I have never been fishing on the Susquehanna or on any river for that matter to be perfectly honest. Not in July or any month have I had the pleasure—if it is a pleasure— of fishing on the Susquehanna. I am more likely to be found in a quiet room like this one— a painting of a woman on the wall, a bowl of tangerines on the table— trying to manufacture the sensation of fishing on the Susquehanna. There is little doubt that others have been fishing on the Susquehanna, rowing upstream in a wooden boat, sliding the oars under the water then raising them to drip in the light. But the nearest I have ever come to fishing on the Susquehanna was one afternoon in a museum in Philadelphia when I balanced a little egg of time in front of a painting in which that river curled around a bend under a blue cloud-ruffled sky, dense trees along the banks, and a fellow with a red bandanna sitting in a small, green flat-bottom boat holding the thin whip of a pole. That is something I am unlikely ever to do, I remember saying to myself and the person next to me. Then I blinked and moved on to other American scenes of haystacks, water whitening over rocks, even one of a brown hare who seemed so wired with alertness I imagined him springing right out of the frame.
Billy Collins - 1941-
The First Night
The worst thing about death must be
the first night.
—Juan Ramón Jiménez
Before I opened you, Jiménez, it never occurred to me that day and night would continue to circle each other in the ring of death, but now you have me wondering if there will also be a sun and a moon and will the dead gather to watch them rise and set then repair, each soul alone, to some ghastly equivalent of a bed. Or will the first night be the only night, a darkness for which we have no other name? How feeble our vocabulary in the face of death, How impossible to write it down. This is where language will stop, the horse we have ridden all our lives rearing up at the edge of a dizzying cliff. The word that was in the beginning and the word that was made flesh— those and all the other words will cease. Even now, reading you on this trellised porch, how can I describe a sun that will shine after death? But it is enough to frighten me into paying more attention to the world’s day-moon, to sunlight bright on water or fragmented in a grove of trees, and to look more closely here at these small leaves, these sentinel thorns, whose employment it is to guard the rose.