Billy Collins was born in New
York City in 1941. He is the
author of six books of poetry,
including Picnic, Lightning
(University of Pittsburgh Press,
1998); The Art of Drowning
(1995), which was a finalist for
the Lenore Marshall Poetry
Prize; Questions About Angels
(1991), which was selected by
Edward Hirsch for the National
Poetry Series; The Apple That
Astonished Paris (1988); Video Poems (1980); and
Pokerface (1977). A recording of Collins reading
thirty-three of his poems, The Best Cigarette, was
released in 1997. Collins's poetry has appeared in
anthologies, textbooks, and a variety of periodicals,
including Poetry, American Poetry Review, American
Scholar, Harper's, Paris Review, and The New Yorker.
His work has been featured in the Pushcart Prize
anthology and The Best American Poetry for 1992,
1993, and 1997. He has received fellowships from the
New York Foundation for the Arts, the National
Endowment for the Arts, and the Guggenheim
Foundation. In 1992, he was chosen by the New York
Public Library to serve as "Literary Lion." For several
years he has conducted summer poetry workshops in
Ireland at University College Galway. He is a professor
of English at Lehman College, City University of New
York. He lives in Somers, New York.
In the fall of 2001, Collins will assume his duties as the
Library of Congress's eleventh Poet Laureate
Consultant in Poetry.
What scene would I want to be enveloped in
more than this one,
an ordinary night at the kitchen table,
floral wallpaper pressing in,
white cabinets full of glass,
the telephone silent,
a pen tilted back in my hand?
It gives me time to think
about all that is going on outside—
leaves gathering in corners,
lichen greening the high grey rocks,
while over the dunes the world sails on,
huge, ocean-going, history bubbling in its wake.
But beyond this table
there is nothing that I need,
not even a job that would allow me to row to work,
or a coffee-colored Aston Martin DB4
with cracked green leather seats.
No, it's all here,
the clear ovals of a glass of water,
a small crate of oranges, a book on Stalin,
not to mention the odd snarling fish
in a frame on the wall,
and the way these three candles—
each a different height—
are singing in perfect harmony.
So forgive me
if I lower my head now and listen
to the short bass candle as he takes a solo
while my heart
thrums under my shirt—
frog at the edge of a pond—
and my thoughts fly off to a province
made of one enormous sky
and about a million empty branches.
When all of a sudden the city air filled with snow,
the distinguishable flakes
looked like krill
fleeing the maw of an advancing whale.
At least they looked that way to me
from the taxi window,
and since I happened to be sitting
that fading Sunday afternoon
in the very center of the universe,
who was in a better position
to say what looked like what,
which thing resembled some other?
Yes, it was a run of white plankton
borne down the Avenue of the Americas
in the stream of the wind,
phosphorescent against the weighty buildings.
Which made the taxi itself,
yellow and slow-moving,
a kind of undersea creature,
I thought as I wiped the fog from the glass,
and me one of its protruding eyes,
an eye on a stem
swiveling this way and that
monitoring one side of its world,
observing tons of water
tons of people
colored signs and lights
and now a wildly blowing race of snow.
beautifully turned--bump up against the
deepest human mysteries."