Read Ballistics Online

Authors: Billy Collins


Praise for
and Billy Collins

“Wryly philosophical, caustically whimsical, disarmingly beautiful, Collins’s covertly powerful lyrics deftly snare all that is fine and ludicrous about us.”


“Accessible and high-spirited … [Collins] again shows the deft, self-mocking touch that has made him one of America’s bestselling poets.”

—Publishers Weekly

“[Collins] gives to ‘ordinary lives’ an eloquence that is far from ordinary but made from it nevertheless.”

Buffalo News
(Editor’s Choice)

“Collins reveals the unexpected within the ordinary. He peels back the surface of the humdrum to make the moment new.”

The Christian Science Monitor

“By careful observation, Collins spins comic gold from the dross of quotidian suburban life.… Chipping away at the surface, he surprises you by scraping to the wood underneath, to some deeper truth.”

—Entertainment Weekly

“A poet of plentitude, irony, and Augustan grace.”

—The New Yorker

“It is difficult not to be charmed by Collins, and that in itself is a remarkable literary accomplishment.”

The New York Review of Books

“[Collins] moves you to laughter and tears, often during the course of one poem.… His insight into the human condition astonishes.”


“Collins’s accessible and deeply human poetry would make a poetry lover out of anyone.”

—Good Housekeeping

“Collins uses ordinary words … and his sentences have the cadences of speech. They usually start with plain statements … then something strange happens. A rocket goes off, images burst out like fireworks, and life’s backyard becomes a magic kingdom.… Collins is often very funny—but more startling than the wit is the way his mind makes unexpected leaps and splices.”

The Boston Globe

“To begin with, Collins is absolutely charming. He deserves every rose he’s flung these days.… His poems are irresistible.”


“Collins has reached into so many unexplored corners that he has elevated the mundane, not out of proportion to the world, but to a place where it seems to have always belonged.”

—The Miami Herald

“Like a master jazz trumpeter, Collins takes quirky, imaginative leaps that are as stunning for their coherence as for their originality.… Collins’s popularity hinges on the accessibility of his poems and their mildly subversive quality.… So obviously a virtuoso, Billy Collins is sure to bring many new readers to poetry.”

Washington Post Book World


The Trouble with Poetry and Other Poems

Nine Horses

Sailing Alone Around the Room

Picnic, Lightning

The Art of Drowning

Questions About Angels

The Apple That Astonished Paris

Poetry 180: A Turning Back to Poetry

180 More: Extraordinary Poems for Every Day

2010 Random House Trade Paperback Edition

Copyright © 2008 by Billy Collins

All rights reserved.

Published in the United States by Random House Trade Paperbacks, an imprint of The Random House Publishing Group, a division of Random House, Inc., New York.

and colophon are trademarks of Random House, Inc.

Previous publication information about some of the poems contained within this work can be found beginning on
this page

Originally published in hardcover in the United States by Random House, an imprint of The Random House Publishing Group, a division of Random House, Inc., in 2008.

Library of Congress Cataloging-in-Publication Data
Collins, Billy.
Ballistics : poems / Billy Collins.

p. cm.

eISBN: 978-1-58836-763-1

I. Title.

PS3553.O47478B35 2008



For Chris Calhoun
advocate and pal

Even as a cow she was lovely.







A Note to the Reader About this Poetry eBook

The way a poem looks on the page is a vital aspect of its being. The length of its lines and the poet’s use of stanza breaks give the poem a physical shape, which guides our reading of the poem and distinguishes it from prose.

With an eBook, this distinct shape may be altered if you choose to take advantage of one of the functions of your eReader by changing the size of the type for greater legibility. Doing this may cause the poem to have line breaks not intended by the poet. To preserve the physical integrity of the poem, we have formatted the eBook so that any words that get bumped down to a new line in the poem will be noticeably indented. This way, you can still appreciate the poem’s original shape regardless of your choice of type size.

August in Paris

I have stopped here on the rue des Écoles

just off the boulevard St-Germain

to look over the shoulder of a man

in a flannel shirt and a straw hat

who has set up an easel and a canvas chair

on the sidewalk in order to paint from a droll angle

a side-view of the Church of Saint Thomas Aquinas.

But where are you, reader,

who have not paused in your walk

to look over my shoulder

to see what I am jotting in this notebook?

Alone in this city,

I sometimes wonder what you look like,

if you are wearing a flannel shirt

or a wraparound blue skirt held together by a pin.

But every time I turn around

you have fled through a crease in the air

to a quiet room where the shutters are closed

against the heat of the afternoon,

where there is only the sound of your breathing

and every so often, the turning of a page.



Brightly Colored Boats Upturned
on the Banks of the Charles

What is there to say about them

that has not been said in the title?

I saw them near dawn from a glassy room

on the other side of that river,

which flowed from some hidden spring

to the sea; but that is getting away from

the brightly colored boats upturned

on the banks of the Charles,

the sleek racing sculls of a college crew team.

They were beautiful in the clear early light—

red, yellow, blue and green—

is all I wanted to say about them,

although for the rest of the day

I pictured a lighter version of myself

calling time through a little megaphone,

first to the months of the year,

then to the twelve apostles, all grimacing

as they leaned and pulled on the long wooden oars.


I recall someone once admitting

that all he remembered of
Anna Karenina

was something about a picnic basket,

and now, after consuming a book

devoted to the subject of Barcelona—

its people, its history, its complex architecture—

all I remember is the mention

of an albino gorilla, the inhabitant of a park

where the Citadel of the Bourbons once stood.

The sheer paleness of her looms over

all the notable names and dates

as the evening strollers stop before her

and point to show their children.

These locals called her Snowflake,

and here she has been mentioned again in print

in the hope of keeping her pallid flame alive

and helping her, despite her name, to endure

in this poem where she has found another cage.

Oh, Snowflake,

I had no interest in the capital of Catalonia—

its people, its history, its complex architecture—

no, you were the reason

I kept my light on late into the night

turning all those pages, searching for you everywhere.


On that clear October morning,

I was only behind a double espresso

and a single hit of anti-depressant,

yet there, on the shore of the reservoir

with its flipped-over rowboats,

I felt like I was walking with Jane Austen

to borrow the jargon of the streets.

Yes, I was wearing the crown,

as the drug addicts like to say,

knitting a bonnet for Charlie,

entertaining the troops,

sitting in the study with H. G. Wells—

so many ways to express that mood

of royal goodwill

when the gift of sight is cause enough for jubilation.

And later in the afternoon

when I finally came down,

a lexicon was waiting for me there, too.

In my upholstered chair by a window

with dusk pouring into the room,

I appeared to be doing nothing,

but inside I was busy riding the marble,

as the lurkers like to put it,

talking to Marco Polo,

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