Browsing at Green Apple bookstore, I stumbled on
a Billy Collins poetry collection I mysteriously didn’t have.
I like his work. The way he starts an image here and
jumps to one over there,
like a kid hopping
from rock to rock
over a bubbling stream.
So it took only a nanosecond for the book to leap from the bookshelf
to my eager hand and walk with me to the counter.
Excited to see what unexpected
trips he’ll take me on ,
By the time I’ve read one poem, I’m already shamelessly
trying to imitate his style
and the first rock I landed on
was his name.
I bypassed the billy goats and the policemen’s billy clubs
And sat down next to him at the Five Spot, where he often
goes to hear Bill Evans (did his friends call him Billy as a kid?)
or imagine that he got to hear Billie (not Billy) Holiday.
Or Red Garland playing Billy Boy with Miles.
And then I remember my cousin Billy
adopted son of my Uncle George and his wife Aunt Joy
who he met overseas in Australia.
Joy was anything but, a chain-smoking, alcoholic vitriolic
abusive mother who couldn’t have her own kids
and then could.
Once Pam, Wendy and Geoff came along, Billy receded further
into the background until one rainy night as a teenager,
he ran away from Long Island
and showed up at our home in New Jersey.
These are the moments when I miss my parents, wanting to hear
more of that story. I remember he played some jazz and did some art, but
neither was enough to save him from a future life
as an alcoholic, still licking the wounds of neglect.
No one knows where he is now. Perhaps sitting at a piano,
a cigarette in his mouth and a drink nearby playing
Blame It On My Youth, with an open book of poetry
next to him by (of course)