Friday, February 22, 2013


Sometimes the notes are ferocious,
skirmishes against the author
raging along the borders of every page
in tiny black script.
If I could just get my hands on you,
Kierkegaard, or Conor Cruise O'Brien,
they seem to say,
I would bolt the door and beat some logic into your head.

Other comments are more offhand, dismissive ---
"Nonsense." "Please!" "HA!!" ---
that kind of thing.
I remember once looking up from my reading,
my thumb as a bookmark,
trying to imagine what the person must look like
who wrote "Don't be a ninny"
alongside a paragraph in The Life of Emily Dickinson.

Students are more modest
needing to leave only their splayed footprints
along the shore of the page.
One scrawls "Metaphor" next to a stanza of Eliot's.
Another notes the presence of "Irony"
fifty times outside the paragraphs of A Modest Proposal.

Or they are fans who cheer from the empty bleachers,
hands cupped around their mouths.
"Absolutely," they shout
to Duns Scotus and James Baldwin.
"Yes." "Bull's-eye." "My man!"
Check marks, asterisks, and exclamation points
rain down along the sidelines.

And if you have managed to graduate from college
without ever having written "Man vs. Nature"
in a margin, perhaps now
is the time to take one step forward.

We have all seized the white perimeter as our own
and reached for a pen if only to show
we did not just laze in an armchair turning pages;
we pressed a thought into the wayside,
planted an impression along the verge.

Even Irish monks in their cold scriptoria
jotted along the borders of the Gospels
brief asides about the pains of copying,
a bird singing near their window,
or the sunlight that illuminated their page ---
anonymous men catching a ride into the future
on a vessel more lasting than themselves.

And you have not read Joshua Reynolds,
they say, until you have read him
enwreathed with Blake's furious scribblings.

Yet the one I think of most often,
the one that dangles from me like a locket,
was written in the copy of Catcher in the Rye
I borrowed from the local library
one slow, hot summer.
I was just beginning high school then,
reading books on a davenport in my parents' living room,
and I cannot tell you
how vastly my loneliness was deepened,
how poignant and amplified the world before me seemed,
when I found on one page

a few greasy looking smears
and next to them, written in soft pencil ---
by a beautiful girl, I could tell,
whom I would never meet ---
"Pardon the egg salad stains, but I'm in love."

--Billy Collins

Wednesday, March 7, 2012

One Inch Tall

If you were only one inch tall, you'd ride a worm to school.
The teardrop of a crying ant would be your swimming pool.
A crumb of cake would be a feast
And last you seven days at least,
A flea would be a frightening beast
If you were one inch tall.

If you were only one inch tall, you'd walk beneath the door,
And it would take about a month to get down to the store.
A bit of fluff would be your bed,
You'd swing upon a spider's thread,
And wear a thimble on your head
If you were one inch tall.

You'd surf across the kitchen sink upon a stick of gum.
You couldn't hug your mama, you'd just have to hug her thumb.
You'd run from people's feet in fright,
To move a pen would take all night,
(This poem took fourteen years to write --
'Cause I'm just one inch tall).

-Shel Silverstein

The Googies Are Coming

The googies are coming, the old people say,
To buy little children and take them away.
Fifty cents for fat ones,
Twenty cents for lean ones,
Fifteen cents for dirty ones,
Thirty cents for clean ones,
A nickel each for mean ones.

The googies are coming, and maybe tonight,
To buy little children and lock them up tight.
Eighty cents for husky ones,
Quarter for the weak ones,
Penny each for noisy ones,
A dollar for the meek ones.

Forty cents for happy ones,
Eleven cents for sad ones.
And, kiddies, when they come to buy,
It won't do any good to cry.
But -- just between yourself and I --
They never buy the bad ones!

-Shel Silverstein

Tuesday, March 6, 2012

Me and My Giant

I have a friend who is a giant,
And he lives where the tall weeds grow.
He's high as a mountain and wide as a barn,
And I only come up to his toe, you know,
I only come up to his toe.

When the daylight grows dim I talk with him
Way down in the marshy sands,
And his ear is too far away to hear,
But still he understands, he 'stands,
I know he understands.

For we have a code called the "scratch-tap code,"
And here is what we do --
I scratch his toe . . . once means, "Hello"
And twice means, "How are you?"
Three means, "Does it look like rain?"
Four times means, "Don't cry."
Five times means, "I'll scratch you a joke."
And six times emans, "Goodbye," "Goodbye,"
Six times means, "Goodbye."

And he answers me by tapping his toe --
Once means, "Hello, friend."
Two taps means, "It's very nice to feel your scratch again."
Three taps means, "It's lonely here
With my head in the top of the sky."
Four tas means, "Today an eagle smiled as she flew by."
Five taps meanns, "Oops, I just bumped
my head against the moon."
Six means, "Sigh" and seven means, "Bye"
And eight means, "Come back soon, soon, soon,"
Eight means, "Come back soon."

And then I scratch a thousand times,
And he taps with a bappity-bimm,
And he laughs so hard he shakes the sky --
That means I'm tickling him!

-Shel Silverstein


Listen to the MUSTN'TS, child,
Listen to the DON'TS
Listen to the SHOULDN'TS
Listen to the NEVER HAVES
Then listen close to me --
Anything can happen, child,
ANYTHING can be.

-Shel Silverstein

Hug O' War

I will not play at tug o' war.
I'd rather play at hug o' war,
Where everyone hugs
Instead of tugs,
Where everyone giggles
And rolls on the rug,
Where everyone kisses,
And everyone grins,
And everyone cuddles,
And everyone wins.

-Shel Silverstein


Sandra's seen a leprechaun,
Eddie touched a troll,
Laurie danced with witches once,
Charlie found some goblins' gold.
Donald heard a mermaid sing,
Susy spied an elf,
But all the magic I have known
I've had to make myself.

-Shel Silverstein