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  • Rough Draft TX Team

The Personhood Project Episode 19: Phil Goldstein

Updated: Sep 8, 2023

Sitting down with host Aaron Tyler Hand this month is poet, editor, and copywriter Phil Goldstein. In it they discuss Goldstein's debut collection, How To Bury a Boy at Sea, and the ways he used the poems in the book to help process childhood trauma and help close a painful chapter in his life. Goldstein also recommends ways to write towards a personal truth when there isn’t much separation between speaker and poet, and the importance of having a therapist when writing deeply personal poems. The two also talk about the lack of creative outlets available in carceral systems to help people work through feelings of isolation.

Phil Goldstein:

Poetry can be impactful outside of time



Above us the sky lost its natural hue

the clouds locked and the gate closed

trapped for a murder I didn’t


My mind a never ending wheel

of outrageous thoughts

A yearning to be free

from a room filled with nothing

but hot breath and dirty pussy

My dreams of getting high

again keeping me from sleep

Talking so much

Talking about nothing

of substance. O how I realize

ignorance is a disease

A disease incurable

for most

Something you let ride

and laugh off as to pass the already

unpassing time


Can’t even walk

or run

there’s no stars or sun

there only these four walls

around me and this gate

that locks it’s a cage

I sleep on the cold floor

but I have a bed

where this is nothing

to see

but I hear a voice

and it’s not me

hear footsteps but it’s

not me I’m just here

in this cage til

I’m free


one breath closer to my last

one moment closer to the end

will freedom ever be found at last

soaring high high in the heavens

that’s where I’m meant to be

that’s where I will be when I am free

cold . dark . lonely

scared . confused . angry

chains fall off

happy . liberated . free


I want to eat a steak

yet I know he can’t

his tummy will ache

I don’t want no more salads

yet I know what he goes through

I used to let my chocolate candy run

like glue

but now it’s always

frozen hard as a rock

hope I don’t break a tooth

I never ate greens yet

to help him stay

I’m going to stay clean and help

him poop

Fries and fast are no longer for us

Cancer is the enemy

I’m his wife

Together we learn to fight


In this place there's a lot of sadness

yet I see so much beauty. People come in so lost

and tired and then one day they are renewed. Full

of life, well rested and fed some food

and I’m glad to be the one who got to hold them

here til they find the path that they were

met to take. Some stay lost and leave

only to return with the same lost soul.

Many feel alone but little do they know

I am right here. Whispering to them all day

to cheer them on, help them find their way.


There are many beautiful things I have seen

Then again there is so much ugliness.

I travel on these tracks and I feel it all.

The sun shining down warming my rails

The rain washing me off

The wind blowing

The hardest is death.

How do I pretend it never happens?

I only wish I could have stopped.


I get lost or no energy or I set you off track

everybody puts their filth on me

and fight over me or sometimes I bring people together

it can be so loud you want

to scream or so low it frustrates

me and makes me wanna

give up

it’s like being on a roller coaster

of emotions happy sad excited scared

but in the end I

have the power to turn it all off


not omnipresent but everywhere you look there I am.

I hold it all together as you fall apart.

Stick with me because you have to.

Stacked taller than your sun deprived eyes can

look over, I will not tumble so easily.

Only in your dreams will you break free.

Open your eyes to a new day and

there I will be again, stagnant as ever

and just as loyal as you are to me.

Writing Prompts:

  1. Goldstein uses “How to Bury a Boy at Sea” to explore themes of self-discovery, grief, and the complexities of relationships. He part that really stands out at hitting all of these themes is in the fifth stanza when he says “He had caged me here & I had agreed to be caged. / I thought cages were safe. They are not; they are merely a tool / used to keep us from being in our natural state.” Write a poem where you talk about what being caged means to you. In what ways are caged, both mentally and physically? How is being caged keeping you from your “natural state”?

  2. “What a Bed Takes In” is a persona poem. A persona poem is a poem written from the point of view of another person or object. In this case, Goldstein is writing from the perspective of a mattress. In this poem, the mattress talks about the many things it’s seen and the regrets it has for not stopping some of them. Write a persona poem from the point of view of an everyday object (you can pick a mattress like Goldstein did or anything you want). In the poem, share all of the things that this object has witnessed in its life.

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