pondering the land of lost things with a poem by robert phillips


by Robert Phillips

Forget the Museum of Natural History,
The Metropolitan or The Smithsonian.
The collection I want to wander in
I call The Valhalla of Lost Things.

The Venus de Milo’s arms are here,
she’s grown quite attached to them.
I circle Leonardo’s sixteen-foot-tall
equestrian statue, never cast, browse

all five-hundred-thousand volumes
of The Alexandrian Library, handle
artifacts of Atlantis. Here are all
the ballades and rondeaux of Villon,

the finished score of The Unfinished
Symphony, I read all of Edwin Drood
and Answered Prayers. I’ll screen ten
missing reels of Von Stroheim’s Greed,

hear the famous gap in Nixon’s tapes.
There are lost things here so lost,
no one knows they were lost — manuscripts
by the unknown Kafka, far greater

than Kafka’s, his best friend obeyed,
shredded every sheet. The cure for cancer
is here: The inventor didn’t recognize,
the potion went unpatented . . .

In my museum no guard shushes me
for talking, there are no closing times,
it’s always free. Here I can see
what no one living has seen, I satisfy

that within me which is not whole.
Here I am curator not of what is,
but of what should have been,
and what should be.

~ from What Have You Lost?, poems selected by Naomi Shihab Nye (Greenwillow Books, 1999)



Phillips’s poem appears in Naomi Shihab Nye’s anthology, What Have You Lost?  In her introduction, she says, “Maybe the reason we talk about our petty losses with such energy is that there are so many inevitable larger ones that can never be redeemed or reclaimed. The people. The eras of our lives.”

She cites a favorite lavender-scented neck pillow she left on an airplane, a burgundy velvet pouch of lost teeth she treasured as a ten-year-old, the many friends she gained, then lost, during her teens while attending three different high schools.

What have I lost?

My bridal veil, which somehow “disappeared” in London when we moved to a new flat. It came with what I like to call a “Juliet” lace cap, and I had stashed it in a shopping bag, as one does, when storage space is limited to a small wooden wardrobe you share with your husband.

In the rush of moving, I must have thrown out that shopping bag along with others I’d been saving. I’m still kicking myself over being careless (and apparently overly efficient). I still have my wedding dress, but no veil. After a few years passed, I reconciled the loss by thinking it happened on purpose. England is where I’ll always long to be (my heart home), so it’s only fitting that a part of me will always be there.


Two losses: my bridal veil (41 years ago), my Dad (6 weeks ago).


Like Robert Phillips, I’ve often imagined a land of lost things and what I would find there. Maybe it would range from small, inconsequential items like a missing sock or earring, to irreplaceable, elusive things like childhood innocence and trust, good dreams, the idealism of your college years, sleep, the lottery, memories you have no idea you had lost.


Things we should never lose:





Common Sense



Okay to lose:




Sense of Entitlement

Extra Weight


Things we occasionally lose, but regain:





Train of Thought



It’s fun to ponder, in any case.


What have you lost?




Check out the Poetry Friday Roundup at Michelle Kogan’s blog, always a welcoming spot featuring gorgeous art and inspiring words. There you’ll find the full menu of poetic goodness being shared around the blogosphere this week. Happy Weekend!

Copyright © 2019 Jama Rattigan of Jama’s Alphabet Soup. All rights reserved.

44 thoughts on “pondering the land of lost things with a poem by robert phillips

  1. Such an incredible poem….and question, really. I’m so sorry about your veil. This prompt brings up stories and stories. I might have to develop them. Thank you, Jama.

    Liked by 1 person

    1. It’s definitely a thought provoking poem — there is no human alive who hasn’t experienced loss — whether trivial or life changing.


    1. Glad you liked the poem, Pat, and thank you for your condolences. Our wedding was a happy memory — my father really enjoyed traveling to England for it.


  2. I love seeing your picture of you as a bride and with your father, Jama. It’s a special and thought-filled post, starting with Phillip’s poem. I’m sorry too about your veil, but also love the idea that you left a part of yourself in England. Those abstract losses, and recoveries? you mentioned are part of my life, too, but the losses I most mourn are people, though I haven’t lost their memories. Thank you for the ideas you’ve brought to life here.

    Liked by 1 person

    1. Yes, I agree — the loss of people is what matters most, and this seems to increase as we get older. Everything falls into perspective with age — I guess it’s called wisdom. Things we obsessed about losing when we were younger seem so inconsequential now.

      Liked by 1 person

    1. Sorry for the loss of your father, Kate. I know well the loss of confidence too, as well as a few friendships. The confidence thing is quite a challenge to regain.


