Horoscopes for the Dead by Billy Collins

Charles 4 Comments


Posted by Sweetpea


On holiday, I bought myself a new book of poetry by one of my favourite poets, Billy Collins, published by Picador Poetry.  What a treat:


Every morning since you disappeared for good,

 I read about you in the daily paper

 along with the box scores, the weather, and all the bad news.


Some days I am reminded that today

will not be a wildly romantic time for you,

nor will you be challenged by educational goals,

nor will you need to be circumspect at the workplace.


Another day, I learn that you should not miss

an opportunity to travel and make new friends

though you never cared much about either.


I can’t imagine you ever facing a new problem

with a positive attitude, but you will definitely not

be doing that, or anything like that, on this weekday in March.


And the same goes for the fun

you might have gotten from group activities,

a likelihood attributed to everyone under your sign.


A dramatic rise in income may be a reason

to treat yourself, but that would apply

more to all the Pisces who are still alive,

still swimming up and down the stream of life

or suspended in a pool in the shade of an overhanging tree.


But you will be relieved to learn

that you no longer need to reflect carefully before acting,

nor do you have to think more of others,

and never again will creative work take a back seat

to the business responsibilities that you never really had.


And don’t worry today or any day

about problems caused by your unwillingness

to interact rationally with your many associates.

No more goals for you, no more romance,

no more money or children, jobs or important tasks,

but then again, you were never thus encumbered.


So leave it up to me now

to plan carefully for success and the wealth it may bring,

to value the dear ones close to my heart,

and to welcome any intellectual stimulation that comes my way

though that sounds like a lot to get done on a Tuesday.


I am better off closing the newspaper,

putting on the clothes I wore yesterday

(when I read that your financial prospects were looking up)

then pushing off on my copper-coloured bicycle

and pedaling along the shore road by the bay.


And you stay just as you are,

lying there in your beautiful blue suit,

your hands crossed on your chest

like the wings of a bird who has flown

in its strange migration not north or south

but straight up from earth

and pierced the enormous circle of the zodiac.

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Kathryn Edwards
Kathryn Edwards
12 years ago

Ah, Billy Collins.

Night Sand

When you injure me, as you must one day,
I will move off like the slow armadillo over night sand,
ambulating secretly inside his armor,

ready to burrow deep or curl himself into a ball
which will shelter his soft head, soft feet
and tail from the heavy, rhythmic blows.

Now can you see the silhouettes of ranchers’ hats
and sticks raised against the pink desert sky?

–Billy Collins, from Questions About Angels (1991)

12 years ago

Thank you, Kathryn. He should be read more. When I requested one or two poems on Radio 4 ‘Poetry Please’ they chose the Helen Dunmore poem I proposed instead (I was hedging my bets, but I felt sorry that he’d been passed over!) I like, too, his whimsical take on things: The dead are always looking down on us, they say, While we are putting on our shoes or making a sandwich, They are looking down through the glass bottom of boats in heaven As they row themselves slowly through eternity. They watch the tops of our heads moving below… Read more »

Rupert Callender
12 years ago

I love that poem about the dead in their boats. I did read it at a funeral once, but I think it puzzled more than comforted.

12 years ago

I know, Ru. Come to think of it, quite a lot of the poetry I carry with me doesn’t get chosen for reading at the funeral. Nevertheless it remains in my collection for those dear souls who still have the heart for extra-curricular amusement!