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Authors: Billy Collins

Nine Horses

BOOK: Nine Horses
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P
RAISE FOR
Nine Horses
AND
B
ILLY
C
OLLINS

“A typical Collins poem has a self-illuminating quality to it, or … a gratifyingly organic feel about it, a sense that like some splendidly blooming plant, it develops naturally from even a most inauspicious instant of germination.…
Nine Horses
should only add to his rightful acclaim.”

—The Boston Globe

“Such a sensible and gifted man is America’s poet laureate—young writers have plenty to learn from his clarity and apparent ease.”

—The New York Times Book Review

“Collins reveals the unexpected within the ordinary. He peels back the surface of the humdrum to make the moment new.”

—The Christian Science Monitor

“So obviously a virtuoso, Collins is sure to bring many new readers to poetry.”

—The Washington Post Book World

“At once accessible and profound, [Collins’s] work makes him a natural people’s poet.”

—Boston Herald

“Using simple, understandable language, Collins captures ordinary life—its pleasures, its discontents, its moments of sadness and of joy.”

—USA Today

“[
Nine Horses
] should be placed next to Gideon’s Bible in every motel room in America. It should be required reading in order to get a driver’s license. It’s that essential, that accessible, that much fun.”

—The Providence Journal

“[Collins] writes out … one of the major poetic scripts of our time: the one that finds transcendence in the ordinary, and sings hymns to the banal. The most obvious thing to say about Collins’s poetry is that it is funny, in an accessible and immediately familiar way. But his true poetic gift is something more than a sense of humor; it is a genuine, often debased, wit.… At its most powerful, this kind of wit is truly creative: if, as Emerson said, every word began life as a metaphor, wit resurrects the metaphor hiding in ordinary words.”

—The New Republic

“[Collins’s] poetry insistently appeals to the mainstream. It brims with shared confidences, speaking softly and inviting the reader to come a little closer to the page. He does not write above or below his audience, but right at them. He engages us in intimate conversation.”

—The Dallas Morning News

BILLY COLLINS is the author of six

collections of poetry, including
Sailing

Alone Around the Room; Questions About

Angels; The Art of Drowning;
and
Picnic
,

Lightning
, and is the editor of
Poetry

180: A Turning Back to Poetry
. He is a

Distinguished Professor of English at

Lehman College of the City University

of New York. He was appointed

Poet Laureate of the United States

for 2001–2003.

ALSO BY BILLY COLLINS

Poetry 180
(editor)

Sailing Alone Around the Room

Picnic, Lightning

The Best Cigarette
(CD)

The Art of Drowning

Questions About Angels

The Apple That Astonished Paris

Video Poems

Pokerface

2003 Random House Trade Paperback Edition
Copyright © 2002 by Billy Collins

All rights reserved under International and Pan-American Copyright Conventions. Published in the United States by Random House, an imprint of The Random House Publishing Group, a division of Random House, Inc., New York, and simultaneously in Canada by Random House of Canada Limited, Toronto.

Random House Trade Paperbacks and colophon are
registered trademarks of Random House, Inc.

This work was originally published in hardcover by
Random House, Inc., in 2002.

Some of the poems which appear in this volume
first appeared in the following periodicals:

The American Scholar:
“The Return of the Key”;
Barrow Street:
“Rooms”;
Boulevard:
“Paris”;
Brilliant Corners:
“Air Piano” (as “And His Sextet”);
Crazyhorse:
“As If to Demonstrate an Eclipse,” “Trompe L’Oeil”;
Cream City
Review:
“Istanbul,” “The Listener,” “The Literary Life”;
Crowd:
“Languor,”
“Roadside Flowers”;
Dominion Review:
“To My Patron”;
Double Take:
“The
Country,” “Obituaries”;
Field:
“The Great Walter Pater,” “Velocity”;
Five Points:
“Absence,” “Balsa,” “Bodhidharma,” “Lying in Bed in the Dark, I Silently
Address the Birds of Arizona”;
The Gettysburg Review:
“By a Swimming Pool
Outside Siracusa,” “Creatures”;
Green Mountains Review:
“Albany”;
Kenyon
Review:
“The Stare”;
New Delta Review:
“Surprise”;
The New Yorker:
“Earth”;
Oxford American:
“Death in New Orleans, A Romance,” “Nine Horses,”
“Tipping Point”;
Ploughshares:
“The Only Day in Existence”;
Poems and Plays:
“Bermuda”;
Poetry:
“Aimless Love,” “Christmas Sparrow,” “Elk River Falls,”
“Litany,” “ ‘More Than a Woman,’ ” “The Parade,” “Study in Orange and White,”
“Today,” “Writing in the Afterlife”;
Poetry New York:
“Ave Atque Vale”;
Third
Coast:
“Love”;
Tight:
“Colorado”;
Tin House:
“Rain”

Library of Congress Cataloging-in-Publication Data
Collins, Billy.
Nine horses: poems / Billy Collins.—1st ed.
p.   cm.
eISBN: 978-1-58836-278-0
I. Title.
PS3553.O47478 N45 2002
811′.54—dc21        2002024868

Random House website address:
www.atrandom.com

v3.1

FOR
M
ARY AND
D
ANIELLE
,

DEARLY DEPARTED

CONTENTS
A Note to the Reader About this Poetry eBook

The way a poem looks on the page is a vital aspect of its being. The length of its lines and the poet’s use of stanza breaks give the poem a physical shape, which guides our reading of the poem and distinguishes it from prose.

With an eBook, this distinct shape may be altered if you choose to take advantage of one of the functions of your eReader by changing the size of the type for greater legibility. Doing this may cause the poem to have line breaks not intended by the poet. To preserve the physical integrity of the poem, we have formatted the eBook so that any words that get bumped down to a new line in the poem will be noticeably indented. This way, you can still appreciate the poem’s original shape regardless of your choice of type size.

See, then, that bronze equestrian statue. The cruel rider has kept the bit in his horse’s mouth for two centuries. Unbridle him for a minute, if you please, and wash his mouth with water
.

—Thomas De Quincey

Night Letter to the Reader

I get up from the tangled bed and go outside,

a bird leaving its nest,

a snail taking a holiday from its shell,

but only to stand on the lawn,

an ordinary insomniac

amid the growth systems of garden and woods.

If I were younger, I might be thinking

about something I heard at a party,

about an unusual car,

or the press of Saturday night,

but as it is, I am simply conscious,

an animal in pajamas,

sensing only the pale humidity

of the night and the slight zephyrs

that stir the tops of the trees.

The dog has followed me out

and stands a little ahead,

her nose lifted as if she were inhaling

the tall white flowers,

visible tonight in the darkened garden,

and there was something else I wanted to tell you,

something about the warm orange light

in the windows of the house,

but now I am wondering if you are even listening

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