Billy Collins – The Names

Billy Collins was the U.S. poet laureate at the time of the 9/11 attacks. He wrote “The Names” in honor of the victims. He read the poem before a special joint session of Congress held in New York City in 2002, and in a PBS program last year, see clip below.

The Names – by Billy Collins

Yesterday, I lay awake in the palm of the night.
A soft rain stole in, unhelped by any breeze,
And when I saw the silver glaze on the windows,
I started with A, with Ackerman, as it happened,
Then Baxter and Calabro,
Davis and Eberling, names falling into place
As droplets fell through the dark.
Names printed on the ceiling of the night.
Names slipping around a watery bend.
Twenty-six willows on the banks of a stream.
In the morning, I walked out barefoot
Among thousands of flowers
Heavy with dew like the eyes of tears,
And each had a name —
Fiori inscribed on a yellow petal
Then Gonzalez and Han, Ishikawa and Jenkins.
Names written in the air
And stitched into the cloth of the day.
A name under a photograph taped to a mailbox.
Monogram on a torn shirt,
I see you spelled out on storefront windows
And on the bright unfurled awnings of this city.
I say the syllables as I turn a corner —
Kelly and Lee,
Medina, Nardella, and O’Connor.
When I peer into the woods,
I see a thick tangle where letters are hidden
As in a puzzle concocted for children.
Parker and Quigley in the twigs of an ash,
Rizzo, Schubert, Torres, and Upton,
Secrets in the boughs of an ancient maple.
Names written in the pale sky.
Names rising in the updraft amid buildings.
Names silent in stone
Or cried out behind a door.
Names blown over the earth and out to sea.
In the evening — weakening light, the last swallows.
A boy on a lake lifts his oars.
A woman by a window puts a match to a candle,
And the names are outlined on the rose clouds —
Vanacore and Wallace,
(let X stand, if it can, for the ones unfound)
Then Young and Ziminsky, the final jolt of Z.
Names etched on the head of a pin.
One name spanning a bridge, another undergoing a tunnel.
A blue name needled into the skin.
Names of citizens, workers, mothers and fathers,
The bright-eyed daughter, the quick son.
Alphabet of names in a green field.
Names in the small tracks of birds.
Names lifted from a hat
Or balanced on the tip of the tongue.
Names wheeled into the dim warehouse of memory.
So many names, there is barely room on the walls of the heart.

US Embassy Dublin Hosts Former US Poet Laureate Billy Collins

Via US Embassy Dublin:

US Ambassador Rooney hosted a May reception for former US Poet Laureate (2001-03) Billy Collins at his residence in Phoenix Park.  Mr. Collins was in Ireland for the Galway Cuirt Festival, as well as a follow-on Poetry Symposium at Trinity College. In this video Collins reflects on his favourite Irish poets and speaks about the unique experience of being U.S. Poet Laureate.  Below he also reads one of our favorite poems, Forgetfulness. Some more of his animated poems are online here.

And if you like those, you might also appreciate his I Chop Some Parsley While Listening To Art Blakey’s Version Of “Three Blind Mice”, which might be our all time favorite Billy Collins poem.

Domani Spero