PONDERING ABOUT POETRY AFTER A|
BILLY COLLINS READING AT STANFORD
It's midnight as I walk down Palm Drive
to the train stationBilly Collins' poems
still swimming in my head, how humorous
he was drawing laughter from the crowd
of 400, many sitting on the floor.
Now images from his poems float by
salt & pepper shakers becoming friends,
a boy's fear of faces in oak furniture,
counting swans are they even or odd?,
dancing the Catapult in the 1340's,
his beloved the bread & the knife.
I arrive at the station ten minutes
before the 12:48 AM bus, and begin
reading Billy Collins' Poetry 180,
an anthology for high school students.
Earlier, during the Q&A session,
a Stanford student asked "Are you a clown?"
and Collins replied, "I'm not a Bozo."
The answer I tell myself is in my hands
What kind of poem did Billy Collins
select to conclude his anthology
one that's whimsical or everlasting?
Will his choice turn me 180o around?
I turn to the last poem Poem 180:
"What He Thought" by Heather McHugh
it's about a group of poets in Rome
discussing what is poetry, a guide telling
them about the statue they had just seen
Giordano Bruno, burned there for heresy
against the Church for his belief
that God is no fixed point but rather
is poured in waves through all things.
Bruno was famous for his eloquence and
fearing that he might incite the crowd,
his captors placed upon his face
an iron mask so he could not speak.
That is how he died, without a word,
in front of everyone. And poetry
poetry is what he thought, but did not say.
"Whoa! Whoa! Whoa!" I shout out
as warm tears stream down my cheeks.
I take off my glasses to wipe my eyes
and note the full moon above me
has multiplied, now appearing as
layered petals of a white rose
how it resembles the Figura Amoris
which Bruno had drawn with such care
in a book I'd read long agoFrances Yates'
Giordano Bruno and the Hermetic Tradition.
Suddenly I feel Bruno's last moments
an iron mask covering my face,
the roar of the crowd now faint
and far away, my mouth not gasping
for air, nor my face feeling
the heat of burning it's as if
the top of my head were taken off
and the rose-petalled moons have
fallen into me gently like snow
making my whole body so cold
no fire can ever warm me.
Peter Y. Chou
Palo Alto, 11-11-2003
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