V  P  R

Contemporary Poetry and Poetics





The figure alone is enough to keep me wide awake, 
the five with its little station master's belly 
and cap with the flat visor, followed by the zero, 
oval of looking glass, porthole on a ghost ship, 
an opening you stick your arm into and feel nothing.

I want to daydream here in the dark, listening 
to the trees behind the house reciting their poems, 
bare anonymous beings, murmuring to themselves 
in lines that reach out like long branches in spring. 
I want my mind to be a sail, susceptible to any breeze 
that might be blowing across the lake of consciousness.

But I keep picturing the number, round and daunting: 
I drop a fifty-dollar bill on a crowded street,
I carry a fifty-pound bag of wet sand on my shoulders. 
I see fifty yearlings leaping a fence in a field, 
I fan the five decades before me like a poker hand.

I try contemplating the sufferings of others, Rossini, 
for example, considered by many to be the Father 
of Modern Insomnia for his prolonged sleeplessness 
during the composition of the William Tell Overture.

But even a long meditation on the life of Brahms, 
widely recognized as the Father of the Modern Lullaby, 
will not dispel the fives and zeros, gnomes in the night, 
perched on the bedposts, one straddling a closet doorknob.

By dawn, I have become a Catholic again, 
the oldest altar boy in the parish, complete 
with surplice and cassock, cruet, thurible, and candle.
And this day, whose first light is gilding the windows, 
has become another one of the sorrowful mysteries,

following the agony in the garden of childhood 
and preceding the crucifixion, 
the letter X removed from the word and nailed to a cross,

the rest of the alphabet standing witness 
on the rocky hillside, marveling at all the lightning 
that is cutting silently across the dark sky.

© by Billy Collins


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