by Billy Collins
This morning as I walked along the lake shore,
I fell in love with a wren
and later in the day with a mouse
the cat had dropped under the dining room table.
In the shadows of an autumn evening,
I fell for a seamstress
still at her machine in the tailor’s window,
and later for a bowl of broth,
steam rising like smoke from a naval battle.
This is the best kind of love, I thought,
without recompense, without gifts,
or unkind words, without suspicion,
or silence on the telephone.
The love of the chestnut,
the jazz cap and one hand on the wheel.
No lust, no slam of the door—
the love of the miniature orange tree,
the clean white shirt, the hot evening shower,
the highway that cuts across Florida.
No waiting, no huffiness, or rancor—
just a twinge every now and then
for the wren who had built her nest
on a low branch overhanging the water
and for the dead mouse,
still dressed in its light brown suit.
But my heart is always propped up
in a field on its tripod,
ready for the next arrow.
After I carried the mouse by the tail
to a pile of leaves in the woods,
I found myself standing at the bathroom sink
gazing down affectionately at the soap,
so patient and soluble,
so at home in its pale green soap dish.
I could feel myself falling again
as I felt its turning in my wet hands
and caught the scent of lavender and stone.
Original source: Billy Collins, Nine Horses, Pan Macmillan and Random House Trade Paperbacks, 2003, accessed via Pan Macmillan on 9 August 2018.
I also found an earlier version on The Poetry Foundation’s website; I can only spot one difference and I have to say I prefer the later one, even if it’s nice to read something online that honors the book’s original typesetting.
This poem came to mind while listening to close friend and long-time collaborator Dean Fidelman tell a podcast host that when he’s making a photograph with someone, he falls in love with that person. This love changes his eye, he explains, and affects what he is then able to capture on film.
Geoff was the first person to turn me on to former U.S. Poet Laureate Billy Collins; I discovered this poem in one of the many books lining his vast Cole Valley flat sometime in 2012. (I’d like to think it is because of this poem that Geoff keeps his bathroom soap in a pale green soap dish, but I haven’t asked.)
More recently, my teacher Karunajoti read it out loud during a course on Kindness at the Auckland Buddhist Centre.
Here’s Billy Collins reading it himself: