Sunset Park

The Chinese truck driver
throws the rope
like a lasso, with a practiced flick,

over the load:
where it hovers an instant,
then arcs like a willow

into the waiting,
gloved hand
of his brother.

What does it matter
that, sitting in traffic,
I glanced out the window

and found them that way?
So lean and sleek-muscled
in their sweat-stiffened t-shirts:

offloading the pallets
just so they can load up
again in the morning,

and so on,
and so forth
forever like that—

like Sisyphus
I might tell them
if I spoke Mandarin,

or had a Marlboro to offer,
or thought for a minute
they’d believe it

when I say that I know
how it feels
to break your own

back for a living.
Then again,
what’s the difference?

When every light
for a mile turns
green all at once,

no matter how much
I might like
to keep watching

the older one squint
and blow smoke
through his nose?

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,

as a bus driver honks
and the setting
sun glints, so bright

off a windshield
I wince and look back
and it’s gone.


Copyright © 2015 by Patrick Phillips. Used with permission of the author.

About this Poem

“The occasion of ‘Sunset Park’ could hardly be less poetic: it’s set during a traffic jam, as I stare out the window at two men loading a truck. I hope that what happens after that communicates not what I’ve figured out about the world—as we sometimes ask poems to do—but plain wonder and awe at being alive. I can’t say exactly what the poem is about, but if I had to try, I’d quote Flannery O’Connor: ‘the action of grace in territory held largely by the devil.’”
Patrick Phillips