hardware store, smothers
  • Rico’s used cars — Rico knows credit! — in a lunchtime sweat: Mateo says
  • he comes from money, homie, but it got lost
  • when he crossed the border. Like shadows
  • and the Lord’s Prayer, he left it somewhere between two cities —
  • the money is buried in a tunnel he’s forgotten. Mateo says
  • he lives on homemade tortillas and tips, a little tamale now and then.
  • I’m laughing, asking him to deepen my fade, taper to my chin
  • while I open a free Tecate and cherish the brunette’s tan thighs
  • clutching the Honda like it’s a colt. There are skateboard decks nailed to the wall,
  • an old poster from a movie called The Warriors: I think about the girl’s
  • apartment, a one-bedroom filled with sea air and sand dollars, her gold-flecked Honda
  • near the stairs. Mateo lifts a straight-razor to my neck, pulls me from my dream—
  • he says we’re all northless,
  • that even this haircut costs us nothing.

Matt Phillips lives in Normal Heights. His poems have appeared or are forthcoming in Rio Grande Review, Haggard and Halloo, Change Seven Magazine, Apeiron Review, and I-70 Review. In 2016, his poem “Crossing Coronado Bridge” won the Zócalo Public Square poetry prize. He studied creative writing and literature at the University of Texas-El Paso.

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