The poet Lyn Lifshin, who divides her time between New York and Virginia, is one of the most prolific poets among my contemporaries, and has thousands of poems in print, by my loose reckoning. I have been reading her work in literary magazines for at least thirty years. Here’s a good example of this poet at her best.

The Other Fathers

would be coming back
from some war, sending
back stuffed birds or
handkerchiefs in navy
blue with Love painted
on it. Some sent telegrams
for birthdays, the pastel
letters like jewels. The
magazines were full of fathers who
were doing what had
to be done, were serving,
were brave. Someone
yelped there’d be confetti
in the streets, maybe
no school. That soon
we’d have bananas. My
father sat in the grey
chair, war after war,
hardly said a word. I
wished he had gone
away with the others
so maybe he would
be coming back to us

American Life in Poetry is made possible by The Poetry Foundation, publisher of Poetry magazine. It is also supported by the Department of English at the University of Nebraska-Lincoln. Poem copyright ©2008 by Lyn Lifshin, whose most recent book of poems is Persephone, Red Hen Press, 2008. Poem reprinted from Natural Bridge, No. 20, Winter, 2008, by permission of Lyn Lifshin and the publisher. Introduction copyright © 2009 by The Poetry Foundation. The introduction’s author, Ted Kooser, served as United States Poet Laureate Consultant in Poetry to the Library of Congress from 2004-2006. We do not accept unsolicited poetry manuscripts.


Ted Kooser

Ted Kooser, served as United States Poet Laureate Consultant in Poetry to the Library of Congress from 2004-2006.

  1. Robert Lamb

    Doesn’t sound like poetry to me. Reads like a simple reflection in prose arranged in a typography to resemble poetry. Sorry.
    But there’s a lot of that going around these days.

  2. A lovely poem, tightly composed, fewer than 100 words, with the title encompassed in 24 lines, and a relaxed 3-beat rhythm that draws us into a state of anticipation involving fathers & war, but then pays off with a surprise of considerable originality and emotional impact – i.e., the picture of a father who never went to war but nonetheless could not have been more absent, or more heartbreakingly missed. The writer felt something deeply and brought it home to us succinctly, freshly, artfully. Powerful.

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