Skip to content

Forgetfulness – Billy Collins

  • by

Poet Laureate for 2001, Billy Collins has a smile in his poetry that is unmistakeable. His poetry strikes chords that are rarely heard today


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.

Billy Collins

A email interview with Billy Collins can be found at

More Poems
More poems by Billy Collins can be found at

* Pokerface, limited edition, Kenmore, 1977.
* Video Poems, Applezaba (Long Beach, CA), 1980.
* The Apple That Astonished Paris, University of Arkansas Press (Fayetteville, AR), 1988.
* Questions about Angels, Morrow (New York, NY), 1991, University of Pittsburgh Press (Pittsburgh, PA), 1999.
* The Art of Drowning, University of Pittsburgh Press (Pittsburgh, PA), 1995.
* Picnic, Lightning, University of Pittsburgh Press, 1998.
* Taking Off Emily Dickinson’s Clothes, Picador (London, England), 2000.
* The Eye of the Poet: Six Views of the Art and Craft of Poetry, edited by David Citino, Oxford University Press (New York, NY), 2001.
* Sailing Alone around the Room: New and Selected Poems, Random House (New York, NY), 2001.
* Nine Horses: Poems, Random House (New York, NY), 2002.
* Ballistics (Random House, 2008)