Back to Issue Forty

The Leash



When my sister discovered
in a raincoat pocket
the loved dog’s long
forgotten leash,

she mocked her tears,
though I will not.
Death is a god
damned thief.



Meditation at Toccoa Falls



The Irish poet
Patrick Kavanagh
once rhymed
weather with father

just like my friend
Ortiz once called
Vick’s Vapor Rub

or like the smokers
whose term hashish,
over centuries,
became assassin.

It’s true:
some words
are elegy
to what they signify,

but others
summon the dead
as they spoke,

like grainy voices
on a gramophone
that plays
inside our throats.



Song of the Closing Doors



There’s a man on the train
nobody sees,
all the way from Penn Station to Brooklyn,

who watches me not-watch,
like an actor pretending,
as he rakes his bald scalp with a comb,

each angry flick
so precisely the same
little flecks of blood pepper his wrist

when the eighth time, every time,
he pockets the comb
and bends down to inspect his toenails—

a gesture so private,
so plainly familiar,
that just for an instant he’s real:

his towering church
baritone tolling, Y’all don’t
understand yet, but you will.


Patrick Phillips is the author of three collections of poetry, including Elegy for a Broken Machine (Knopf 2015), which was finalist for the National Book Award. His first work of nonfiction, Blood at the Root: A Racial Cleansing in America (Norton 2016), won the American Book Award and was named a best book of the year by the New York Times, the Boston Globe, and Smithsonian. Phillips teaches writing and literature at Stanford, and is Director of the Creative Writing Program. His fourth collection, Song of the Closing Doors, is forthcoming from Knopf in 2022.

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