If I had started this blog two years ago, I would have posted something by Billy Collins within the first few days. He was another poet that my beloved 11th grade English teacher (I know you’re reading!) introduced us to during our American Lit class. I loved Billy Collins for his accessibility and his knack for celebrating the mundane… Having read most of his anthologies, I now see him as a one-trick poet, but he certainly does it well and I give him credit for being one of the few poets actually making a successful living off of his words. Who knows if I would have kept with poetry if it weren’t for poets like him. So here’s a Collins piece that I still adore–I actually wrote about this for my last English paper in high school (for another beloved teacher) instead of writing about the Emily Dickinson poem I had previously chosen. There’s just something about this poem that so deftly captures a child’s fear of growing up… and letting go.
“On Turning Ten”–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 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 through 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 could shine.
But now when I fall upon the sidewalks of life,
I skin my knees. I bleed.