American Life in Poetry: Column 200


Here's a fine poem by Chris Forhan of Indiana, about surviving the loss of a parent, and which celebrates the lives that survive it, that go on. I especially like the parachute floating up and away, just as the lost father has gone up and away.

What My Father Left Behind

Jam jar of cigarette ends and ashes on his workbench,   
hammer he nailed our address to a stump with,   
balsa wood steamship, half-finished—   

is that him, waving from the stern? Well, good luck to him.   
Slur of sunlight filling the backyard, August’s high wattage,   
white blossoming, it’s a curve, it comes back.   My mother   

in a patio chair, leaning forward, squinting, threading   
her needle again, her eye lifts to the roof, to my brother,   
who stands and jerks his arm upward—he might be   

insulting the sky, but he’s only letting go   
a bit of green, a molded plastic soldier   
tied to a parachute, thin as a bread bag, it rises, it arcs   

against the blue—good luck to it—my sister and I below,   
heads tilted back as we stand in the grass, good   
luck to all of us, still here, still in love with it.

We do not accept unsolicited submissions. American Life in Poetry is made possible by The Poetry Foundation (, publisher of Poetry magazine. It is also supported by the Department of English at the University of Nebraska-Lincoln. Poem copyright © 2008 by Chris Forhan from his most recent book of poetry “Black Leapt In,” Barrow Street Press, 2009, and reprinted by permission of Chris Forhan and the publisher. Poem first appeared in “Pleiades,” Vol. 28, no. 1, 2008. Introduction copyright © 2020 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.