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Nebraska's Ted Kooser, U.S. poet laureate from 2004-06, offers "American Life in Poetry," a column on contemporary poetry.

In our 10 years of publishing this column, I don't believe we've ever printed a poem about lullabies, the first poetry each of us is to hear. Now is the time. Patrick Phillips lives in Brooklyn. Here's a poem from "Elegy for a Broken Machine," published by Alfred A. Knopf.

The Singing I can hear her through the thin wall, singing, up before the sun: two notes, a kind of hushed half-breathing, each time the baby makes that little moan — can hear her trying not to sing, then singing anyway, a thing so old it might as well be Hittite or Minoan, and so soft no one would ever guess that I myself once sang that very song: back when my son and then his brother used to cry all night or half the morning, though nothing in all the world was wrong.

And now how strange: to be the man from next door, listening, as the baby cries then quiets, cries and quiets each time she sings their secret song, that would sound the same ten thousand years ago, and has no meaning but to calm.

Poem copyright ©2015 by Patrick Phillips. Poem reprinted by permission of Phillips and the publisher.

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