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1 Burnside Poetry- A to Z

Nine Horses: Poems


Nine Horses: Poems Cover





The Country

I wondered about you

when you told me never to leave

a box of wooden, strike-anywhere matches

lying around the house because the mice

might get into them and start a fire.

But your face was absolutely straight

when you twisted the lid down on the round tin

where the matches, you said, are always stowed.

Who could sleep that night?

Who could whisk away the thought

of the one unlikely mouse

padding along a cold water pipe

behind the floral wallpaper

gripping a single wooden match

between the needles of his teeth?

Who could not see him rounding a corner,

the blue tip scratching against a rough-hewn beam,

the sudden flare, and the creature

for one bright, shining moment

suddenly thrust ahead of his time—

now a fire-starter, now a torchbearer

in a forgotten ritual, little brown druid

illuminating some ancient night.

Who could fail to notice,

lit up in the blazing insulation,

the tiny looks of wonderment on the faces

of his fellow mice, onetime inhabitants

of what once was your house in the country?


In the club car that morning I had my notebook

open on my lap and my pen uncapped,

looking every inch the writer

right down to the little writer’s frown on my face,

but there was nothing to write

about except life and death

and the low warning sound of the train whistle.

I did not want to write about the scenery

that was flashing past, cows spread over a pasture,

hay rolled up meticulously—

things you see once and will never see again.

But I kept my pen moving by drawing

over and over again

the face of a motorcyclist in profile—

for no reason I can think of—

a biker with sunglasses and a weak chin,

leaning forward, helmetless,

his long thin hair trailing behind him in the wind.

I also drew many lines to indicate speed,

to show the air becoming visible

as it broke over the biker’s face

the way it was breaking over the face

of the locomotive that was pulling me

toward Omaha and whatever lay beyond Omaha

for me and all the other stops to make

before the time would arrive to stop for good.

We must always look at things

from the point of view of eternity,

the college theologians used to insist,

from which, I imagine, we would all

appear to have speed lines trailing behind us

as we rush along the road of the world,

as we rush down the long tunnel of time—

the biker, of course, drunk on the wind,

but also the man reading by a fire,

speed lines coming off his shoulders and his book,

and the woman standing on a beach

studying the curve of horizon,

even the child asleep on a summer night,

speed lines flying from the posters of her bed,

from the white tips of the pillowcases,

and from the edges of her perfectly motionless body.Copyright© 2003 by Random House

Product Details

Collins, Billy
Random House
New York
American - General
20th century
Poetry, modern
Edition Number:
1st ed.
Series Volume:
Publication Date:
April 2003
8.60x5.77x.62 in. .53 lbs.

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Related Subjects

Fiction and Poetry » Poetry » A to Z

Nine Horses: Poems Used Hardcover
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$9.50 In Stock
Product details 144 pages Random House - English 9781400061778 Reviews:
"Review" by , "A poet of plentitude, irony, and Augustan grace."
"Review" by , "It is difficult not to be charmed by Collins, and that in itself is a remarkable literary accomplishment."
"Review" by , "Calm water is...the book's ruling element as Collins watches a river from a bridge, or offers cascading gratitude for a genuine Turkish bath in clear, reflective, and serenely flowing praise songs."
"Review" by , "One appeal of the typical Collins poem is that it's less able to help you memorize it than to help you remember, for a little while anyway, your own life."
"Synopsis" by , This is poet Billy Collins' first collection of new poems in four years, and it follows on the heels of the runaway success of Sailing Alone Around the Room.
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