Billy Collins




Paris

In the apartment someone gave me,
the bathroom looked out on a little garden
at the bottom of and air shaft
with a few barely sprouting trees,
ivy clinging to the white cinder blocks,
a blue metal table and a rusted chair
where, it would seem, no one had ever sat.

Every morning, a noisy bird
would flutter down between the buildings,
perch on a thin branch and yell at me
in French bird-talk
while I soaked in the tub
under the light from the pale translucent ceiling.

And while he carried on, I would lie there
in the warm soapy water
wondering what shirt I would put on that day,
what zinc-covered bar I would stand at
with my Herald-Tribune and a cup of strong coffee.

After a lot of squawking, he would fly
back into the sky leaving only the sound
of a metal store-front being raised
or a scooter zipping by outside,
which was my signal
to stand up in the cloudy water
and reach for a towel,

time to start concentrating on which way
I would turn after I had locked the front door,
what shop signs I would see,
what bridges I would lean on
to watch the broad river undulating
like a long-playing record under the needle of my eye.

Time to stand dripping wet and wonder
about the hordes of people
I would pass in the street, mostly people
whose existence I did not believe in,
but a few whom I would glance at
and see my whole life
the way you see the ocean from the shore.

One morning after another,
I would fan myself dry with a towel
and wonder about what paintings
I would stand before that day,
looking forward to the usual —
the sumptuous reclining nudes,
the knife next to a wedge of cheese,
a landscape with pale blue mountains,
the heads and shoulders of gods
struggling with one another,
a foot crushing a snake —
but always hopeful for something new
like yesterday’s white turkeys in a field
or a single stalk of asparagus on a plate
in a small gilded frame,

always ready, now that I am dressed,
to cheer the boats of the beautiful,
the boats of the strange,
as they float down the river of this momentous day.