American Life in Poetry: Column 173

BY TED KOOSER, U.S. POET LAUREATE

Poets are especially good at investing objects with meaning, or in drawing meaning from the things of this world. Here Patrick Phillips of Brooklyn, New York, does a masterful job of comparing a wrecked piano to his feelings.

Piano

Touched by your goodness, I am like   
that grand piano we found one night on Willoughby   
that someone had smashed and somehow   
heaved through an open window.   

And you might think by this I mean I’m broken   
or abandoned, or unloved.   Truth is, I don’t   
know exactly what I am, any more   
than the wreckage in the alley knows   
it’s a piano, filling with trash and yellow leaves.   

Maybe I’m all that’s left of what I was.   
But touching me, I know, you are the good   
breeze blowing across its rusted strings.   

What would you call that feeling when the wood,   
even with its cracked harp, starts to sing?


We do not accept unsolicited submissions. American Life in Poetry is made possible by The Poetry Foundation (www.poetryfoundation.org), publisher of Poetry magazine. It is also supported by the Department of English at the University of Nebraska-Lincoln. Poem copyright © 2008 by Patrick Phillips. Reprinted from his most recent book of poetry, Boy, University of Georgia Press, 2008, by permission of Patrick Phillips. Introduction copyright © 2017 by The Poetry Foundation. The introduction's author, Ted Kooser, served as United States Poet Laureate Consultant in Poetry to the Library of Congress from 2004-2006.