Christopher Phelps

Two poems from Christopher Phelps’s Kinder Garden
followed by a note on the author

Surprise, Supprise

Is an obsolete form;
some say simple variant.

An almost invisible difference
between impression and permission,

which anagram; contributory skins
over a river already in progress.

Both sides agree surprise
meant to happen upon

without any warning, like
a feeling of astonishment,

a seizure, or at first, literally
and directly from the Latin,

a takeover; an attack,
that strange word itself

looking like attach
intentionally because

in the Florentine Italian
it was.

Attach and attack
are still twins, doublets

of a word used to rouse
the battle battalion,

or attachment,
which when joined

in sufficient numbers,
makes a motive move

into position and
you know the rest,

almost mechanical
human nature doing

what it does best,
unless, on occasion,

it’s overcome by surprise.
An attachment of strings

might, with the wind,
change chords

to cut the action loose into
its companion pieces.

Temporarily, all arms
may unravel

into hands, maybe
even fingers.

A Talisman

I didn’t know the details.
I feared the details.
I loved the details.

The details, said etymology,
were our first cuttings. De-

tailor, did you know
where you came from?
From taliare, to split:

talea, a stick
companionably unstuck.

Long enough to look
at the realities
of luck:

each to one’s own

taste of it, what’s enough.
In Sanskrit: talah, palm wine,
and in Greek: talis,

a marriageable girl.
Dividing /

divining back
as far and old as Tholna,
goddess of youth

to the Etruscans, fresh
as any branch begins as

some loose, unlikely
end of a tendril;
some cleave of a leaf.


In details lost and found,
there were days of games
and days of fasting

and although these
were the same days,

days of feasting
were interlaced like
so many flights of birds,

in that certain composed,
but hurried, hunger.

How often was it content
to be contested, paradise?
Paradise rained

into failing soil?
Paradise evaporated?

Did it ever pick up?
Before starting over new
as a people, the Etruscans,

waiting 18 years in their old home,
Lydia, gathered half their number—

plus whatever wits they honed
from hungry days of dice—
and moved.


They say life is more than starting over.
Maybe it is, Sun.
Maybe it is, Moon on the pines,

your practiced light on dark,
silvery green needles

before there were leaves;
before leaving,
the common grace of nights and days

left to each. Left to search,
through founderings,

for findings,
whichever can be moved; removed;
replenished or replanted.


In the beginning of a history,
Herodotus told his story
of the Lydians

and their famine
and their wise ruler who decided

there should be games,
games to keep the peace in place
in the turmoil of hunger.

Games on days
when food could not be served.

Playfulness and sustenance,
for however long, happily confused.
Herodotus himself didn’t know

that the Lydians were Etruscans
in their old life, before the move

to land they would be known,
and renowned, by. Mystery
finally solved, to the letter.

Mystery, all the same,
remains in its remains.

would you be shocked
to know what DNA can say,

stretching back through hindsight,
all the way to wonder?

Christopher Phelps received degrees in physics and philosophy from MIT, but Dickinson and the dictionary were his first loves. An introvert and thriftstore-bohemian, for the past dozen years he has dedicated himself to poetry, his partner, and very simple living. A native Floridian and aspiring Seattleite, he has tried to express his mixed feelings more clearly, culminating in three poetry manuscripts, as yet unpublished. Individual poems have appeared in Assaracus, Colorado Review, Field, The Kenyon Review, and elsewhere. More information can be found at