A selection of poems from Billy Collins' \"The Trouble With Poetry\"
Young Adult (18-35)
North American (US General American - GenAM)
Note: Transcripts are generated using speech recognition software and may contain errors.
The Trouble with poetry by Billy Collins, statues in the park. I thought of you today when I stopped before an equestrian statue in the middle of a public square. You who had once instructed me in the code of these noble poses. Horse rearing up with two legs raised, You told me meant the rider had died in battle. If only one leg was lifted, the man had elsewhere succumbed to his wounds and if four legs were touching the ground as they were in this case, bronze hooves affixed to a stone base, it meant that the man on the horse, this one staring intently over the closed movie theater across the street, had died of a cause other than war. In the shadow of the statue, I wondered about the others who had simply walked through life without a horse, a saddle or a sword, Pedestrians who could no longer place one ft in front of the other. I pictured statues of the sickly recumbent on their cold stone beds, the suicides towing the marble edge, statues of accident victims covering their eyes, the murdered covering their wounds, the drown silently treading the air. And there was I up on a rosy gray block of granite near a cluster of shade trees in the local park. My name and dates pressed into a plaque down on my knees. Eyes lifted, praying to the passing clouds forever, begging for just one more day theme. It's a sunny weekday in early May and after a ham sandwich and a cold bottle of beer on the brick terrace. I am consumed by the wish to add something to one of the ancient themes. Youth dancing with his eyes closed, for example, in the shadows of corruption and death, or the rise and fall of illustrious men strapped to the turning wheel of Mischance and disaster. There's a slight breeze just enough to bend the yellow tulips on their stems, but that hardly helps me echo the longing for immortality. Despite the roaring juggernaut of time, or the painful motif of nature's cyclical return versus man's blind rush to the grave. I could loosen my shirt and lie down in the soft grass sweet now after its first cutting, but that would not produce a record of the pursuit of the moth, of eternal beauty, or the despondency that attends the eventual dribble of the once gurgling fountain of creativity. So, as far as the great topics go, that seems to leave only the fall from exuberant maturity into sudden headlong decline. A subject that fills me with silence and leaves me with no choice but to spend the rest of the day sniffing the jasmine vine and surrendering to the ivory governance of the piano by picking out with my index finger the melody notes of easy to love. A song in which cole porter expresses with put on nonchalance, the hopelessness of a love brimming with desire and a hunger for affection, but met only and always with frosty disregard the long day. In the morning I ate a banana like a young ape, and worked on a poem called nocturne. In the afternoon I opened the mail with a short kitchen knife and when dusk began to fall I took off my clothes, put on sweetheart of the rodeo and soaked in a claw footed bathtub. I closed my eyes and thought about the alphabet, the letters filing out of the halls of kindergarten to become literature. If the british call Z Zed, I wondered why not call B bed and D dead? And why does Z, which looks like the fastest letter come at the very end, unless they are all moving east when we are facing north in our chairs. It was then that I heard a clap of thunder and the dogs bark. It was then that I heard a clap of thunder and the dogs bark and the claw footed bathtub took one step forward. Or was it backward? I had to ask as I turned to reach a far away towel. In the evening the heads of roses begin to droop. The b who has been hauling his gold all day finds a hexagon in which to rest in the sky, traces of clouds, the last few darting birds, water colors on the horizon. The white cat sits facing a wall. The horse in the field is asleep on its feet. I light a candle on the wood table. I take another sip of wine. I pick up an onion and a knife. In the past and the future. Nothing but an only child with two different masks. Boyhood alone in the basement. I would sometimes lower one eye to the level of the narrow train track to watch the puffing locomotive pull the cars around a curve, then bear down on me with its dazzling I what was in those moments before I lifted my head and let the train go rocking by under my nose. I remember not caring much about the fake grass or the buildings that made up the miniature town. The same went for the station and its master, the crossing gates and flashing lights, the milk car, the pencil sized logs, the metallic men and women, the dangling water tower and the round mirror for a pond. All I wanted was to be blinded over and over by this shaking light as the train stuck fast to its oval course. Or better still to close my eyes to stay there on the cold narrow rails and let the train tunnel through me. The way it tunneled through the mountain painted the color of rock. And then there would be nothing but the long whistling through the dark, no basement, no boy, no everlasting summer afternoon special glasses I had to send away for them because they are not available in any store. They look the same as any sunglasses with a light tint and silvery frames but instead of filtering out the harmful rays of the sun, they filter out the harmful side of you. You on the approach, You waiting at my bus, stop you face in the evening window. Every morning I put them on and step out the side door, whistling a melody of thanks to my nose and my ears for holding them in place. Just so singing a song of gratitude to the lens grinder at his heavy bench into the very lenses themselves because they allow it all to come in all but you how they know the difference between the green hedges, the stone walls and you is beyond me. Yet the school busses flashing in the rain do come in as well as the postman waving and the mother and daughter dogs next door. And then there's the tea kettle about to play its cord. Everything's sailing right in. But you girl, Yes. Just as the night air passes through the screen but not the mosquito and as water swirls down the drain, but not the eggshell. So the flowering trellis and the moon passed through my special glasses. But not you let us keep it this way. I say to myself, as I lay my special glasses on the night table, pull the chain on the lamp and say a