Friday, February 4, 2011

Lunch With Billy Collins (part 1)

There are some perks to being perforated.  People reach out and touch you in warm and wonderful ways.  Gifts are delivered, thoughtful soft warm and cozy gifts which show real thought and planning.  And invitations are extended.

A friend of Amster's is a member of the Tucson Literary Society.  While I was in the hospital she began reading The Burrow and noticed Billy Collins in the sidebar.  She sent me an email, wondering if I would like to join her at the TLS's luncheon where he would be the featured speaker.

Did I want to go?  Oh, yes.  Oh, yes yes yes yes yes  (to paraphrase Molly Bloom). 

Would I be able to go?  That was another matter entirely.  But suddenly I had a goal, an event, an occasion to strive toward.  I've been practicing sitting and riding in cars and dressing in more than sweats and a t-shirt and I've been encouraging TBG to consider letting me out of his sight for a few hours and today I had lunch with Billy Collins.

Now that is a sentence which makes me smile.  And it's not a sentence I'm likely to say very often.

The event was wonderful and deserves more than I have the energy tonight to invest in it.  Come back on Monday for the full report.  For now, I offer this poem.  It's what I have read every morning since I was shot (and that's a sentence that does not make me smile) and it's a poem he read today.  I cried like a baby, and my new friend rubbed my back, and Suzanne, Mr. Collins's fiancee, grabbed my hand and squeezed.  When his reading and question-answering was over he left the podium and came right to my chair.  As I was telling him that I read Days every morning he smiled and said "I read that for you"

Billy Collins selected a poem and read it for me.  For me.  I am still trying to get my head around that fact.  So, while I bask in the glow and create an appropriate post for Monday, I leave you with these words of gratitude and looking forward.


Each one is a gift, no doubt,
mysteriously placed in your waking hand
or set upon your forehead
moments before you open your eyes.

Today begins cold and bright,
the ground heavy with snow
and the thick masonry of ice,
the sun glinting off the turrets of clouds.

Through the calm eye of the window
everything is in its place
but so precariously
this day might be resting somehow

on the one before it,
all the days of the past stacked high
like the impossible tower of dishes
entertainers used to build on stage.

No wonder you find yourself
perched on the top of a tall ladder
hoping to add one more.

Just another Wednesday
you whisper,
then holding your breath,
place this cup on yesterday's saucer
without the slightest clink.

by Billy Collins, US Poet Laureate 2001-2003

Have a wonderful weekend, denizens.  I'll tell you the story of my lunch on Monday.  For now, I am going to rest on the couch and heal.


  1. I told Anne the afternoon was sheer, pure heaven. I am filled with gratitude.

  2. I've not heard of Billy Collins, but I'm a new fan. I cannot believe how much I've been exposed to just by reading your blog. I feel like a whole new world has opened-up to me and a different perspective than what I see in Washington, DC. I'm going to put this poem up in my kitchen and read it every day too. Thank YOU!!!!

    Megan xxx

  3. Love, love the poem. What a difference a day makes... Mom used to say that. Rest, heal, repeat. Have a good weekend!

  4. OK. New poem, love it! My favorite poem is "A Ritual to Read to Each Other, by William Stafford. Try it!

  5. Wonderful poem...brought tears to my eyes. Thank you for sharing.

  6. To have a poem read by the poet for you is such a loving and beautiful honor.

    My favorite Billy Collins poem is "The First Dream" and now I will add "Days." Thank you for that.

  7. So happy you had such a lovely day with one of your favorite men...and a poem just for you!! Can't get much better than that!...debbie

  8. Thank you for sharing this journey that you did not choose.

  9. A/B
    Thanks for the great poem by Billy Collins titled "Days ". Brought joy to my heart reading it this afternoon after spending the a.m. in my hospital's transplant clinic. The transplant staff joked they had not seen me in awhile and they were getting lonely. They were thankful I was still walking upright and that I was here on planet Earth. I told them my to do list was still to long and I could not leave yet. Resting now and reading your blog. Finally, sending healing vibes your way for a complete recovery. Take care A/B.

