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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Joaquin_de_la_Mesa March 13, 2014 @ 12:35 p.m.

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.


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