April Is Poetry Month (Not the Cruelest After All)

BROOKLYN-RESIDENT PATRICK PHILLIPS, who teaches at Drew University, is also a working poet with several titles published. The most recent, Elegy for a Broken Machine, is just out from Knopf and in bookstores now ($20) or in a Kindle edition from Amazon ($12). He is reading tonight (April 2, 2015) at Drew University (with Tiphanie Yanick) and later this month at a Poetry Society gig in the Fulton Street Subway Station. Keep up with his readings schedule at www.patrickthemighty.com. (The following poem is reprinted with the poet’s permission.)

Sunset Park

The Chinese truck driver
throws the rope
like a lasso, with a practiced flick,

over the load:
where it hovers an instant,
then arcs like a willow

into the waiting,
gloved hand
of his brother.

What does it matter
that, sitting in traffic,
I glanced out the window

and found them that way?
So lean and sleek-muscled
in their sweat-stiffened t-shirts:

offloading the pallets
just so they can load up
again in the morning,

and so on,
and so forth
forever like that—

like Sisyphus
I might tell them
if I spoke Mandarin,

or had a Marlboro to offer,
or thought for a minute
they’d believe it

when I say that I know
how it feels
to break your own

back for a living.
Then again,
what’s the difference?

When every light
for a mile turns
green all at once,

no matter how much
I might like
to keep watching

the older one squint
and blow smoke
through his nose?

Something like sadness,
like joy, like a sudden
love for my life,

and for the body
in which I have lived it,
overtaking me all at once,

as a bus driver honks
and the setting
sun glints, so bright

off a windshield
I wince and look back
and it’s gone.

 

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