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.

Wife

Your fingers felt the hem of your violet dress

When you first looked over at me,

And for a moment I swear the room rippled

Like water kissed by a skipping stone.

 

Then you spoke,

And all the watercolor rain

In every cloud between us

Began to fall,

Rinsing the beautiful stillness,

Bearing your words like notes on sheet music

Across the twirling wind,

The sweetness of roses,

The lovely taste of light.

 

Your smile curled at the corners like hymnals,

Bright with the glory of verse,

The joy of Christ resting on your gentle cheeks

And your eyes deeper than morning.

 

I stood helpless as you swept your hair behind your shoulder,

Arrested by a single sentence,

A hundred hummingbirds whirring in my chest.

For you were no mere person,

No woman on a busy street,

But starlight on the evening sea,

Melody in rosined strings,

Beauty in a violet dress.

 

And still, now,

As I rake the snow with my right hand,

Five fingers along the length of our front yard,

And the cold night laughs a flurry of new blankets,

I see our children dance around the staff that I have drawn,

Stepping out a chorus, leaving notes beneath their shoes,

And I know when I look up,

I’ll see my lovely wife,

And we’ll smile in quiet gladness

For the time that we’ve been given.

My Daughter Speaks with Thunder

This is a poem dedicated to my daughter Julianna, the girl who says hello to the thunder:


My daughter speaks with thunder,

Letting go of a thousand wishes drawn from her little well,

Lips stirred by the sweeping spells of starlight,

A congregation of electric clouds clapping the chorus,

Humming hymns.

 

When lightning rips the violet sky,

Like mice scratching faster than traps,

Cheese in cheek,

My child betrays her young lungs with the fragile yell

Of determined humans,

Daring to harmonize with the heavens.

 

She smiles and dances to me,

The harps in her throat still laughing with song,

When her hands outstretch to unveil

A dozen little berries,

Dizzy from the sugar they’ve drunk,

And I see the glory of this gummy communion,

As my daughter chomps on her backyard treasure,

Barrels her hellos to the evening,

And God the Father belly laughs

A shower of rain in response.