Billy Collins


Hamlet noticed them in the shapes of clouds, 
but I saw them in the furniture of childhood, 
creatures trapped under surfaces of wood, 

one submerged in a polished sideboard, 
one frowning from a chair-back, 
another howling from my mother’s silent bureau, 
locked in the grain of maple, frozen in oak. 

I would see these presences, too, 
in a swirling pattern of wallpaper 
or in the various greens of a porcelain lamp, 
each looking so melancholy, so damned, 
some peering out at me as if they knew 
all the secrets of a secretive boy. 

Many times I would be daydreaming 
on the carpet and one would appear next to me, 
the oversize nose, the hollow look. 

So you will understand my reaction 
this morning at the beach 
when you opened your hand to show me 
a stone you had picked up from the shoreline. 

“Do you see the face?” you asked 
as the cold surf circled our bare ankles. 
“There’s the eye and the line of the mouth, 
like it’s grimacing, like it’s in pain.” 

“Well, maybe that’s because it has a fissure 
running down the length of its forehead 
not to mention a kind of twisted beak,” I said, 

taking the thing from you and flinging it out 
over the sparkle of blue waves 
so it could live out its freakish existence 
on the dark bottom of the sea 

and stop bothering innocent beachgoers like us, 
stop ruining everyone’s summer.