You would love it here, is what I wrote on most of the postcards I sent last week. I realise now that that could’ve been a waste of space, a waste of words. Because that is the point of postcards, isn’t it. I am sending you everything I love in this moment, hoping that a piece of paper will convey the enormity of all of what I’m feeling. I walked around the city trying to locate the post, carrying my heart in my pocket, my letter naked and for everyone to see—from the clerk to the postman to your neighbour, and every roving eye that lands on my handwriting, before it finally gets to you.

You would love it here, I wrote. But what I really meant: I fell in love with a city, dammit, and I am leaving the next day and I am shattered and I don’t want to go which is why I also wrote myself saying everything is worth it to be here saying you will be here again someday saying you have been here and it is good and would you please forgive yourself for not being able to take with you everything you love—

Aimless Love
Billy Collins

This morning as I walked along the lakeshore,
I fell in love with a wren
and later in the day with a mouse
the cat had dropped under the dining room table.

In the shadows of an autumn evening,
I fell for a seamstress
still at her machine in the tailor’s window,
and later for a bowl of broth,
steam rising like smoke from a naval battle.

This is the best kind of love, I thought,
without recompense, without gifts,
or unkind words, without suspicion,
or silence on the telephone.

The love of the chestnut,
the jazz cap and one hand on the wheel.

No lust, no slam of the door –
the love of the miniature orange tree,
the clean white shirt, the hot evening shower,
the highway that cuts across Florida.

No waiting, no huffiness, or rancor –
just a twinge every now and then

for the wren who had built her nest
on a low branch overhanging the water
and for the dead mouse,
still dressed in its light brown suit.

But my heart is always propped up
in a field on its tripod,
ready for the next arrow.

After I carried the mouse by the tail
to a pile of leaves in the woods,
I found myself standing at the bathroom sink
gazing down affectionately at the soap,

so patient and soluble,
so at home in its pale green soap dish.
I could feel myself falling again
as I felt its turning in my wet hands
and caught the scent of lavender and stone.

Because things are beginning again, and I am hoping more people discover poetry this year.

Introduction to Poetry
Billy Collins

I ask them to take a poem
and hold it up to the light
like a color slide

or press an ear against its hive.

I say drop a mouse into a poem
and watch him probe his way out,

or walk inside the poem’s room
and feel the walls for a light switch.

I want them to waterski
across the surface of a poem
waving at the author’s name on the shore.

But all they want to do
is tie the poem to a chair with rope
and torture a confession out of it.

They begin beating it with a hose
to find out what it really means.

From Sailing Alone Around the Room by Billy Collins, published by Random House, 2002. ()

Good morning :)

Billy Collins

Today I pass the time reading
a favorite haiku,
saying the few words over and over.

It feels like eating
the same small, perfect grape
again and again.

I walk through the house reciting it
and leave its letters falling
through the air of every room.

I stand by the big silence of the piano and say it.
I say it in front of a painting of the sea.
I tap out its rhythm on an empty shelf.

I listen to myself saying it,
then I say it without listening,
then I hear it without saying it.

And when the dog looks up at me,
I kneel down on the floor
and whisper it into each of his long white ears.

It’s the one about the one-ton
temple bell
with the moth sleeping on its surface,

and every time I say it, I feel the excruciating
pressure of the moth
on the surface of the iron bell.

When I say it at the window,
the bell is the world
and I am the moth resting there.

When I say it into the mirror,
I am the heavy bell
and the moth is life with its papery wings.

And later, when I say it to you in the dark,
you are the bell,
and I am the tongue of the bell, ringing you,

and the moth has flown
from its line
and moves like a hinge in the air above our bed.

From Picnic, Lightning by Billy Collins, published by the University of Pittsburgh Press, 1998. ()

Hello, March. Hello, birthday month. In a few days I will be a quarter of a century old. I am still in awe thinking about this. Will I grow up to be the person I’ve always wanted to be? Will I finally catch up after the dreams I’m chasing? Will I ever fall in love again?

Billy Collins

The boy at the far end of the train car kept looking behind him
as if he were afraid or expecting someone

and then she appeared in the glass door of the forward car and he rose
and opened the door and let her in

and she entered the car carrying a large black case
in the unmistakable shape of a cello.

She looked like an angel with a high forehead and somber eyes and her hair
was tied up behind her neck with a black bow.

And because of all that, he seemed a little awkward in his happiness to see her,
whereas she was simply there, perfectly existing as a creature with a soft face who played the cello.

