Be Still

Why is it so difficult to be still?  The more I listen, the more I hear myself, and everyone around me, struggling to be still – even for just a few minutes a day.

As I write this, it is early morning.  My house is quiet.  Outside my window, I hear the birds singing their morning songs.  Why can’t I stop typing, and just listen to them for a few minutes?  Why do I look at the clock, count the envelopes in my mail pile, or whittle away at my inbox?

Sometimes a poem can slow my pace.  A poem can be a moment of stillness.  A poem can be a reverie, or a refuge in the midst of a tumultuous day.

When I read this poem by Billy Collins, I couldn’t resist sharing it at the start of a busy week:


By Billy Collins

The birds are in their trees,
the toast is in the toaster,
and the poets are at their windows.

They are at their windows
in every section of the tangerine of earth-
the Chinese poets looking up at the moon,
the American poets gazing out
at the pink and blue ribbons of sunrise.

The clerks are at their desks,
the miners are down in their mines,
and the poets are looking out their windows
maybe with a cigarette, a cup of tea,
and maybe a flannel shirt or bathrobe is involved.

The proofreaders are playing the ping-pong
game of proofreading,
glancing back and forth from page to page,
the chefs are dicing celery and potatoes,
and the poets are at their windows
because it is their job for which
they are paid nothing every Friday afternoon.

Which window it hardly seems to matter
though many have a favorite,
for there is always something to see-
a bird grasping a thin branch,
the headlights of a taxi rounding a corner,
those two boys in wool caps angling across the street.

The fishermen bob in their boats,
the linemen climb their round poles,
the barbers wait by their mirrors and chairs,
and the poets continue to stare
at the cracked birdbath or a limb knocked down by the wind.

By now, it should go without saying
that what the oven is to the baker
and the berry-stained blouse to the dry cleaner,
so the window is to the poet.

Just think-
before the invention of the window,
the poets would have had to put on a jacket
and a winter hat to go outside
or remain indoors with only a wall to stare at.

And when I say a wall,
I do not mean a wall with striped wallpaper
and a sketch of a cow in a frame.

I mean a cold wall of fieldstones,
the wall of the medieval sonnet,
the original woman’s heart of stone,
the stone caught in the throat of her poet-lover.

Add this to the list of things a poem can do:  As the world whirls and swirls around us, a poem can help us find a moment of stillness.  It can help us win a battle in the never-ending war to be present.  All it takes is a window and a poet.



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