American Life in Poetry: Column 251


The poet Lyn Lifshin, who divides her time between New York and Virginia, is one of the most prolific poets among my contemporaries, and has thousands of poems in print, by my loose reckoning. I have been reading her work in literary magazines for at least thirty years. Here’s a  good example of this poet at her best.  

The Other Fathers

would be coming back
from some war, sending
back stuffed birds or
handkerchiefs in navy
blue with Love painted  
on it. Some sent telegrams
for birthdays, the pastel
letters like jewels. The  
magazines were full of fathers who
were doing what had
to be done, were serving,  
were brave. Someone
yelped there’d be confetti
in the streets, maybe
no school. That soon
we’d have bananas. My
father sat in the grey
chair, war after war,
hardly said a word. I
wished he had gone
away with the others
so maybe he would
be coming back to us

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 Lyn Lifshin, whose most recent book of poems is Persephone, Red Hen Press, 2008. Poem reprinted from Natural Bridge, No. 20, Winter, 2008, by permission of Lyn Lifshin and the publisher. 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.