When it comes time to leave this world? That one perfect cup of coffee in the morning. The snap of the cards being shuffled for another game of rummy late at night at a bar. The red shirt I always wore on Saturday nights at the Alibi. The look on my toddler’s face that day he bent over laughing at the ferns unfurling in the back yard because to him they looked like dragons. The scarred brown heft of the chunk of wood I bought at a garage sale and use as a cutting board. These are the things that come to mind, when I think about what I’ll most miss.
Why are so many poets afraid to write about ordinariness? Stitch that abstraction back down to earth, I sometimes tell my students. Give us a shoelace or a candy wrapper or a torn birthday card to hang our hearts on.
Poem of the Week, by one of my favorite poets, a man who has never been afraid to write about the enchantment of ordinary things.
– Billy Collins
This morning as I walked along the lakeshore,
I fell in love with a wren
and later in the day with a mouse
the cat had dropped under the dining room table.
In the shadows of an autumn evening,
I fell for a seamstress
still at her machine in the tailor’s window,
and later for a bowl of broth,
steam rising like smoke from a naval battle.
This is the best kind of love, I thought,
without recompense, without gifts,
or unkind words, without suspicion,
or silence on the telephone.
The love of the chestnut,
the jazz cap and one hand on the wheel.
No lust, no slam of the door –
the love of the miniature orange tree,
the clean white shirt, the hot evening shower,
the highway that cuts across Florida.
No waiting, no huffiness, or rancor –
just a twinge every now and then
for the wren who had built her nest
on a low branch overhanging the water
and for the dead mouse,
still dressed in its light brown suit.
But my heart is always propped up
in a field on its tripod,
ready for the next arrow.
After I carried the mouse by the tail
to a pile of leaves in the woods,
I found myself standing at the bathroom sink
gazing down affectionately at the soap,
so patient and soluble,
so at home in its pale green soap dish.
I could feel myself falling again
as I felt its turning in my wet hands
and caught the scent of lavender and stone.
For more information about Billy Collins, please click here.