American Life in Poetry: Column 756


Although this poem by Patrick Phillips, from American Poetry Review, is dedicated to a person we don't know, "For Paul" conveys feelings we've all experienced. We don't need to know who "Paul" is. The poem is about sadness and resignation, and all of us have felt like this. The poet's most recent collection of poems is Elegy for a Broken Machine, published by Knopf.

For Paul

I can see you through the bonfire, with us.
A fifth of Old Crow circling the dark.
Where did that whole life go? In Texas
the chemo inches toward your heart,
things always dwindling to just the two of us,
a crumpled cigarette, a distant car:
our voices, at dawn, so clearly posthumous.
Woodsmoke rising to the ashy stars.

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 ©2018 by Patrick Phillips, "For Paul," from the American Poetry Review, (Vol. 47, no. 6, 2018). Poem reprinted by permission of Patrick Phillips and the publisher. Introduction copyright © 2019 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.