Wednesday, September 28, 2022

Ode to Billy

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)

                                   Billy Collins.

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