cover image Elegy for a Broken Machine

Elegy for a Broken Machine

Patrick Phillips. Knopf, $26 trade paper (80p) ISBN 978-0-385-35375-5

Phillips (Boy) examines masculinity and loss with a surgeon’s precision in his elegiac third book. The poems occupy a space that is, in his own words, “Something like sadness/ like joy, like a sudden/ love for my life,// and for the body/ in which I have lived it,/ overtaking me all at once.” The figures of father and son, brother and husband, all play out here—often simultaneously—and Phillips’s careful language consciously breaks down these distinctions, fusing the roles men play throughout their lives, and connecting past to present. While at his son’s soccer game, the poet observes that “the father/ of my son’s friend/ watched his father die,” and in doing so sees “the truth about love, about all of us,/ so plain in him/ there was nothing left// but to pretend I was not watching.” Phillips scrapes away nostalgia to reveal raw, sparse reflections. He writes of a body: “Soon the undertaker’s sons/ will come and lift this/ strangest of all strange things:// a palimpsest/ of what we loved,/ a nest in the brittle leaves.” And Phillips ponders just what makes a human body different from any other relinquished object, imagining his mattress decaying at the dump “as it sloughs its guts into the dirt.” [em](Mar.) [/em]