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Austen to Zafón

Reading widely since 1972.

Currently reading

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Horoscopes for the Dead: Poems

Horoscopes for the Dead - Billy Collins As always, I enjoy this man's poetry. Wry observations and surprising analogies. That said, this book wasn't as satisfying as some of his others. In any poetry collection, there are some poems that work for me and some that don't. I found many more that didn't in this one.

I enjoyed this one:

Table Talk

Not long after we had sat down to dinner
at a long table in a restaurant in Chicago
and were deeply engrossed in the heavy menus,
one of us--a bearded man with a colorful tie--
asked if anyone had ever considered
applying the paradoxes of Zeno to the martyrdom
of St. Sebastian.

The differences between these two figures
were much more striking than the differences
between the Cornish hen and the trout amandine
I was wavering between, so I looked up and closed my menu.

If, the man with the tie continued,
an object moving through space
will never reach its destination because it is always
limited to cutting the distance to its goal in half,
then it turns out that St. Sebastian did not die
from the wounds inflicted by arrows:
the cause of death was fright at the spectacle of their approach.
Saint Sebastian, according to Zeno, would have died
of a heart attack.

I think I'll have the trout, I told the waiter,
for it was now my turn to order,
but all through the elegant dinner
I kept thinking of the arrows forever nearing
the pale, quivering flesh of St. Sebastian,
a fleet of them forever halving the tiny distances
to his body, tied to a post with rope,
even after the archers had packed it in and gone home.

And I thought of the bullet never reaching
the wife of William Burroughs, an apple trembling on her head,
the tossed acid never getting to the face of that girl,
and the Oldsmobile never knocking my dog into a ditch.

The theories of Zeno floated above the table
like thought balloons from the 5th century before Christ,
yet my fork continued to arrive at my mouth
delivering morsels of asparagus and crusted fish,
and after we ate and lifted our glasses,
we left the restaurant and said goodbye on the street
then walked our separate ways in the world where things
do arrive,

where people usually get where they are going--
where trains pull into the station in a cloud of vapor,
where geese land with a splash on the surface of the pond,
and the one you love crosses the room and arrives in your

and yes, where sharp arrows can pierce a torso,
splattering blood on the groin and the feet of the saint,

that popular subject of European religious painting.
One hagiographer compared him to a hedgehog bristling
with quills.

This one didn't appeal to me. Like many of the poems, it didn't seem to have much to say. I liked the description of the child's drawing, but connecting that to the idea of death news being delivered by truck failed for me.


Moon in the upper window,
shadow of my cooked pen on the page,
and I find myself wishing that the news of my death

might be delivered not by a dark truck
but by a child's attempt to draw that truck--
the long rectangular box of the trailer,

some lettering on the side,
then the protruding cab, the ovoid wheels,
maybe the inscrutable profile of the driver,

and puffs of white smoke
issuing from the tailpipe, drawn like flowers
and similar in their expression to the clouds in the sky,
only smaller.