March 27, 2005

Easter Egg Salad [Filed under: Admin.Collins, Billy]


Sometimes the notes are ferocious,
skirmishes against the author
raging along the borders of every page
in tiny black script.
If I could just get my hands on you,
Kierkegaard, or Conor Cruise O’Brien,
they seem to say,
I would bolt the door and beat some logic into your head.

Other comments are more offhand, dismissive —
“Nonsense.” “Please!” “HA!!” —
that kind of thing.
I remember once looking up from my reading,
my thumb as a bookmark,
trying to imagine what the person must look like
who wrote “Don’t be a ninny”
alongside a paragraph in The Life of Emily Dickinson.

Students are more modest
needing to leave only their splayed footprints
along the shore of the page.
One scrawls “Metaphor” next to a stanza of Eliot’s.
Another notes the presence of “Irony”
fifty times outside the paragraphs of A Modest Proposal.

Or they are fans who cheer from the empty bleachers,
Hands cupped around their mouths.
“Absolutely,” they shout
to Duns Scotus and James Baldwin.
“Yes.” “Bull’s-eye.” “My man!”
Check marks, asterisks, and exclamation points
rain down along the sidelines.

And if you have managed to graduate from college
without ever having written “Man vs. Nature”
in a margin, perhaps now
is the time to take one step forward.

We have all seized the white perimeter as our own
and reached for a pen if only to show
we did not just laze in an armchair turning pages;
we pressed a thought into the wayside,
planted an impression along the verge.

Even Irish monks in their cold scriptoriao
jotted along the borders of the Gospels
brief asides about the pains of copying,
a bird signing near their window,
or the sunlight that illuminated their page—
anonymous men catching a ride into the future
on a vessel more lasting than themselves.

And you have not read Joshua Reynolds,
they say, until you have read him
enwreathed with Blake’s furious scribbling.

Yet the one I think of most often,
the one that dangles from me like a locket,
was written in the copy of Catcher in the Rye
I borrowed from the local library
one slow, hot summer.
I was just beginning high school then,
reading books on a davenport in my parents’ living room,
and I cannot tell you
how vastly my loneliness was deepened,
how poignant and amplified the world before me seemed,
when I found on one page

A few greasy looking smears
and next to them, written in soft pencil—
by a beautiful girl, I could tell,
whom I would never meet—
“Pardon the egg salad stains, but I’m in love.”

For whatever reason, this reminds me of Hoke.

I can recall only one margin note I ever came across in a library book. It was in a section of Plato’s Republic dealing with what sort of poetry makes noble citizens and such claptrap. One of my predecessors had noted beside one of these proposals “then Homer becomes Herodotus”.

I don’t believe I have ever scribbled in a book I didn’t own. I have managed to mark up a few texts, but almost exclusively with asterisks, brackets, and question marks. I tried underlining with Hegel. It did not go well. I did, however, at least once manage to delve into actual notes. My copy of the Meno has “Knowledge as Easter Egg Hunt” scribbled in the margin.

Happy Easter.

Out of curiosity, what became of the ability to create new categories? It seems to me that Billy Collins could use one.

March 26, 2005

Worms, Worms, Worms [Filed under: Kooser, Ted]

The Early Bird

Still dark, and raining hard
on a cold May morning

and yet the early bird
is out there chirping,

chirping its sweet-sour
wooden-pulley notes,

pleased, it would seem,
to be given work,

hauling the heavy
bucket of dawn

up from the darkness,
note over note,

and letting us drink.

Metaphors are mortal. Most die silently, decay, and are forgotten. Others become fossils; such are the ones we call dead. We find them sometimes in cookies. Frequently, they attend meetings. The news of their death is reported almost daily in the pages of editorials and opinion magazines. Often, if we have nothing to say, we say them ourselves. Or we tell them to children, especially those in kindergarten, we wish to bore to sleep.

(Read more…)

March 23, 2005

For the Boys in March [Filed under: Collins, Billy]


The murkiness of the local garage is not so dense
That you cannot make out the calendar of pinup
Drawings on the wall above a bench of tools.
Your ears are ringing with the sound of
The mechanic hammering on your exhaust pipe,
And as you look closer you notice that this month’s
Is not the one pushing the lawn mower, wearing
a straw hat and very short blue shorts,
her shirt tied in a knot just below her breasts.
Nor is it the one in the admiral’s cap, bending
Forward, resting her hands on a wharf piling,
Glancing over the tiny anchors on her shoulders.
No, this is March, the month of great winds,
So appropriately it is the one walking her dog
Along a city sidewalk on a very blustery day.
One hand is busy keeping her hat down on her head
And the other is grasping the little dog’s leash,
So of course there is no hand left to push down
Her dress which is billowing up around her waist
Exposing her long stockinged legs and yes the secret
Apparatus of her garter belt. Needless to say,
In the confusion of wind and excited dog
The leash has wrapped itself around her ankles
Several times giving her a rather bridled
And helpless appearance which is added to
By the impossibly high heels she is teetering on.
You would like to come to her rescue,
Gather up the little dog in your arms,
Untangle the leash, lead her to safety,
And receiver her bottomless gratitude, but
The mechanic is calling you over to look
At something under your car. It seems that he has
Run into a problem and the job is going
To cost more than he had said and take
Much longer than he had thought.
Well, it can’t be helped, you hear yourself say
As you return to your place by the workbench,
Knowing that as soon as the hammering resumes
You will slowly lift the bottom of the calendar
Just enough to reveal a glimpse of what
The future holds in store: ah,
The red polka-dot umbrella of April and her
Upturned palm extended coyly into the rain.

March 19, 2005

That’s It. [Filed under: Nemerov, Howard]

A Life

In a sense.
In no sense!

Was that it?
Was that it?
Was that it?

That was it.

March 15, 2005

Tuesday [Filed under: Collins, Billy.Group Meetings]

Monday Morning

The complacency of this student, late
for the final, who chews her pen for an hour,
who sits in her sunny chair,
with a container of coffee and an orange,
a cockatoo swinging freely in her green mind
as if on some drug dissolved,
mingling to give her a wholly ancient rush.
She dreams a little and she fears the mark
she might well get—a catastrophe—
as a frown darkens the hauteur of her light brow.
The orange peels and her bright senior ring
make her think of some procession of classmates,
walking across the wide campus, without a sound,
stalled for the passing of her sneakered feet
over the lawn, to silent pals and steins,
dorm of nobody who would bother to pull an A or care.