Variations on a Text by Donald Justice


I will die in Brooklyn, in January, as snowflakes swarm the streetlamps and whiten the cornices of the sleeping brownstones. It will be a Sunday like today because, just now, when I looked up, it seemed that no one had ever remembered or imagined a thing so beautiful and lonely as the pale blue city. No one will stare up at a light in the window where I write this, as taxis drag their chains over the pavement, as hulking garbage trucks sling salt into the gutters. Patrick Phillips is dead. In January, in Brooklyn, crowds of people stood on subway platforms watching snow fall through the earth. yellow traffic lights blinked on and off, and only the old man pushing a grocery cart piled high with empty cans stopped long enough to raise his paper bag, then took a swig, out of respect, as a Cadillac turned slowly in the slush, and slowly made its way down Fulton.

PATRICK PHILLIPS is the author of three poetry collections, Elegy for a Broken Machine (Knopf, 2015); Boy (Georgia, 2008); and Chattahoochee (Arkansas, 2004), which won the 2005 Kate Tufts Discovery Award. He has also translated When We Leave Each Other: Selected Poems of Henrik Nordbrandt (Open Letter, 2013). His honors include both Guggenheim and National Endowment for the Arts fellowships, a Fulbright at the University of Copenhagen, a Pushcart Prize, the Lyric Poetry Award from the Poetry Society of America, and a Discovery / The Nation Prize from the 92nd Street Y. His poems appear in magazines such as Poetry, Ploughshares, The American Poetry Review, and The Nation, and have been featured on Garrison Keillor’s radio show “The Writer’s Almanac.” He grew up in the foothills of North Georgia, and now lives in Brooklyn and is Associate Professor of English at Drew University. “Variations on a Text by Donald Justice” appears in Elegy for a Broken Machine (Alfred A. Knopf, 2015).