American Life in Poetry: Column 551

by Patrick Phillips

In our 10 years of publishing this column I don’t believe we’ve ever printed a poem about lullabies, the first poetry each of us is to hear. Now is the time. Patrick Phillips lives in Brooklyn. Here’s a poem from Elegy for a Broken Machine published by Alfred A. Knopf. — Ted Kooser, U.S. Laureate

The Singing

I can hear her through
the thin wall, singing,
up before the sun:
two notes, a kind
of hushed half-breathing,
each time the baby
makes that little moan —

can hear her trying
not to sing, then singing
anyway, a thing so old
it might as well
be Hittite or Minoan,

and so soft no one
would ever guess
that I myself once
sang that very song:

back when my son
and then his brother
used to cry all night
or half the morning,
though nothing in all
the world was wrong.

And now how strange:
to be the man from next door,
listening, as the baby cries
then quiets, cries and quiets
each time she sings
their secret song,

that would sound the same ten
thousand years ago,
and has no
meaning but to calm.

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

Send poetry submissions of 250 words or fewer to poetry@boulderweekly.com.

Previous articleSTATEWIDE EVENTS
Next articleWhere did Thanksgiving come from?