That hour, I was most myself. I had shrugged
my mother slowly off, I lay there
taking my first breaths, as if
the air of the room was blowing me
like a bubble. All I had to do
was go out along the line of my gaze and back,
out and back, on gravity’s silk, the
pressure of the air a caress, smelling on my
self her creamy blood. The air
was softly touching my skin and tongue,
entering me and drawing forth the little
sighs I did not know as mine.
I was not afraid. I lay in the quiet
and looked, and did the wordless thought,
my mind was getting its oxygen
direct, the rich mix by mouth.
I hated no one. I gazed and gazed,
and everything was interesting, I was
free, not yet in love, I did not
belong to anyone, I had drunk
no milk, yet—no one had
my heart. I was not very human. I did not
know there was anyone else. I lay
like a god, for an hour, then they came for me,
and took me to my mother.
I’m back again scrutinising the Milky Way
of your ultrasound, scanning the dark
matter, the nothingness, that now the heads say
is chockablock with quarks & squarks,
gravitons & gravitini, photons & photinos. Our sprout,
who art there inside the spacecraft
of your ma, the time capsule of this printout,
hurling & whirling towards us, it’s all daft
on this earth. Our alien who art in the heavens,
our Martian, our little green man, we’re anxious
to make contact, to ask divers questions
about the heavendom you hail from, to discuss
the whole shebang of the beginning&end,
the pre-big-bang untime before you forget the why
and lie of thy first place. And, our friend,
to say Welcome, that we mean no harm, we’d die
for you even, that we pray you’re not here
to subdue us, that we’d put away
our ray guns, missiles, attitude and share
our world with you, little big head, if only you stay.
Waking with Russell
Whatever the difference is, it all began
the day we woke up face-to-face like lovers
and his four-day-old smile dawned on him again,
possessed him, till it would not fall or waver;
and I pitched back not my old hard-pressed grin
but his own smile, or one I’d rediscovered.
Dear son, I was mezzo del’ cammin
and the true path was as lost to me as ever
when you cut in front and lit it as you ran.
See how the true gift never leaves the giver:
returned and redelivered, it rolled on
until the smile poured through us like a river.
How fine, I thought, this waking amongst men!
I kissed your mouth and pledged myself forever.
The Floating Rib
Because a woman had eaten something
when a man told her not to. Because the man
who told her not to had made her
from another man’s bones. That’s why
men badgered the heart-side of her chest,
knowing she could not give the bone back, knowing
she would always owe them that one bone.
And you could see how older girls who knew
their catechism armed themselves against it:
with the pike end of teasing combs
they scabbarded in pocketbooks that clashed
against the jumper’s nightwatch plaid.
In the girl’s bathroom, you watched them
wield the spike in dangerous proximity to their eyes,
shepherding the bangs through which they peered
like cheetahs in an upside-downward-growing grass.
Then they’d mouth the words to “Runaway”
while they ran white lipstick round their lips,
white to announce they had no blood
so any wound would leave no trace, as Eve’s
having nothing more to lose must have made
lll her fearless. What was weird was how soon
the ordinary days started running past them
like a river, how willingly they entered it
and how they rose up on the other side. Tamed,
or god no . . . your mother: ready to settle
with whoever found the bone under her blouse
and give it over, and make a life out of the getting
TO THE DUST OF THE ROAD
W. S. Merwin
And in the morning you are up again
with the way leading through you for a while
longer if the wind is motionless when
the cars reach where the asphalt ends a mile
or so below the main road and the wave
you rise into is different every time
and you are one with it until you have
made your way up to the top of your climb
and brightened in that moment of that day
and then you turn as when you rose before
in fire or wind from the ends of the earth
to pause here and you seem to drift away
on into nothing to lie down once more
until another breath brings you to birth
Excerpted from 180 More by Selected and with an Introduction by Billy Collins Copyright © 2005 by Billy Collins. Excerpted by permission of Random House Trade Paperbacks, a division of Random House LLC. All rights reserved. No part of this excerpt may be reproduced or reprinted without permission in writing from the publisher.