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QUINTESSENCE

A Glimpse, Sideways

MY LIFE
By Billy Collins

Sometimes I see it as a straight line
drawn with a pencil and a ruler
transecting the circle of the world

or as a finger piercing
a smoke ring, casual, inquisitive,

but then the sun will come out
or the phone will ring
and I will cease to wonder

if it is one thing,
a large ball of air and memory,
or many things,
a string of small farming towns,
a dark road winding through them.

Let us say it is a field
I have been hoeing every day,
hoeing and singing,
then going to sleep in one of its furrows,

or now that it is more than half over,
a partially open door,
rain dripping from the eaves.

Like yours, it could be anything,
a nest with one egg,
a hallway that leads to a thousand rooms—
whatever happens to float into view
when I close my eyes

or look out a window
for more than a few minutes,
so that some days I think
it must be everything and nothing at once.

But this morning, sitting up in bed,
wearing my black sweater and my glasses,
the curtains drawn and the windows up,

I am a lake, my poem is an empty boat,
and my life is the breeze that blows
through the whole scene

stirring everything it touches—
the surface of the water, the limp sail,
even the heavy, leafy trees along the shore.


The first time I read My Life by Billy Collins, past poet laureate of the United States and arguably one of the most popular and well read contemporary poets in America, I was years younger than I am today. What stands out this morning as I share this poem with you is how different stanzas resonate for me now than did then. Lines once evocative but not familiar are now familiar, evoke an accumulation of yesteryears. Perhaps a poem taps a tuning fork within us, the base note ever changing. How can one poem do this? Ripple through our consciousness, pick and thread through dreams? My Life offers language to rest on as we journey the unknown. We read "everything and nothing at once" and find solace and recognition. A stream of islands that glisten in an existential sea - some inhabited, some not at all. Delicate, ephemeral, sturdy, sharp. Bones cast shadows in sunrises of wishfulness. Tide pools of regret shimmer at our feet, and above our heads move clouds of utter hunger. Our feet find "a dark road winding" and cross toward tomorrow - making, leaving, already moving on.

A glimpse, sideways.

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