  3. Beautiful post, Jama… It brings to mind so many thought and emotions. Also inspiration, I will go forward with that today. Thank you!

    Liked by 1 person

    1. Glad you found the post inspiring, Kathy. I’ve been in a contemplative mood lately since the passing of my father. . .


  4. Love the poem.

    I’m so sorry about your father, Jama. Lots of hugs.

    I lost short stories, poems, and manuscripts in the big move/purge of 2010. Some I’ve been able to reproduce from memory, some are lost forever. I also got rid of books I wished I’d kept and I’m slowly replacing those despite lack of space.

    I’d like to see the completed version of The Last Tycoon by F. Scott Fitzgerald.

    Liked by 1 person

    1. Sorry to hear about the lost manuscripts, Barb. For a writer, words are the most precious things. I need to purge my bookshelves, but fear I will regret my choices just like you do now. Luckily many books are available electronically, which partially solves the lack of physical space issue.


  5. I’m so sorry about your father, Jama. Lots of hugs.

    A quote I read somewhere, for which I’ve lost the source: “People are never really gone as long as we remember them.” (This also applies to dogs, I’ve found.)

    Great poem today. Thanks for sharing it.

    Liked by 1 person

  6. I used that Robert Phillips poem with my eighth graders a few times, but I felt I had to explain every single reference in it. I love it, though! Maybe I’ll write my own version… Ruth, thereisnosuchthingasagodforsakentown.blogspot.com

    Liked by 1 person

  7. O dear Jama.
    My sympathies to you & your family for your Father’s loss. That is an ache that never leaves.

    Here is a recent (February) Wedding Story.
    Our daughter married her longtime in sweetheart who is studying in Denmark. After the
    weekend honeymoon, she found a statue & placed her lovely floral circle, a simple but
    elegant crown of flowers & pussywillow on the top of the statue. And climbed down!
    Always planning to leave it somewhere. I was distraught to find this out (this was a very
    romantic elopement) but somehow when she shared her joy at the idea of the Just Right
    person coming along & finding it, I melted & felt lovely about it.
    Sorry for the long anecdote, but…
    Is it possible that your lovely veil & Juliet cap in the bag, was opened by the right person, who saw the
    Treasure inside & passed it along to the Right Person, who wore it in unexpected delight? I think so.

    I think Naomi Shihab Nye is right, that we tussle a lot over the little things, because they are easier
    to wrangle than the epic losses that can slay us, if we fully absorb their enormity.

    As someone who has spent time thinking about the early people of Florida & the more recent original People here – the Seminoles & the Miccosukee, I would like to see a museum of all their Fabric Art, which was their clothing & beadwork all their other art, such as their canoes, that has been lost.

    Thank you for this potent post. It has got me thinking.

    Weekend wonder to you.

    ps. I still rue losing a pari of olive green & cranberry red low-heeled pumps. the main color was olive & the woven inset over the toe area was the red. it was a work of art that I lucked into… & lucked out of….

    Liked by 1 person

    1. Thanks so much for your thoughtful, heartfelt comment, Jan. I like your idea of just the right person finding my veil — I hadn’t really considered that possibility and it makes me happy thinking of it. Congrats to your daughter on her marriage! I like her romantic notion of eloping and also placing her floral crown on top of a statue!

      I hear your concern about the lost artifacts of early peoples. I’ve always been fascinated by what others wore and made in their unique lives.

      I can also identify with you still thinking about those lost olive green and cranberry shoes (they sound lovely!). I once had a dress I loved — dark navy fabric with tiny red flowers — that I wore only once or twice before it was actually stolen from our garage clothesline (along with other items). Our neighbor down the street turned out to be the thief! Never got our things back as he had sold them, probably for drug money or something . . .


  8. What a beautiful bride! So sorry about your dad, Jama ❤ ❤ <3.

    My Nonna moved in with us when I was 10, after my grandfather died. She had these lovely earrings that she always wore from Italy. Somewhere in our moves over the years (three different houses in the same town) they were lost. She died long ago, in 1993 at the age of 93, but I wish I still had them to wear & remember her with. I'm happy to have her pasta machine, though I don't really use it, and her cheese grater–a bit harder to lose.

    Liked by 1 person

    1. Those earrings sound like a beautiful keepsake. Sigh. There are just some things we all cherish and remember and miss no matter how much time has passed.

      BTW, belated congratulations on winning the Crystal Kite for Hawk Rising!! Yay!! I voted for it and it’s a well deserved win for sure!!


