Published on Academy of American Poets (

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


Patrick Phillips

Patrick Phillips was born in 1970 in Atlanta and raised in the Appalachian foothills of north Georgia. He attended Tufts University, and earned an MFA in Poetry at the University of Maryland, as well as a PhD in English Literature at New York University.

Date Published: 2015-03-19

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