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Tanager

Billy Collins
Billy Collins
  • If only I had not listened to the piece
  • on the morning radio about the former asylum
  • whose inmates were kept busy
  • at wooden benches in a workshop
  • making leather collars and wristbands
  • that would later be used to restrain them.
  • And if only that had not reminded me,
  • as I stood facing the bathroom mirror,
  • of the new state prison whose bricks had been set
  • by prisoners trucked in from the old prison,
  • how sweet and free of static my walk
  • would have been along the upland trail.
  • Nothing to spoil the purity of the ascent —
  • the early sun, wafer-white,
  • breaking over the jagged crest of that ridge,
  • a bird with a bright-orange chest
  • flitting from branch to branch with its mate,
  • and a solitary coyote that stopped in its tracks
  • to regard me, then moved on.
  • Plus the cottonwood fluff snowing sideways
  • and after I stood still for a while,
  • the coyote appearing again in the distance
  • before vanishing in the scrub for good.
  • That’s the kind of walk it might have been.

Billy Collins’s poems tend to be perfectly clear, which sets him somewhat outside the mainstream of American poetry. His poems also tend to be entertaining, clever, and often highly amusing. The poet Alice Fulton has commented that “Billy Collins puts the ‘fun’ back in profundity.” But this poem shows a different aspect of his poetic skill. Collins was named U.S. Poet Laureate in 2001 and held that position until 2003. He was Poet Laureate for the State of New York from 2004 until 2006. “Tanager” is one of Collins’s recent poems and has not yet appeared in any of his collections, the most recent of which is Aimless Love: New and Selected Poems, published by Random House in 2013. “Tanager” originally appeared this past October in The New Yorker and is reprinted here with permission.

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Billy Collins
Billy Collins
  • If only I had not listened to the piece
  • on the morning radio about the former asylum
  • whose inmates were kept busy
  • at wooden benches in a workshop
  • making leather collars and wristbands
  • that would later be used to restrain them.
  • And if only that had not reminded me,
  • as I stood facing the bathroom mirror,
  • of the new state prison whose bricks had been set
  • by prisoners trucked in from the old prison,
  • how sweet and free of static my walk
  • would have been along the upland trail.
  • Nothing to spoil the purity of the ascent —
  • the early sun, wafer-white,
  • breaking over the jagged crest of that ridge,
  • a bird with a bright-orange chest
  • flitting from branch to branch with its mate,
  • and a solitary coyote that stopped in its tracks
  • to regard me, then moved on.
  • Plus the cottonwood fluff snowing sideways
  • and after I stood still for a while,
  • the coyote appearing again in the distance
  • before vanishing in the scrub for good.
  • That’s the kind of walk it might have been.

Billy Collins’s poems tend to be perfectly clear, which sets him somewhat outside the mainstream of American poetry. His poems also tend to be entertaining, clever, and often highly amusing. The poet Alice Fulton has commented that “Billy Collins puts the ‘fun’ back in profundity.” But this poem shows a different aspect of his poetic skill. Collins was named U.S. Poet Laureate in 2001 and held that position until 2003. He was Poet Laureate for the State of New York from 2004 until 2006. “Tanager” is one of Collins’s recent poems and has not yet appeared in any of his collections, the most recent of which is Aimless Love: New and Selected Poems, published by Random House in 2013. “Tanager” originally appeared this past October in The New Yorker and is reprinted here with permission.

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Comments
1

I love it. We let too much disturbing information into our lives through electronic channels that people managed to live without for thousands, millions of years. All that information detracts from good walks -- through the countryside and through life.

March 13, 2014

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4S Ranch Allied Gardens Alpine Baja Balboa Park Bankers Hill Barrio Logan Bay Ho Bay Park Black Mountain Ranch Blossom Valley Bonita Bonsall Borrego Springs Boulevard Campo Cardiff-by-the-Sea Carlsbad Carmel Mountain Carmel Valley Chollas View Chula Vista City College City Heights Clairemont College Area Coronado CSU San Marcos Cuyamaca College Del Cerro Del Mar Descanso Downtown San Diego Eastlake East Village El Cajon Emerald Hills Encanto Encinitas Escondido Fallbrook Fletcher Hills Golden Hill Grant Hill Grantville Grossmont College Guatay Harbor Island Hillcrest Imperial Beach Imperial Valley Jacumba Jamacha-Lomita Jamul Julian Kearny Mesa Kensington La Jolla Lakeside La Mesa Lemon Grove Leucadia Liberty Station Lincoln Acres Lincoln Park Linda Vista Little Italy Logan Heights Mesa College Midway District MiraCosta College Miramar Miramar College Mira Mesa Mission Beach Mission Hills Mission Valley Mountain View Mount Hope Mount Laguna National City Nestor Normal Heights North Park Oak Park Ocean Beach Oceanside Old Town Otay Mesa Pacific Beach Pala Palomar College Palomar Mountain Paradise Hills Pauma Valley Pine Valley Point Loma Point Loma Nazarene Potrero Poway Rainbow Ramona Rancho Bernardo Rancho Penasquitos Rancho San Diego Rancho Santa Fe Rolando San Carlos San Marcos San Onofre Santa Ysabel Santee San Ysidro Scripps Ranch SDSU Serra Mesa Shelltown Shelter Island Sherman Heights Skyline Solana Beach Sorrento Valley Southcrest South Park Southwestern College Spring Valley Stockton Talmadge Temecula Tierrasanta Tijuana UCSD University City University Heights USD Valencia Park Valley Center Vista Warner Springs
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