Forgetfulness

Billy Collins

 
The name of the author is the first to go
followed obediently by the title, the plot,
the heartbreaking conclusion, the entire novel
which suddenly becomes one you have never read,
never even heard of,
as if, one by one, the memories you used to harbor
decided to retire to the southern hemisphere of the brain,
to a little fishing village where there are no phones.
Long ago you kissed the names of the nine Muses goodbye
and watched the quadratic equation pack its bag,
and even now as you memorize the order of the planets,
something else is slipping away, a state flower perhaps,
the address of an uncle, the capital of Paraguay.
Whatever it is you are struggling to remember
it is not poised on the tip of your tongue,
not even lurking in some obscure corner of your spleen.
It has floated away down a dark mythological river
whose name begins with an L as far as you can recall,
well on your own way to oblivion where you will join those
who have even forgotten how to swim and how to ride a bicycle.
No wonder you rise in the middle of the night
to look up the date of a famous battle in a book on war.
No wonder the moon in the window seems to have drifted
out of a love poem that you used to know by heart.
 
"Forgetfulness" from Questions About Angels, by Billy Collins, © 1999. All rights are controlled by the University of Pittsburgh Press, Pittsburgh, PA 15260. Used by permission of the University of Pittsburgh Press.

Poems by This Author

Fishing on the Susquehanna in July by Billy Collins
I have never been fishing on the Susquehanna
Some Days by Billy Collins
Some days I put the people in their places at the table
The First Night by Billy Collins
Before I opened you, Jiménez
The Golden Years by Billy Collins
All I do these drawn-out days
Workshop by Billy Collins
I might as well begin by saying how much I like the title


Further Reading

Poems About Aging
Abandonment Under the Walnut Tree
by D. A. Powell
Affirmation
by Donald Hall
Age
by Robert Creeley
Age and Death
by Emma Lazarus
Almost Sixty
by Jim Moore
Beyond the Years
by Paul Laurence Dunbar
Blues
by Elizabeth Alexander
Demeter in Paris
by Meghan O'Rourke
E.H.
by John Koethe
El Dorado
by Edgar Allan Poe
Fear of the Future
by John Koethe
First Gestures
by Julia Spicher Kasdorf
Fixed Interval
by Devin Johnston
Gerontion
by T.S. Eliot
Get Up, Please
by David Kirby
In View of the Fact
by A. R. Ammons
Looking Back in My Eighty-First Year
by Maxine Kumin
Moonlight
by Sara Teasdale
My Lost Youth
by Henry Wadsworth Longfellow
My Skeleton
by Jane Hirshfield
Poem at Thirty
by Michael Ryan
Preparation
by Effie Waller Smith
Quiet
by Tony Hoagland
Refusing at Fifty-Two to Write Sonnets
by Thomas Lynch
Rock Me to Sleep
by Elizabeth Akers Allen
Self-Portrait
by Adam Zagajewski
Since Nine—
by C. P. Cavafy
The Chicago Poem
by Jerome Rothenberg
The Edges of Time
by Kay Ryan
The Human Seasons
by John Keats
The Tower
by W. B. Yeats
The Widows of Gravesend
by L. S. Asekoff
The Young Man's Song
by W. B. Yeats
this kind of fire
by Charles Bukowski
To a Young Girl at a Window
by Margaret Widdemer
To Chloe: Who for his sake wished herself younger
by William Cartwright
To Earthward
by Robert Frost
to my last period
by Lucille Clifton
To Think of Time
by Walt Whitman
Two Horses and a Dog
by James Galvin
When You are Old
by W. B. Yeats
Poems about Reading
from Please Bury Me in This
by Allison Benis White
After Reading Lao Tzu
by Amy Newlove Schroeder
Book Loaned to Tom Andrews
by Bobby C. Rogers
Books
by Gerald Stern
Burning of the Three Fires
by Jeanne Marie Beaumont
Hans Reading, Hans Smoking
by Liam Rector
How to Read a Poem: Beginner's Manual
by Pamela Spiro Wagner
Inspire Hope
by Amy Lawless
Learning to Read
by Frances Ellen Watkins Harper
Light By Which I Read
by Eric Pankey
Love For This Book
by Pablo Neruda
My First Memory (of Librarians)
by Nikki Giovanni
One Train May Hide Another
by Kenneth Koch
Passerby, These are Words
by Yves Bonnefoy
Reading Moby-Dick at 30,000 Feet
by Tony Hoagland
Reading Novalis in Montana
by Melissa Kwasny
Shawl
by Albert Goldbarth
Stet Stet Stet
by Ange Mlinko
The Author to Her Book
by Anne Bradstreet
The Best Thing Anyone Ever Said About Paul Celan
by Shane McCrae
The Land of Story-books
by Robert Louis Stevenson
The Reader
by Richard Wilbur
The Secret
by Denise Levertov
There is no frigate like a book (1263)
by Emily Dickinson
To the Reader
by Jena Osman
To the Reader: If You Asked Me
by Chase Twichell
Untitled [I closed the book and changed my life]
by Bruce Smith
Why I Am Afraid of Turning the Page
by Cate Marvin
You Begin
by Margaret Atwood