Tuesday, July 29, 2014

Poetry Break: 3 from Billy Collins

Keeping Watch (M.A. Reilly, Plymouth, UK, 2012)

The Lanyard 

                  – Billy Collins

The other day I was ricocheting slowly
off the blue walls of this room,
moving as if underwater from typewriter to piano,
from bookshelf to an envelope lying on the floor,
when 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 into the past more suddenly—
a past where I sat at a workbench at a camp
by a deep Adirondack lake
learning how to braid long thin plastic strips
into a lanyard, a gift for 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 spoons of medicine to my lips,
laid cold face-cloths on my forehead,
and then led 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 worn truth
that you can never repay your mother,
but the rueful admission that when she took
the two-tone lanyard from my hand,
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 Future

      - Billy Collins

When I finally arrive there—
and it will take many days and nights—
I would like to believe others will be waiting
and might even want to know how it was.

So I will reminisce about a particular sky
or a woman in a white bathrobe
or the time I visited a narrow strait
where a famous naval battle had taken place.

Then I will spread out on a table
a large map of my world
and explain to the people of the future
in their pale garments what it was like—

how mountains rose between the valleys
and this was called geography,
how boats loaded with cargo plied the rivers
and this was known as commerce,

how the people from this pink area
crossed over into this light-green area
and set fires and killed whoever they found
and this was called history—

and they will listen, mild-eyed and silent,
as more of them arrive to join the circle
like ripples moving toward,
not away from, a stone tossed into a pond.

Building With Its Face Blown Off

 - Billy Collins 

How suddenly the private
Is revealed in a bombed-out city,
How the blue and white striped wallpaper

Of a second story bedroom is now
Exposed to the lightly falling snow
As if the room had answered the explosion

Wearing only its striped pajamas.
Some neighbors and soldiers
Poke around in the rubble below

And stare up at the handing staircase,
The portrait of a grandfather,
A door dangling from a single hinge.

And the bathroom looks almost embarrassed
By its uncovered ochre walls,
The twisted mess of its plumbing,

The sink sinking to its knees,
The ripped shower curtain,
The torn goldfish trailing bubbles.

It’s like a dollhouse view
As if a child on its knees could reach in
And pick up the bureau, straighten a picture.

Or it might be a room on a stage
In a play with no characters,
No dialogue or audience,

No beginning, middle and end-
Just the broken furniture in the street,
A shoe among the cinder blocks,

A light snow still falling
On a distant steeple, and people
Crossing a bridge that still stands.

And beyond that- crows in a tree,
The statue of a leader on a horse,
And clouds that look like smoke,

And even farther on, in another country
On a blanket under a shade tree,
A man pouring wine into two glasses

And a woman sliding out
The wooden pegs of a wicker hamper
Filled with bread, cheese, and several kinds of olives.

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