Patrick Phillips…What Love Is

American Life in Poetry circulates poems for media to reprint. “Matinee” captures the heart of what a marriage can be…

Download PDF American Life in Poetry: Column 124


Here is a lovely poem about survival by Patrick Phillips of New York. People sometimes ask me “What are poems for?” and “Matinee” is an example of the kind of writing that serves its readers, that shows us a way of carrying on.


After the biopsy,
after the bone scan,
after the consult and the crying,

for a few hours no one could find them,
not even my sister,
because it turns out

they’d gone to the movies.
Something tragic was playing,
something epic,

and so they went to the comedy
with their popcorn
and their cokes,

the old wife whispering everything twice,
the old husband
cupping a palm to his ear,

as the late sun lit up an orchard
behind the strip mall,
and they sat in the dark holding hands.

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 © 2006 by Patrick Phillips, whose latest book is “Chattahoochee,” University of Arkansas Press, 2004. Reprinted from the “Greensboro Review,” Fall 2006, No. 80, with permission of the author. Introduction copyright © 2006 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 manuscripts.

See also:

Richard Wilbur…What Love Is
“The Catch”

Steve and Cokie Roberts Report on Marriage: A Good Idea that Refuses to Die
Steve, who’s been the Shapiro Professor of Media and Public Affairs at George Washington University since 1997 [and married for 41 years], says that time and again his students come into his office and ask, “How do you do it?” The students aren’t asking how to write a snappy lead or tips on getting an interview with Al Gore. “Popular culture tells them it’s naive and foolish to think of having a lifelong devotion to someone. But they have the impulse. I’m not saying marriage is right for all people all the time, but I think it’s right for most people, most of the time. To have a partner to go through life with is one of the most elemental human desires, and these kids want to hear it’s not a pipe dream, a fiction.”