prayer. Unlike the song that I will not see you in my dreams. The lanyard the other day, as I was ricocheting slowly off the pale blue walls of this room, bouncing from typewriter to piano. From bookshelf to an envelope lying on the floor. I found myself in the l section of the dictionary, where my eyes fell upon the word lanyard. No cookie nibbled by a french novelist could send one more suddenly into the past a past where I sat at a workbench at a camp by a deep Adirondack lake, learning how to braid thin plastic strips into a lanyard. A gift from my mother. I had never seen anyone use a lanyard or wear one if that's what you did with them. But that did not keep me from crossing Strand over Strand again and again until I had made a boxy red and white lanyard for my mother. She gave me life and milk from her breasts, and I gave her a lanyard. She nursed me in many a sick room, lifted teaspoons of medicine to my lips, set cold face cloths on my forehead, and then lead me out into the airy light, and taught me to walk and swim. And I in turn presented her with a lanyard. Here are thousands of meals, she said. And here is clothing and a good education. And here is your lanyard, I replied, which I made with a little help from a counselor. Here is a breathing body and a beating heart, strong legs, bones, and teeth, and two clear eyes to read the world, she whispered. And here I said, is the lanyard I made at camp. And here I wish to say to her now is a smaller gift. Not the archaic truth, that you can never repay your mother, but the rueful admission that when she took the two tone lanyard from my hands, I was as sure as a boy could be that this useless, worthless thing I wove out of boredom would be enough to make us even the order of the day, the morning after a week of rain, and the sun shot down through the branches into the tall, bare windows. The brindle cat rolled over on his back, and I could hear you in the kitchen grinding coffee beans into a powder. Everything seemed especially vivid because I knew we were all going to die. First the cat then you then me. Then, somewhat later the liquefied son was the order I was envisioning. But then again, you never really know. The cat had a fiercely healthy look, his coat so bristling and electric. I wondered what you had been feeding him and what you had been feeding me. As I turned the corner and beheld you out there on the sunny deck, lost an exercise running in place, knees lifted, high skin glistening in that toothy, immortal looking smile of yours on not finding you at home. Usually you appear at the front door when you hear my steps on the gravel. But today the door was closed. Not a wisp of pale smoke from the chimney. I peered into a window, but there was nothing but a table with a comb, some yellow flowers and a glass of water, and dark shadows in the corners of the room. I stood for a while under the big tree and listened to the wind and the birds, your wind, and your birds, your dark green woods beyond the clearing. This is not what it is like to be you! I realized, as a few of your magnificent clouds flew over the rooftop. It is just me thinking about being you. And before I headed back down the hill I walked in a circle around your house, making an invisible line which you would have to cross before dark. The revenant I am the dog you put to sleep as you like to call the needle of oblivion. Come back to tell you this simple thing. I never liked you not one bit. When I licked your face. I thought of biting off your nose when I watched you toweling yourself dry. I wanted to leap and unmanned you with a snap. I resented the way you moved, your lack of animal grace, the way you would sit in a chair to eat a napkin on your lap, knife in your hand. I would have run away, but I was too weak a trick. You taught me while I was learning to sit and heel, and greatest of insults. Shake hands without a hand. I admit the side of the leash would excite me, but only because it meant I was about to smell things you had never touched. You do not want to believe this, but I have no reason to lie. I hated the car, the rubber toys, disliked your friends, and worse, your relatives. The jingling of my tags drove me mad. You always scratched me in the wrong place. All I ever wanted from you was food and fresh water in my metal bowls while you slept. I watched you breathe as the moon rose in the sky. It took all my strength not to raise my head and howl. Now I am free of the collar, the yellow raincoat, monogrammed sweater, the absurdity of your lawn, and that is all you need to know about this place, except what you already supposed, and are glad it did not happen sooner that everyone here can read and write. The dogs in poetry. The cats, and all the others in prose height, viewed from the roof of a tall building. People on the street are said to take on the appearance of ants. But I've been up here for so long gazing down over this parapet that the ants below have begun to resemble People. Look at that one lingering near a breadcrumb on the curb. Does he not share the appearance of my brother in law and the beautiful young aunt in the light summer dress with the smooth ovoid head, the one heading up the lampposts. Could she not double for my favorite cousin, with her glad eyes and her bold back hair, Surely one with the face of my mother and another with the posture of my father will soon go hobbling by fool me. Good. I am under the covers, waiting for the heat to come up with a gurgle and hiss and the banging of the water hammer that will frighten the cold out of the room. And I'm listening to a blues singer named precious Bryant singing a song called Fool Me. Good. If you don't love me baby, she sings, would you please try to fool me? Good? I'm also stroking the dog's head and writing down these words, which means that I am calmly flying in the face of the buddhist advice to do only one thing at a time? Just pour the tea. Just look into the eye of the flower. Just sing the song one thing at a time and you will achieve serenity, which is what I would love to do as the fan blades in the morning begin to turn. If you don't love me, baby. She sings as a day moon fades in the window and the hands circle the clock. Would you please try to fool me? Good, yes, precious. I reply. I will fool you as good as I can. But first I have to learn to listen to you with my whole heart and not until you have finished, will I put on my slippers, squeeze out some toothpaste and make a big, foamy face in the mirror, freshly dedicated to doing one thing at a time. One note at a time for you, darling. One tooth at a time for me.