Friday poem: 'Genuﬂection'
From former U.S. Poet Laureate Billy Collins comes a twelfth collection of poetry, The Rain in Portugal.
A poem by Billy Collins from his twelfth collection, The Rain in Portugal.
The moment I was told about the Irish habit
of tipping the cap to the ﬁrst magpie
one encounters in the course of a day
and saying to him “Good morning, sir,”
I knew I would be in for the long haul.
No one should be made to count
the number of magpies I have treated
with such deference, such magpie protocol,
the latest being today when I spotted one
perched on the railing of a fence
along the crooked road from the house.
This was a bird well out of its usual climate
according to the map in my bird book—
a stray, a rebel-rebel if you will,
not ﬂocking with birds of its feather,
rather ﬂying to a different drummer
who beats his drum with the tiny bones of birds.
But why wouldn't every bird merit a greeting?
a nod or at least a blink to clear the eyes—
a wave to the geese overhead,
maybe an inquiry of a nervous chickadee,
a salute in the dark to the hoot of an owl.
And as for the great blue heron,
as motionless in proﬁle by the shore
as a drawing on papyrus by a Delphic priest,
will anything serve short of a genuﬂection?
As a boy, I worked on that move,
gliding in a black cassock and white surplice
inside the border of the altar rail
then stopping to descend,
one knee touching the cool marble ﬂoor
palms pressed together in prayer,
right thumb crossed over left, and never the other way around.