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My philosopher friend is explaining again
that the bottle of well-chilled beer in my hand

might not be a bottle of beer,
that the trickle of bottle-sweat cooling in my palm

might not be wet, might not be cool,
that in fact it’s impossible ever to know

if I’m holding a bottle at all.
I try to follow his logic, flipping the steaks

that are almost certainly hissing
over the bed of coals – coals I’d swear

were black at first, then gray, then red – 
coals we could spread out and walk on

and why not, I ask, since we’ll never be sure
if our feet burn, if our soles

blister and peel, if our faithlessness
is any better or worse a tool

than the firewalker’s can-do extreme.
Exactly, he smiles. Behind the fence

the moon rises, or seems to.
Have another. Whatever else is true,

the coals feel hotter than ever
as the darkness begins to do

what darkness does. Another what? I ask.

—Philip Memmer

From Poems and Plays #11, spring/summer 2004

Copyright 2004 Philip Memmer.
All rights reserved.

Reprinted by permission of Philip Memmer. Copyright 2004 by Philip Memmer. For further permissions information, contact Philip Memmer, 2209 Gridley Paige Road, Syracuse, NY 13202, or

Poetry 180

About the Poet

Poet, editor and teacher Philip Memmer is the author of four poetry collections, including The Storehouses of Snow: Psalms, Parables and Dreams (University of Washington Press, 2012).

Learn more about Philip Memmerat The Poetry Foundation.