by Billy Collins
in “The Trouble With Poetry” 2005
At the hotel coffee shop that morning,
the waitress was wearing a pink uniform
with “Florence” written in script over her heart.
And the man who checked my bag
had a badge that said “Ben.”
Behind him was a long row of royal palms.
On the plane, two women poured drinks
from a cart they rolled down the narrow aisle –
“Debbie” and “Lynn” according to their winged tags.
And such was my company
as I arced from coast to coast,
and so I seldom spoke, and then only
of the coffee, the bag, the tiny bottles of vodka.
I said little more than “Thank you”
and “Can you take this from me, please?”
Yet I began to sense that all of them
were ready to open up,
to get to know me better, perhaps begin a friendship.
Florence looked irritated
as she shuffled from table to table,
but was she just hiding her need
to know about my early years –
the ball I would toss and catch in my hands
the times I hid behind my mother’s dress?
And was I so wrong in catching in Ben’s eyes
a glimmer of interest in my theories
and habits – my view of the Enlightenment,
my love of cards, the hours I tended to keep?
And what about Debbie and Lynn?
Did they not look eager to ask about my writing process,
my way of composing in the morning
by a window, which I would have admitted
if they had just had the courage to ask.
And strangely enough – I would have continued,
as they stopped pouring drinks
and the other passengers turned to listen –
the only emotion I ever feel, Debbie and Lynn,
is what the beaver must feel,
as he bears each stick to his hidden construction,
which creates the tranquil pond
and gives the mallards somewhere to paddle,
the pair of swans a place to conceal their young.