And the reason I am writing this on the back of a manila envelope
now that they have left the train together
is to tell you that when she turned to lift the large, delicate cello
onto the overhead rack,

I saw him looking up at her and what she was doing
the way the eyes of saints are painted
when they are looking up at God when he is doing something remarkable,
something that identifies him as God.

From Nine Horses by Billy Collins, published by Picador USA, 2002.

Have a few minutes to spare before midnight. Using it to say thanks for friends who’ve been with me through the years, dinner at a new restaurant, peanut butter crepes, and Billy Collins who knows a thing or two about gratitude.

As If to Demonstrate an Eclipse
Billy Collins

I pick an orange from a wicker basket
and place it on the table
to represent the sun.
Then down at the other end
a blue and white marble
becomes the earth
and nearby I lay the little moon of an aspirin.

I get a glass from a cabinet,
open a bottle of wine,
then I sit in a ladder-back chair,
a benevolent god presiding
over a miniature creation myth,

and I begin to sing
a homemade canticle of thanks
for this perfect little arrangement,
for not making the earth too hot or cold
not making it spin too fast or slow

so that the grove of orange trees
and the owl become possible,
not to mention the rolling wave,
the play of clouds, geese in flight,
and the Z of lightning on a dark lake.

Then I fill my glass again
and give thanks for the trout,
the oak, and the yellow feather,

singing the room full of shadows,
as sun and earth and moon
circle one another in their impeccable orbits
and I get more and more cockeyed with gratitude.

From Nine Horses by Billy Collins, published by Picador USA, 2002.

It’s an early morning for jazz, dear. Listening to Johnny Hartman and watching the sun rise. It’s the beginning of the year, yes, dear, and I’m all alone again. But what else can I do, what else? I sit by the window with a book of poems open on my lap, and I listen to the soft piano, and the saxophone, and that deep, deep voice.

Billy Collins

You are so beautiful and I am a fool
to be in love with you
is a theme that keeps coming up
in songs and poems.
There seems to be no room for variation.
I have never heard anyone sing
I am so beautiful
and you are a fool to be in love with me,
even though this notion has surely
crossed the minds of women and men alike.
You are so beautiful, too bad you are a fool
is another one you don’t hear.
Or, you are a fool to consider me beautiful.
That one you will never hear, guaranteed.

For no particular reason this afternoon
I am listening to Johnny Hartman
whose dark voice can curl around
the concepts on love, beauty, and foolishness
like no one else’s can.
It feels like smoke curling up from a cigarette
someone left burning on a baby grand piano
around three o’clock in the morning;
smoke that billows up into the bright lights
while out there in the darkness
some of the beautiful fools have gathered
around little tables to listen,
some with their eyes closed,
others leaning forward into the music
as if it were holding them up,
or twirling the loose ice in a glass,
slipping by degrees into a rhythmic dream.

Yes, there is all this foolish beauty,
borne beyond midnight,
that has no desire to go home,
especially now when everyone in the room
is watching the large man with the tenor sax
that hangs from his neck like a golden fish.
He moves forward to the edge of the stage
and hands the instrument down to me
and nods that I should play.
So I put the mouthpiece to my lips
and blow into it with all my living breath.
We are all so foolish,
my long bebop solo begins by saying,
so damn foolish
we have become beautiful without even knowing it.

From Sailing Alone Around the Room by Billy Collins, published by Random House, 2002. ()

A birthday, an award, lovely friends. Couldn’t ask for more.

The Best Cigarette
Billy Collins

There are many that I miss
having sent my last one out a car window
sparking along the road one night, years ago.

The heralded one, of course:
after sex, the two glowing tips
now the lights of a single ship;
at the end of a long dinner
with more wine to come
and a smoke ring coasting into the chandelier;
or on a white beach,
holding one with fingers still wet from a swim.

How bittersweet these punctuations
of flame and gesture;
but the best were on those mornings
when I would have a little something going
in the typewriter,
the sun bright in the windows,
maybe some Berlioz on in the background.
I would go into the kitchen for coffee
and on the way back to the page,
curled in its roller,
I would light one up and feel
its dry rush mix with the dark taste of coffee.

Then I would be my own locomotive,
trailing behind me as I returned to work
little puffs of smoke,
indicators of progress,
signs of industry and thought,
the signal that told the nineteenth century
it was moving forward.
That was the best cigarette,
when I would steam into the study
full of vaporous hope
and stand there,
the big headlamp of my face
pointed down at all the words in parallel lines.

From Sailing Alone Around the Room by Billy Collins, published by Random House, 2002. ()