“There is just no way you’re the pine scented air”
May 22nd, 2011 by alexfaye

I went to see Billy Collins read  the other night.  He’s a favorite of mine, and I guess most people who pay attention to poetry have heard something by former US Poet Laureate Billy Collins — he’s straight forward, sweet, funny and observant.
I had read this poem before, but I came to appreciate it more after hearing him talk about it and read it.  In the poem “Litany,” Collins is poking gentle fun of love poetry that (over)uses imagery from nature to describe the beloved.  Shakespeare did this too when he wrote Sonnet 130, “My mistress’ eyes are nothing like the sun…”  So Billy Collins is continuing in this tradition, and he took the first two lines from a poem, and explained that he, “rewrote the poem, as a courtesy …something that poets must do for one another from time to time.”

You are the bread and the knife,
The crystal goblet and the wine…
-Jacques Crickillon

You are the bread and the knife,
the crystal goblet and the wine.
You are the dew on the morning grass
and the burning wheel of the sun.
You are the white apron of the baker,
and the marsh birds suddenly in flight.

However, you are not the wind in the orchard,
the plums on the counter,
or the house of cards.
And you are certainly not the pine-scented air.
There is just no way that you are the pine-scented air.

It is possible that you are the fish under the bridge,
maybe even the pigeon on the general’s head,
but you are not even close
to being the field of cornflowers at dusk.

And a quick look in the mirror will show
that you are neither the boots in the corner
nor the boat asleep in its boathouse.

It might interest you to know,
speaking of the plentiful imagery of the world,
that I am the sound of rain on the roof.

I also happen to be the shooting star,
the evening paper blowing down an alley
and the basket of chestnuts on the kitchen table.

I am also the moon in the trees
and the blind woman’s tea cup.
But don’t worry, I’m not the bread and the knife.
You are still the bread and the knife.
You will always be the bread and the knife,
not to mention the crystal goblet and–somehow–the wine.

And now, the real reason that I am posting this here — something that will make me happy for the rest of my life.
ADDENDUM:  Actually, watching this is a poignant reminder of impermanence.   It’s been almost 18 months since this child’s mother recorded that video.  This boy is gone — along with his unique, heart rending pronunciation of “grass,” “shooting star,” “moon,” “trees,” and “teacup.”  One reason I listen to this is to hear his voice say to me, “But don’t worry…”  And then I reflect on impermanence.
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