The name of the author is the first to go
followed obediently by the title, the plot,
the heartbreaking conclusion, the entire novel
which suddenly becomes one you have never read,
never even heard of,
as if, one by one, the memories you used to harbor
decided to retire to the southern hemisphere of the brain,
to a little fishing village where there are no phones.
Long ago you kissed the names of the nine Muses goodbye
and watched the quadratic equation pack its bag,
and even now as you memorize the order of the planets,
something else is slipping away, a state flower perhaps,
the address of an uncle, the capital of Paraguay.
Whatever it is you are struggling to remember
it is not poised on the tip of your tongue,
not even lurking in some obscure corner of your spleen.
It has floated away down a dark mythological river
whose name begins with an L as far as you can recall,
well on your own way to oblivion where you will join those
who have even forgotten how to swim and how to ride a bicycle.
No wonder you rise in the middle of the night
to look up the date of a famous battle in a book on war.
No wonder the moon in the window seems to have drifted
out of a love poem that you used to know by heart.
"Forgetfulness" from Questions About Angels, by Billy Collins, © 1999. All rights are controlled by the University of Pittsburgh Press, Pittsburgh, PA 15260. Used by permission of the University of Pittsburgh Press.
Some days I put the people in their places at the table, bend their legs at the knees, if they come with that feature, and fix them into the tiny wooden chairs. All afternoon they face one another, the man in the brown suit, the woman in the blue dress, perfectly motionless, perfectly behaved. But other days, I am the one who is lifted up by the ribs, then lowered into the dining room of a dollhouse to sit with the others at the long table. Very funny, but how would you like it if you never knew from one day to the next if you were going to spend it striding around like a vivid god, your shoulders in the clouds, or sitting down there amidst the wallpaper, staring straight ahead with your little plastic face?
"Some Days" from Picnic, Lightning, by Billy Collins, © 1998. All rights are controlled by the University of Pittsburgh Press, Pittsburgh, PA 15260. Used by permission of the University of Pittsburgh Press.