To Billy Collins

A tribute to my favorite poet…


It was the lanyard that got me first,

Then came the windows, the dogs, the bowl of pears,

All of your words ambling along my field of vision

Like butterflies

As I gently read your poetry in the different chairs of my life.

 

I was reclining on a couch in the early morning

When you ate alone in that Chinese restaurant,

When you spoke of Petrarch’s crazy tights,

When you weighed the dog.

 

Then, during lunch,

Seated at the desk in my classroom,

Carefully selecting the cashews from a little bag,

I read of your autumn leaves,

Your wet umbrella, and your parents.

 

In the afternoon,

As I stopped by the tire store on my way home,

I found myself, legs crossed lazily,

On the iron frown of a folding chair,

Shoved between the yellowed coffeepot,

Pooled with tepid decaf,

And the large bay window to the garage.

 

There, as I waited, I read of your constellations,

The dripping stars, the moonlit swans,

And I laughed a bit at the irony

As I looked up to my own heavens

Only to gaze upon panels of flickering light and dead flies.

 

Late that evening, I shuffled off the petals of a weary day

And nudged my feet deep into the covers of the bed.

My wife softly lay her head beside me,

And I picked up your book to see

The early sun and the old teacher.

 

But as I reached the final page, I noticed,

Perhaps for the first time,

That all the early suns,

Shining through each rain-soaked pane,

And every cup of tea swam freely in my mind,

Happily treading my stream of consciousness

With Petrarch and the bowl of pears,

Teaching me how to hear.

 

So I quietly lay down your poetry,

Placed my hand on my wife’s shoulder,

And followed the moonlit swans as they paddled

Deeper into this tender sleep.

A Quiet Pond in Camden

My wife’s grandfather passed away a few days ago, and his funeral is this morning in South Carolina. This poem is in honor of Elbert Benjamin Newman, Sr. 


I couldn’t help but notice your hands first, Granddaddy,

Your nails yellowed by coarse decades of work,

Your veins the color of wine.

 

Against the white cloth of your rolling hospice bed

They seemed translucent, thinning from the groan of

Fluorescent light.

 

They’ve worn age well, these spotted hands,

Covered in the creases of your full life,

And I admit I laughed a little when your great-grandkids

Scooted close to say hello,

And you peered through the bifocaled tunnel of time

To smile back and twinkle two fingers

As best you could.

 

But when you winced and adjusted the tape on your bruising skin,

Scratching the IV in your limp fist,

I wanted to run out of that hospital,

Down the front, tightly-manicured lawn,

And leap into the clouds to see your life in sum,

Every living scene all at once.

 

I wanted to see those hands wriggle a ring on Grandmama’s finger,

Twist the ripcord of your parachute in the War,

Peel a hundred avocados, stranded in the Philippines.

 

I wanted to see you vote for Stevenson in ’52,

Build a furniture business with the strength of your iron will,

Raise a nurse, a preacher, and an heir to your company,

Then see your lineage expand

As generations branched and took your torch into the future.

 

I wanted to see your hands cradle each and every grandchild,

Each and every great-grandchild,

As you breathed in the lily air of new life.

 

I wanted to see your hands take up the fork and knife

And silently thank Grandmama’s every move with your cutting,

Pancakes, chicken, pie, and all her other glories,

Then gulp your gratitude after swishing sweet tea

From cheek to cheek.

 

They’ve worn age well, these spotted hands

That pulled me back down from the sky of my daydreaming

As if to say it’s time.

And it is.

 

So let us all smile and say goodbye, Granddaddy,

Loud enough for you to hear,

As we crowd around your recliner in our minds

And carry your legacy forward

Into another hundred years and more,

Speeding ever faster from a quiet pond in Camden.