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American Life in Poetry

Sun., Aug. 5, 2012, midnight

It would be nice if we could all get one last ride through a part of our lives we’d left behind. Patrick Phillips, who lives in Brooklyn, is our guide and pilot in this fine poem.

Elegy with Oil in the Bilge

By the time we got out on the water

the sun was so low, it wasn’t like water

but a field of gray snow that we plowed

in one endless white furrow of water

as I skirted the rocks and wrecked trawlers

and abandoned old jetties just under the water,

while you moaned in the bow, slick with fever,

whispering back to whatever the water

chattered and hissed through the hull—

until at last there were lights on the water

and I let the old Mercury rattle and sputter

its steaming gray rainbows out onto the water

as we drifted, at idle, for the last time in your life,

through that beloved, indifferent harbor.

Poem copyright 2011 by Patrick Phillips and is reprinted from the New England Review, Vol. 32, no. 2, 2011, by permission of the author and publisher. American Life in Poetry is supported by The Poetry Foundation and the Department of English at the University of Nebraska-Lincoln. We do not accept unsolicited manuscripts.


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