“Digging” by Billy Collins

It seems whenever I dig in the woods
on the slope behind this house
I unearth some object from the past—
a shard of crockery or a bottle with its stopper missing,

sometimes a piece of metal, maybe handled
by the dairy farmer who built this house
over a century and a half ago
as civil war waged unabated to the south.

So it’s never a surprise
when the shovel-tip hits a rusted bolt,
or a glass knob from a drawer—
little hands waving from the past.

And today, it’s a buried toy,
a little car with a dent in the roof
and enough flecks of paint to tell it was blue.
Shrouded in a towel, the body of our cat

lies nearby on the ground where I settled her
in the mottled light of the summer trees,
and I still have to widen the hole
and deepen it for her by at least another foot,

but not before I stop for a moment
with the once-blue car idling in my palm,
to imagine the boy who grew up here
and to see that two of the crusted wheels still spin.


“Searching” by Billy Collins

I recall someone once admitting
that all he remembered of Anna Karenina
was something about a picnic basket,

and now, after consuming a book
devoted to the subject of Barcelona--
its people, its history, its complex architecture--

all I remember is the mention
of an albino gorilla, the inhabitant of a park
where the Citadel of the Bourbons once stood.

The sheer paleness of him looms over
all the notable names and dates
as the evening strollers stop before him

and point to show their children.
These locals called him Snowflake,
and here he has been mentioned again in print

in the hope of keeping his pallid flame alive
and helping him, despite his name, to endure
in this poem, where he has found another cage.

Oh, Snowflake,
I had no interest in the capital of Catalonia--
its people, its history, its complex architecture--

no, you were the reason
I kept my light on late into the night,
turning all those pages, searching for you everywhere.

El Olvido


It is a dangerous thing
to forget the climate of your birthplace,
to choke out the voices of dead relatives
when in dreams they call you
by your secret name.
It is dangerous
to spurn the clothes you were born to wear
for the sake of fashion; dangerous
to use weapons and sharp instruments
you are not familiar with; dangerous
to disdain the plaster saints
before which your mother kneels
praying with embarrassing fervor
that you survive in the place you have chosen to live:
a bare, cold room with no pictures on the walls,
a forgetting place where she fears you will die
of loneliness and exposure.
Jesús, María, y José, she says,
el olvido is a dangerous thing.

*El olvido means forgetfulness in Spanish.

The Sacred

The Sacred
Stephen Dunn

After the teacher asked if anyone had a sacred place
and the students fidgeted and shrank

in their chairs, the most serious of them all said it was his car,

being in it alone, his tape deck playing

things he'd chosen, and others knew the truth had been spoken

and began speaking about their rooms,

their hiding places, but the car kept coming up, the car in motion,

music filling it, and sometimes one other person

who understood the bright altar of the dashboard and how far away

a car could take him from the need

to speak, or to answer, the key in having a key

and putting it in, and going.

cruelty. don’t talk to me about cruelty

A poem by Lucille Clifton

cruelty. don’t talk to me about cruelty
or what i am capable of.

when i wanted the roaches dead i wanted them dead
and i killed them. i took a broom to their country

and smashed and sliced without warning
without stopping and i smiled all the time i was doing it.

it was a holocaust of roaches, bodies,
parts of bodies, red all over the ground. 

i didn’t ask their names. they had no names worth knowing.

now i watch myself whenever i enter a room.
i never know what i might do.

Abandoned Farmhouse - Ted Kooser

He was a big man, says the size of his shoes
on a pile of broken dishes by the house;
a tall man too, says the length of the bed
in an upstairs room; and a good, God-fearing man,
says the Bible with a broken back
on the floor below the window, dusty with sun;
but not a man for farming, say the fields
cluttered with boulders and the leaky barn.

A woman lived with him, says the bedroom wall
papered with lilacs and the kitchen shelves
covered with oilcloth, and they had a child,
says the sandbox made from a tractor tire.
Money was scarce, say the jars of plum preserves
and canned tomatoes sealed in the cellar hole.
And the winters cold, say the rags in the window frames.
It was lonely here, says the narrow country road.

Something went wrong, says the empty house
in the weed-choked yard. Stones in the fields
say he was not a farmer; the still-sealed jars
in the cellar say she left in a nervous haste.
And the child? Its toys are strewn in the yard
like branches after a storm—a rubber cow,
a rusty tractor with a broken plow,
a doll in overalls. Something went wrong, they say.

And the Ghosts - Graham Foust