  9. Lovely image of you with your father Jama–there’s happiness living in there. And your dress reminds me of my wedding dress which was a Laura Ashley that my mom picked out. Mine had a high neckline too, which I thought so strange as I had been living with my soon to be husband for so many years. There’s some colloquialism or idiom about when you leave something somewhere it means you want to return there–perhaps your “Juliet” lace cap is calling you back… Lots of things to ponder here, thanks!

    Liked by 1 person

  10. Enjoyed the poem and the beautiful photo of you and your dad. The art of losing isn’t hard to master! It’s nice to imagine things in their own Valhalla. (To be honest, the thing I miss the most is having a different president…)

    Liked by 1 person

    1. Hear hear! Totally agree — although I would restate it this way: The thing I miss most is having a President, period . . . we haven’t had one in over 2 years.


  11. Thank you for sharing Phillip’s poem and your own thought-provoking questions. I love the idea of wandering through “The Valhalla of Lost Things.” There are a few things I’ve lost over the years that I wish for, but none more than the people. What a wonderful picture of you and your Dad! Your dress is so similar to my wedding dress. The Juliet lace cap was a perfect choice. So sorry it disappeared.

    Liked by 1 person

    1. It’s interesting to hear others say my dress resembled theirs! Either it’s because we were married in roughly the same time period, or that we all have good taste. 😀

      Liked by 1 person

  12. Hmm…that’s a poem that makes me ponder. The purse I left in the grocery cart (live and learn)? The hubcap we just discovered had gone missing (why does a used hubcap cost $60)? All those conversations I never had with my dad (what was I waiting for)?

    As (mostly) trivial as my losses have been, I can’t really go there because I’m reading A PLACE TO BELONG by Cynthia Kadohata. Set after WWII, the Japanese main character’s family spent 5 years in internment camps in the US, then gave up their US citizenship to move back to Japan. I’m at the part where they have just arrived at the grandparents’ farm outside Hiroshima. The poverty and destruction are horrifying. It’s the kind of book you want to put down because it’s too hard, but you know you need to keep reading and bear witness.

    Liked by 1 person

    1. Now I must read A Place to Belong! I enjoyed Cynthia’s other books but haven’t yet read that one. It does sound like a hard read, but so necessary.

      Sorry to hear about the missing hubcap and lost purse (I have a recurring dream of losing my wallet).


  13. Jama, what a lovely picture of you and your beloved father. (My condolences again, as you adjust to life without him.)

    I love Jan’s idea that your veil was found by just the right person. Somehow, that anonymous bit of you, out there in the world somewhere, making someone else very happy, is so fitting.

    Liked by 1 person

    1. Yes, Jan’s idea is a comforting one — I prefer it to the one I’ve had all these years of my veil tossed into an incinerator after being picked up by the trash collectors . . .


  14. I love Nye’s anthology WHAT HAVE YOU LOST, and this is one of my favorite poems in it. Every time I read it I wonder what else I might find in it — the missing earrings that have fallen out somewhere, the rest of Chaucer’s Canterbury Tales,

    Liked by 1 person

    1. It’s definitely a poem that makes you reflect and recall lost things you’d almost forgotten (which is a kind of loss in itself). 🙂


  15. I’ve lost the ability to sleep through the night. It’s an age thing, I think. So terribly sorry to hear about your father’s passing, Jama. My condolences. I truly long to be the woman in the picture at the top of your page. How calm and serene. My best to you. — Christie

    Liked by 1 person

    1. Sorry to hear about the lost sleep — I’ve struggled with that for years and years. Thanks for the condolences; my dad’s loss is still sinking in . . .


  16. I’m so sorry to hear about your father Jama. That’s a hard loss for sure. I love this poem by Robert Phillips. It’s left me wondering about all things I’ve lost. I’ve learned to be stoic about them as I get older, but it doesn’t make it less painful. I lost a pair of hand knit gloves made by my mother. That was the worst because we were in the process of loosing her at the same time.


  17. Sorry to hear about the gloves and your mom. Hopefully you have other keepsakes from her. Appreciate your condolences.


  18. Jama,
    My condolences on the loss of your father. I lost my father in early April so I understand a little of what grieving is about-it continues and I learn more,not that I really wanted to…

    I enjoy your posts and look forward to meeting new authors for children especially as I am involved in a reading tutoring program.

    Could you please tell me the name of the artist shown on this post?

    Many thanks!


    1. Hi Julie,

      Nice to hear from you. Sorry to learn you lost your father recently too.

      Which image are you referring to? The blog header image is by Carl Larsson. Unfortunately, I don’t know who painted the Library of Alexandria picture.


  19. My sympathies on the loss of your dad, Jama. As I thought about it, the world a better place if we lost some of those things you mentioned; greed, selfishness, indifference could all disappear and we’d be better off for it.

    Liked by 1 person

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