In this book dedicated to his late father, mother, and wife, Philip invites us to feel our way around in the soul-space excavated by love and life, loss and death. Framed, then, as elegiac meditations on the loss of persons beloved, the poet lingers on these moments of departure—what the speaker in the book’s final poem calls “the points at which my loves fell from me” (“Six O’Clock Flight to the Interment,” line 25). But this fall isn’t the end of love, though the poet neither finds nor offers easy consolations or platitudes to pacify the bereaved while making his way through grief to some measure of grace. Indeed, the fact that he leaves The Clearing with questions about how we represent and remember those we’ve lost suggests that coming home to love isn’t a simple matter of moving on with life after loss and thus of moving away from loss. Perhaps, instead, it involves learning to see our beloved dead as more than “mere scenery, props” on life’s stage meant to slide into the background, forgotten. Perhaps it means learning to see them as “a world” in themselves, as “a field,” “a struck stage, a slate / wiped clean, a cloud moraine above or below / or within which everything takes place,” including our lives, our love, our memories. Although, paradoxically, “we will never find ourselves in [these places] again” (lines 68–72), partly because in circling back to love through loss we find ourselves and our surroundings—or rather our perception of our surroundings—changed. And we will never again know those earlier selves, those earlier loves, losses, and landscapes—for better or for worse—the way we once knew them.
(This post first appeared in Mormon Artist (scroll down))