I watched you snap a rabbit’s spine
while stroking it and cooing.
I heard a shot from the hill you climbed
with a gray-faced dog I loved.
And when I winged a sparrow perching
on a sway-backed power line
you laid your thick hand to its skull
and made the shrieking air stand still.
Did you mean that there’s no heaven
on earth but dignity? Did you mean
we too will pray some day for mercy?
All I can do is guess now what you
never said but meant. And pretend
somehow you hear this as you rise,
like when I watched the stillness then,
whispering Wake up. Fly.
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. “Barbershop” appears in Elegy for a Broken Machine (Alfred A. Knopf, 2015).