“Ode to My Father’s Failed Heart”, a poem from Erou, was selected by Rita Dove for her poetry column in The New York Times Magazine.
Maya Phillips’ stunning debut collection Erou borrows the framework of the traditional Greek epic to interrogate the inner workings of a present-day nuclear family and the role of a patriarch whose life, marriage, and death are imagined as a sort of hero’s journey. Her poems move seamlessly between the worlds of the living and the dead, between myth and reality in a journey that raises its own Homeric question: What is home and how do we locate our place within that home? These are poems of passion and compassion in their reconciliation with what cannot be changed—but can be understood—by those who have been left behind.
Ode to My Father’s Failed Heart
It’s okay. I, too, have failed
at the expected, have sputtered
and choked like a rusty valve
in water, have jumped into the pool
only to sink. Little engine, your flawed
machinery is nothing like love. You limp
at last call to the dance floor,
but feel no shame
in your offbeat two-step,
your eleventh-hour shuffle
in a dead man’s shoes.
There’s nothing left
but the encore, so go ahead:
like a loosened knot. Overripe
fruit in his chest, you blush
with uncertainty, bruise yourself
tender; little heart, tiny treasure,
sweeten to the point of spoil.