Poem of the Week | August 17, 2020

This week’s Poem of the Week is Emilia Phillips’s “I Have Anxiety About Anxiety.”

Emilia Phillips (she/her/hers) is the author of four poetry collections from the University of Akron Press, including the forthcoming Embouchure (2021), and four chapbooks. Winner of a 2019 Pushcart Prize and a 2019–2020 NC Arts Council Fellowship, Phillips’s poems, lyric essays, and book reviews appear widely in literary publications including Agni, American Poetry Review, Gulf Coast, The Kenyon Review, New England Review, The New York Times, Ploughshares, Poetry, and elsewhere. She’s an Assistant Professor of Creative Writing in the MFA Writing Program and the Department of English at UNC Greensboro.



Listen, said the hem of my right pantleg.
I might unravel unless you worry

I might unravel.     So this was my long-term
strategy for keeping planes airborne: a slipstream

of possible outcomes. And after the worst?
The afterlife, two choices: lightning held

in the body forever or else a mouthful of milk
curd. But, now, my heart says nothing

except     too much, too much
when the nurse listens with her little finger,

eyes on her watch. Every bit of news is carried
on the backs of invisible pack animals—

I feel the donkeykick turn my breasts
to smooshed eggplant. I worry about

my worry. I revise it like a web.
Which means I have to thread

it over, doubly complicated. Excuse me,
said the fire that had not started, some time

in the middle of the night. Well here we are
I said to the dark, to the smell

of smoke I invited in from the cold
of memory. A fire that’s never been started

is the hardest to put out. Sometimes I drink
a whole French press and wonder why

I’m sweating incessantly. Maybe the cancer’s
returned or else you’ll stop loving

me. Sometimes I imagine the inside
of my body like the interior

of a fable: my heart’s a cocoon
and its nightmoth can’t break free.


Author’s Note

I grew up in a family that didn’t “believe” in anxiety as a legitimate medical problem. As such, I developed a fear—indeed, anxiety—around talking about my anxiety. Some time later, the anxiety transformed: if I had anxiety about something, it didn’t happen. So if I worried enough about one scenario, I’d wish it away, or so it seemed. This poem is a self-generous look back at those mental maneuvers I did to justify my anxiety and why I shouldn’t address it.