friends and beer and poetry

A couple months back my friend and former Farmer, Ian,  mentioned that he'd be leaving his job in NY State and heading back home to Minnesota for the winter and might be able to stop by en route. So, I was pleased as punch to get a message that he'd be stopping by Monday night, and in true Farm fashion I offered to put him up in my house overnight. I love that we were all so close at the Farm, and that even though time passes, we can reconnect as if no time has passed at all! My Farm friends will all be like family to me; we saw each other through too much.

In no time Ian was walking through the front door to Sticks Library, grinning as I frantically waved, smiling like an idiot--I'm not going anywhere for Christmas this year, deciding to do my own thing for the first time, and since I have no visitors coming this visit felt particularly special.

We headed out for dinner, Ian humoring me as I bombarded him with 100 questions about the Farm, about his job in NY State, about all of our friends and former co-workers. I don't even know how he was able to eat, answering my questions at the rate I was shooting them. After Santa's visit at the Library, which I had to be at, we spent the rest of the night grabbing a couple drinks at a local bar, then picking up a 6 pack of Great Lakes Beer and reading poetry in my living room; something Ian and I have in common, aside from our both having Bachelors degrees in English, is that we're both big lovers of poetry--one of the first conversations we had while he was visiting the farm, considering a position in the kitchen, was about poets and writers we admired. He's a Yeats man, I'm a Whitman girl.

Today as I said goodbye to my friend, and said a silent prayer for his safe drive home, I thought too of the poem I read him last night--he doesn't like Billy Collins, and Collins is one of my favorites--and which may have been his first step in a conversion to Collins' poetry.

“In the Room of a Thousand Miles”
I like writing about where I am,
where I happen to be sitting,
the humidity or the clouds,
the scene outside the window--
a pink tree in bloom,

a neighbor walking his small, nervous dog.
And if I am drinking
a cup of tea at the time
or a small glass of whiskey,
I will find a line to put it on.

My wife hands these poems back to me
with a sigh.
She thinks I ought to be opening up
my aperture to let in
the wild rhododendrons of Ireland,
the sun-blanched stadiums of Rome,
that waterclock in Bruges--
the world beyond my inkwell.

I tell her I will try again
and travel back to my desk
where the chair is turned to the window.
I think about the furniture of history.

I consider the globe, the lights of its cities.

I visualize a lion rampant on an iron shield,
a quiet battlefield, a granite monument.

And then--just between you and me--
I take a swallow of cold tea
and in the manner of the ancient Chinese

pick up my thin pen

and write down that bird I hear outside,
the one that sings,
then sings again.

--Billy Collins, from “Picnic Lightning”

*not sure if I spaced the poem correctly, copied it from another site that didn't have any of the stanzas separated.


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