Tuesday, April 26, 2011

Today I Need To Smile

I have many favorite poets. Each has a particular and unique effect on me. When I read Mary Oliver, I want to take a walk outside or sit on the patio and watch the birds. When I read Elizabeth Bishop I look at the small, ordinary things of life with increased interest, even wonder. But when I read Billy Collins, I smile, and occasionally I laugh out loud. Today I needed a smile so I visited a few of Billy's poems and...as predicted...I smiled. I thought maybe you could use one too.

by Billy Collins

The name of the author is the first to go
followed obediently by the title, the plot,
the heartbreaking conclusion, the entire novel
which suddenly becomes one you have never read,
never even heard of,

as if, one by one, the memories you used to harbor
decided to retire to the southern hemisphere of the brain,
to a little fishing village where there are no phones.

Long ago you kissed the names of the nine Muses goodbye
and watched the quadratic equation pack its bag,
and even now as you memorize the order of the planets,

something else is slipping away, a state flower perhaps,
the address of an uncle, the capital of Paraguay.

Whatever it is you are struggling to remember
it is not poised on the tip of your tongue,
not even lurking in some obscure corner of your spleen.

It has floated away down a dark mythological river
whose name begins with an L as far as you can recall,
well on your own way to oblivion where you will join those
who have even forgotten how to swim and how to ride a bicycle.

No wonder you rise in the middle of the night
to look up the date of a famous battle in a book on war.
No wonder the moon in the window seems to have drifted
out of a love poem that you used to know by heart.

(You're smiling, aren't you?)


  1. amidst my tears of all too familiar!

  2. I do like this enough to commit it to memory.....but
    I can no longer do that...nor remember how to spell words from 4th grade spelling lists. Oh God, what has happened to the woman who never forgot a face or name, so thank you Billy Collins and Nancy!