Friday, August 29, 2014

On Turning Ten by Billy Collins















When do we lose our innocence? At ten? Twenty? Never? 
Ask Billy Collins, America's Poet Laureate forever.
Poetry Friday is at Check It Out and the photo is me and a friend, age about six.

On Turning Ten

by Billy Collins


The whole idea of it makes me feel
like I'm coming down with something,
something worse than any stomach ache
or the headaches I get from reading in bad light-
a kind of measles of the spirit,
a mumps of the psyche,
a disfiguring chicken pox of the soul.

You tell me it is too early to be looking back,
but that it is because you have forgotten
the perfect simplicity of being one
and the beautiful complexity introduced by two.
But I can lie on my bed and remember every digit.
At four I was an Arabian wizard.
I could make myself invisible
by drinking a glass of milk a certain way.
At seven I was a soldier, at nine a prince.

But now I am mostly at the window
watching the late afternoon light.
Back then it never fell so solemnly
against the side of my tree house,
and my bicycle never leaned against the garage
as it does today,
all the dark blue speed drained out of it.

This is the beginning of sadness, I say to myself,
as I walk thought the universe in my sneakers.
It is time to say good-bye to my imaginary friends,
time to turn the first big number.

It seems only yesterday I used to believe
there was nothing under my skin but light.
If you cut me I would shine.
But now when I fall upon the sidewalks of life,
I skin my knees. I bleed.


From THE ART OF DROWNING (University of Pittsburgh Press, 1995)

17 comments:

Amy Ludwig VanDerwater said...

I love this poem so much. It makes me cry, the same way that "Puff the Magic Dragon" made me cry when I was a girl. Last summer, my husband and I heard Billy Collins and Paul Simon, just talking together about writing - what a treasured memory. ("That dude's older than Cheerios.")

Douglas Florian said...

Billy Collins has a special gift for connecting poetry and emotions on a deep level. Thanks, Amy.

Michelle Heidenrich Barnes said...

Oh my, this hits home. I remember vividly, at ten years old, feeling like I knew the ways of the world. Now, at 47, I'm far less certain about most things. Thanks for sharing Billy Collins today-- and I love your darling throwback photo!

jama said...

Yes, Collins is Poet Laureate Forever, and this poem shows why. The inevitable loss of innocence, sad and true.

Adorable photo!

Tara Smith said...

Such a beautiful poem, it captures so well that leap from innocence into the world of knowing - from feeling invincible to feeling forever vulnerable.

Douglas Florian said...

Thank you Amy, Michelle, Jama,and Tara!

Linda said...

This poems makes me think of my brand new classes full of sixth graders. Some of them are only ten years old, yet they seem to be so much older these days. Sad that lose their innocence so young.

Vikram Madan said...

Such a deep poem. Made me nostalgic ... thanks for sharing!

Myra Garces Bacsal said...

I think I first read this poem in "Teaching With Fire" - a collection of poems by teachers. I believe I read it aloud to my class, then. It's just so beautiful.

Mary Lee said...

Poet Laureate (strange subconscious -- I spelled Lariat at first...maybe that's true, too) FOREVER!

Douglas Florian said...

Yes, Linda, ten year old seem so savvy these days. And Mary Lee, I hear Pat Lewis is quite adept with a lariat!

Douglas Florian said...

Thanks also Vikram and Myra.

Karen Edmisten said...

This is one of my favorites of his. Along with oh-just-about-everything-else-he's-ever-written.

You've probably seen this, but here's a piece where he talks about On Turning Ten being as close to perfect as he'll ever get.

Have you ever seen the three-year-old reciting Collins' "Litany"? It's here. Priceless.

Douglas Florian said...

Thanks for those links, Karen. I was surprised by the Billy Collins quote: "I think boredom is like the mother of creativity."

Bridget Magee said...

Oooh, Billy Collins is such a gem! I have two of his collections on my coffee table right now. I pour over every word basking in his brilliance. Thank you for sharing his "10" poem and giving me more to think about. = )

Karen Edmisten said...

Yes, I think it's kind of funny but so appropriate that he finds boredom to be his muse. But, I get it, too. For me, too much busy-ness is draining and leaves me unable to think. I wouldn't say I ever get bored, exactly, but what I do need is down time, recharge time, time to think things through.

Douglas Florian said...

Thanx Bridget and Karen.
"The cure for boredom is curiosity. There is no cure for curiosity." Dorothy Parker