from his collection of poems, Ballistics, Random House, 2008
Would anyone care to join me
in flicking a few pebbles in the direction
of teachers who are fond of asking the question:
“What is the poet trying to say?”
as if Thomas Hardy and Emily Dickinson
had struggled but ultimately failed in their efforts-
inarticulate wretches that they were,
biting their pens and staring out the window for a clue.
Yes, it seems that Whitman, Amy Lowell
and the rest could only try and fail,
but we in Mrs. Parker’s third-period English class
here at Springfield High will succeed
with the help of these study questions
in saying what the poor poet could not,
and we will get all this done before
that orgy of egg salad and tuna fish known as lunch.
Tonight, however, I am the one trying
to say what it is this absence means,
the two of us sleeping and waking under different roofs.
The image of this vase of cut flowers,
not from our garden, is no help.
And the same goes for the single plate,
the solitary lamp, and the weather that presses its face
against these new windows-the drizzle and the
So I will leave it up to Mrs. Parker,
who is tapping a piece of chalk against the blackboard,
and her students-a few with their hands up,
others slouching with their caps on backwards-
to figure out what it is I am trying to say
about this place where I find myself
and to do it before the noon bell rings
and that whirlwind of meatloaf is unleashed.
If you've never read Billy Collins, shame on you. Go out right now and buy something of his, starting with this most recent collection of his work. Collins has the ability to draw the spiritual out of the mundane and mixes cocktails of goofy humor, head-splitting truth, and the ordinarily divine. It will make you a better person and will probably crack you up.