  10. " For now, I am going to rest on the couch and heal."

    Heal on, honey, and I await your Monday post. For now, I'm off to the bookstore for more Billy Collins.

    Wonder if Joshua Bell would fiddle you a dedicated tune...Traumerei, perhaps? If so, I'm there!

  11. Might be worth trying your IU connections to get a serenade by Josh Bell....

  12. Ashleigh,

    I tootle merrily along in my disorganized way, reading too few blogs at random and writing attempts at whimsy now and then. Many times I click on a favored blogger and find myself a little dismayed at how much time and how many posts have passed since I visited.

    This happened with you. But not only was I dismayed, I was ashamed to learn of the tragedy you have endured -- and not know a thing of it...all while I was bouncing along with too few cares of my own.

    I have dipped back in your time and read carefully and experienced a myriad of emotions from horror to fear to, yes, even a chuckle more recently. In other words, this was so much closer to home than I could have imagined. You are one of my favored writers, and I didn't know.

    Warmest wishes as you recover...and I can see that you don't have to recover your humor and attitude.

    And...I am learning to become more organized in my reading. You ain't gonna' get away from me again.



  13. So very happy you could honor Billy Collins with your company! (And that he could sort of return the favor? Yeah, okay, that's cool too.)

    We saw/heard him read a few years ago down this way. His voice (which I hadn't heard before) sounded just like I expected: gentle, clear, and a little... papery? does that make sense? Some poets write poems which sound like ringing oratory, and I imagine their voices sounding that way, too. I imagine them not so much reading aloud as declaiming. But BC's voice was like the voice of a fellow you run into in a bookstore. You're in the same aisle, and you do a little back-and-forth dance as you try to move past each other, and he chuckles and says Excuse me and makes a joke about, I don't know, about the ease and likelihood of finding kindred souls in the narrowest aisles. He's just talking, but you think, Gosh, I love the way he just connected something everyday to something deep. And then he nods one final time, like he knows you know what he means, and then he moves on. That's what his voice sounds like (and his poems, for that matter).

    But now of course you know this for yourself. :)

  14. JES, you got him exactly. He's your next door neighbor, your sly and quiet uncle, your twinkly eyed mailcarrier.
    Jerry, I have missed your writings, too. We shall vow to do better together.
    And to all of you who are new to Billy Collins' work , or who are out to buy more (hi, Nance!) know that his gentleness and keen eyed observations are part and parcel of the man himself. Details to follow on Monday....

    Finally, to all of you who are encouraging me to rest and heal, please know that that is the reason you're not all getting individual responses. Healing is hard work.

    1. It seems that by utter coincidence, 'Days' will be featured in my Friday post this week. I was so happy to rediscover this blog post from you while searching for its source (which FWIW, is his book Sailing Alone Around the Room)!

  15. That was a beautiful day. Billy said he had three possible poems to read for you and when the time came, he chose "Days." I suppose with you in the room, he instinctually knew which one was the right one. We send our very best to you. Remember: You are a Thriver.


    a/k/a the fianceƩ ; )

    P.S. You looked beautiful. I admired your ensemble. I wanted to compliment you on your boot, but I've never complimented someone on one boot before. I guess it could have been funny, said the right way. You are an inspiration.

  16. OK, so now I am getting compliments from the poet's fiancee... my life is richer by the moment. Glad you liked the boot, Suzy; when you return to Tucson I'll take you to J Gilbert and we'll buy some to celebrate the fact that I can wear two at once... what do you think?

    Wondering if you got to the gem show....

    ps. I am trying to thrive as I balance my teacups on saucers, one day at a time.

  17. Oh oh oh--now color me green with envy. At least at the having lunch with Billy Collins part. The rest I can skip--as, no doubt, so would you.

    As one who has taught literature from time to time, I love to begin a unit on poetry by using Billy Collins' "Introduction to Poetry."

    And to have him read for you one of his poems which inspired you...well, color me speechless.


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