Authors: Billy Collins
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.”
“[Collins] gives to ‘ordinary lives’ an eloquence that is far from ordinary but made from it nevertheless.”
“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.”
“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.”
“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
ALSO BY BILLY COLLINS
The Trouble with Poetry and Other Poems
Sailing Alone Around the Room
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
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
Ballistics : poems / Billy Collins.
For Chris Calhoun
advocate and pal
Even as a cow she was lovely.
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.
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.
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
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.
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,