Poets announce their large, unadulterated cowness
Our National Poetry Month Poemapalooza is drawing to a close. By my estimation, we’ve got a week left, or perhaps less. I can never remember which months have 31 days. Is it the months on the knuckles, or the ones in-between the knuckles? Let’s throw caution to the wind and play it by ear. It will end when it needs to end, and not a moment sooner.
And what would National Poetry Month be without at least a few poems by my dear sweet funny Billy Collins? By the way, as a result of my conversation with him just before the New Year (thanks to Mr Brilliant), his phone number is in my cell phone. I’m always only 10 digits away from him, should Mt. Vesuvius erupt and I need to reach him right away. He’d want to know. He’d want to be the first poet on the scene, I just know it.
Some languid afternoons when I'm not chasing a four-year-old away from the edge of the earth or begging the costumer for the local Shakespeare company to sew a prom dress to match a Montreat tartan kilt, I scroll through the numbers on my happy Treo just to see—yes, there you are, and my mother, and the ophthalmologist, the orthodontist, the tuba teacher, the special collections librarian, the friend from graduate school who always made me laugh with his impression of Marlon Brando in "On the Waterfront" ("I coulda been a critical theorist," he would wail and we would laugh our nerdy English major laugh), and then, all of a sudden, there’s his name, peering at me as if from behind a wall. “Collins, Billy,” it says. And then his phone number. Not his office number, but his home phone number. The very one.
Imagine his surprise (and no doubt his delight) if I were to lose my phone one day and the person who finds it at the soccer field decides to call someone in the phone list to try to locate me. They’ll be standing, sweating, near the fifty-yard-line (if there is such a thing on a soccer field—let’s not get bogged down in details), and he’ll be standing in his corduroy slippers and man pajamas at a green slate kitchen counter, the toast having just popped up and still in its pre-raspberry jam state, in a fine morning light, holding the New York Times Book Review in one hand, folded just down the middle and with lots of slightly ranting notes in the margin, and picking up the phone with the other. “Who?” he’ll say in that voice we love so much, and in that instant a whole lifetime of unknown and unexpected and surprising and just plain ineffable longing will erupt inside him.
This one’s for Andrea Raft.
There were a few
dozen who occupied the field
across the road from where we lived,
stepping all day from tuft to tuft,
their big heads down in the soft grass,
though I would sometimes pass a window
and look out to see the field suddenly empty
as if they had taken wing, flown off to another country.
Then later, I
would open the blue front door,
and again the field would be full of their munching
or they would be lying down
on the black-and-white maps of their sides,
facing in all directions, waiting for rain.
How mysterious, how patient and dumbfounded
they appear in the long quiet of the afternoon.
But every once in
a while, one of them
would let out a sound so phenomenal
that I would put down the paper
or the knife I was cutting an apple with
and walk across the road to the stone wall
to see which one of them was being torched
or pierced through the side with a long spear.
Yes, it sounded
like pain until I could see
the noisy one, anchored there on all fours,
her neck outstretched, her bellowing head
laboring upward as she gave voice
to the rising, full-bodied cry
that began in the darkness of her belly
and echoed up through her bowed ribs into her gaping mouth.
Then I knew that
she was only announcing
the large, unadulterated cowness of herself,
pouring out the ancient apologia of her kind
to all the green fields and the gray clouds,
to the limestone hills and the inlet of the blue bay,
while she regarded my head and shoulders
above the wall with one wild, shocking eye.