I know, I’ve been on a Billy Collins run lately. But there could be worse things, right? So when I received an email not too long ago from someone at Littoral, “the journal of the Key West Literary Seminar,” telling me about an interview they did with Billy Collins — well! How could I resist! It is quite an interesting interview, and I encourage all of you writers out there to take a look. He covers many topics, but among other things, he talks about “the pleasures of disorientation.” Collins says, “For disorientation to be a pleasure– an odd concept in the age of the GPS– one has to feel relieved to let go of the helmet of opinions we tend to wear every day.”
So I thought this poem might be a fitting one for today, to follow the theme of “disorientation.” So take off your helmet, and enjoy!
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
or 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
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.
— Billy Collins