My Number

Billy Collins
  • Billy Collins
  • Is Death miles away from this house,
  • reaching for a widow in Cincinnati
  • or breathing down the neck of a lost hiker
  • in British Columbia?
  • Is he too busy making arrangements,
  • tampering with air brakes,
  • scattering cancer cells like seeds,
  • loosening the wooden beams of roller coasters
  • to bother with my hidden cottage
  • that visitors find so hard to find?
  • Or is he stepping from a black car
  • parked at the dark end of the lane,
  • shaking open the familiar cloak,
  • its hood raised like the head of a crow,
  • and removing the scythe from the trunk?
  • Did you have any trouble with the directions?
  • I will ask, as I start talking my way out of this.

The New York Times was correct when it called Billy Collins America’s favorite poet. Although not well known until he was in his 40s, he is now very possibly our most widely read poet. His poems are accessible, clever, entertaining, skillfully made, and often highly amusing. Collins was born and raised in New York City and received his M.A. and Ph.D in English from the University of California, Riverside. He is a Distinguished Professor at Lehman College of the City University of New York and is the Senior Distinguished Fellow of the Winter Park Institute, Florida. He has served as a visiting writer at Sarah Lawrence College and has taught at SUNY Stonybrook Southampton College. Collins was named U.S. Poet Laureate in 2001 and held the position until 2003. He was Poet Laureate for the State of New York from 2004 until 2006. He is currently serving as a temporary host on Garrison Keillor’s Writer’s Almanac. “My Number” is taken from Collins’s collection The Apple that Astonished Paris, copyright © 2006 by Billy Collins, and published by the University of Arkansas Press. It is reprinted with permission.

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