Billy Collins


I think it was an hour,
maybe an hour and a half ago
when you walked out
with a hastily packed suitcase
calling me a name before slamming the door.

But I could also think of that
happening roughly 14 billion years
after the appearance of matter, 2 billion years following the birth of multicellular life on our planet,
245 million years after the dinosaurs
stomped around the earth,

around 200,000 years
after homo erectus decided
to change his last name to sapiens,

and many decades after
the invention of post-graduate study.

All of which has given me enough
perspective on the matter
to concentrate now
on the new chip in the rim of this teacup
as I stand at the kitchen window

waiting for the water to boil,
for a cloud to pass behind a tree,
and for you to reappear
some time before the end of the world, I hope,
with all that fire and ice
and those striking horsemen galloping our way.


Under an old lamp,
I filled out my application
to a writers’ colony located
in the woods hundreds of miles north of here.

I looked up at the motionless ceiling fan
then gave as my reason
the fact that my wife never stops
talking to her two cats.

I stroked my whiskers,
while I read over my answer
then decided that if nothing else
at least I had truth on my side.

If it’s not the black one
it’s the white one, I went on,
and sometimes both at once as when
she calls them to their saucers of warm milk.

I’m too old to give her a baby
to talk to, but even if I could
she would then have the three of them,
and four against one would simply not be fair,

I protested on the final page
of my application to a writers’ colony
located in the deep silence of a woods
somewhere well to the north of where we live.

Poem to the First Generation of People to Exist After the Death of the English Language

I’m not going to put a lot of work into this
because you won’t be able to read it anyway,
and I’ve got more important things to do
this morning, not the least of which
is to try to write a fairly decent poem
for the people who can still read English.

Who could have foreseen English finding
a place in the cemetery of dead languages?

I once imagined English placing flowers
at the tombstones of its parents, Latin and Anglo-Saxon,
but you people can actually visit its grave
on a Sunday afternoon if you still have days of the week.

I remember the story of the last speaker,
of Dalmatian being tape-recorded in his hut
as he was dying under a horsehair blanket.
But English? English seemed for so many of us
the only true way to describe the world
as if reality itself were English
and Adam and Eve spoke it in the garden
using words like snake, apple, and it’s all your fault.

Of course, there are other words for things
but what could be better than boat,
pool, swallow (both the noun and the verb),
statuette, tractor, squiggly, surf, and underbelly?

I’m sorry.
I’ve wasted too much time on this already.
You carry on however you do
without the help of English, communicating
with dots in the air or hologram hats or whatever.
You’re just like all the ones who say
they can’t understand poetry
but at least you poor creatures have an excuse.

So I’m going to turn the page
and not think about you and your impoverishment.
Instead, I’m going to write a poem about red poppies
waving by the side of the railroad tracks,
and you people won’t even know what you’re missing.