American Life in Poetry: Column 539

BY TED KOOSER, U.S. POET LAUREATE

Patrick Phillips lives in Brooklyn, but in every city, town and village, and at every crossroads, there’s an old guitar. Here’s one from Elegy for a Broken Machine, a fine book from Alfred A. Knopf.

The Guitar

It came with those scratches
from all their belt buckles,

palm-dark with their sweat
like the stock of a gun:

an arc of pickmarks cut
clear through the lacquer

where all the players before me
once strummed—once

thumbed these same latches
where it sleeps in green velvet.

Once sang, as I sing, the old songs.
There’s no end, there’s no end

to this world, everlasting.
We crumble to dust in its arms.


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 ©2015 by Patrick Phillips, “The Guitar,” from Elegy for a Broken Machine, (Alfred A. Knopf, 2015). Poem reprinted by permission of Patrick Phillips and the publisher. Introduction copyright © 2018 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.