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Billy Collins

Today

If ever there were a spring day so perfect, so uplifted by a warm intermittent breeze

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Dear Reader

Baudelaire considers you his brother, and Fielding calls out to you every few paragraphs as if to make sure you have not closed the book, and now I am summoning you up again, attentive ghost, dark silent figure standing in the doorway of these words.

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By A Swimming Pool Outside Syracusa

All afternoon I have been struggling to communicate in Italian with Roberto and Giuseppe, who have begun to resemble the two male characters in my Italian for Beginners, the ones who are always shopping or inquiring about the times of trains, and now I can hardly speak or write English.

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Embrace

You know the parlor trick.
wrap your arms around your own body
and from the back it looks like
someone is embracing you
her hands grasping your shirt
her fingernails teasing your neck
from the front it is another story
you never looked so alone
your crossed elbows and screwy grin
you could be waiting for a tailor
to fit you with a straight jacket
one that would hold you really tight.

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Walking Across The Atlantic

I wait for the holiday crowd to clear the beach
before stepping onto the first wave.

Soon I am walking across the Atlantic
thinking about Spain,
checking for whales, waterspouts.
I feel the water holding up my shifting weight.
Tonight I will sleep on its rocking surface.

But for now I try to imagine what
this must look like to the fish below,
the bottoms of my feet appearing, disappearing.

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Flames

Smokey the Bear heads
into the autumn woods
with a red can of gasoline
and a box of wooden matches.

His ranger's hat is cocked
at a disturbing angle.

His brown fur gleams
under the high sun
as his paws, the size
of catcher's mitts,
crackle into the distance.

He is sick of dispensing
warnings to the careless,
the half-wit camper,
the dumbbell hiker.

He is going to show them

[...] Read more

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Invention

Tonight the moon is a cracker,
with a bite out of it
floating in the night,

and in a week or so
according to the calendar
it will probably look

like a silver football,
and nine, maybe ten days ago
it reminded me of a thin bright claw.

But eventually --
by the end of the month,
I reckon --

it will waste away
to nothing,
nothing but stars in the sky,

[...] Read more

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I Go Back To The House For A Book

I turn around on the gravel and go back to the house for a book, something to read at the doctor's office, and while I am inside, running the finger of inquisition along a shelf, another me that did not bother to go back to the house for a book heads out on his own, rolls down the driveway, and swings left toward town, a ghost in his ghost car, another knot in the string of time, a good three minutes ahead of me — a spacing that will now continue for the rest of my life.

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Introduction To Poetry

I ask them to take a poem
and hold it up to the light
like a color slide

or press an ear against its hive.

I say drop a mouse into a poem
and watch him probe his way out,

or walk inside the poem's room
and feel the walls for a light switch.

I want them to waterski
across the surface of a poem
waving at the author's name on the shore.

But all they want to do
is tie the poem to a chair with rope
and torture a confession out of it.

[...] Read more

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For Bartleby The Scrivener

"Every time we get a big gale around here
some people just refuse to batten down."

we estimate that

ice skating into a sixty
mile an hour wind, fully exerting
the legs and swinging arms

you will be pushed backward
an inch every twenty minutes.

in a few days, depending on
the size of the lake,
the backs of your skates
will touch land.

you will then fall on your ass
and be blown into the forest.

[...] Read more

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