Ave Atque Vale
by Billy Collins
Even though I managed to swerve around the lump
of groundhog lying on its back on the road,
he traveled with me for miles,
a quiet passenger
who passed the time looking out the window
enjoying this new view of the woods
he once hobbled around in,
sleeping all day and foraging at night,
rising sometimes to consult the wind with his snout.
Last night he must have wandered
onto the road, hoping to slip
behind the curtain of soft ferns on the other side.
I see these forms every day
and always hope the next one up ahead
is a shredded tire, a discarded brown coat,
but there they are, assuming
every imaginable pose for death’s portrait.
This one I speak of, for example,
the one who rode with me for miles,
reminded me of a small Roman citizen,
with his prosperous belly,
his faint smile,
and his one stiff forearm raised
as if he were still alive, still hailing Caesar.
When I was in Amherst with my parents, we stopped into the Jeffrey Amherst Bookstore, where my father bought all his textbooks in his college days. They were having a bit of a sale, and on the table in front of the store I found a heavily discounted copy of Billy Collins’ Nine Horses. I should not be buying books right now, as I have no room in my apartment (seriously—boxes take up most of the floor space in my room, so that I can barely maneuver (is it wrong to want to spell that with the œ ligature?)), and I don’t have a ton of cash on hand, either. Of course, I bought it. One of the first poems I opened to when I had a chance to glance through it was “Ave Atque Vale.”