A Litany of Blessing

BILLY COLLINS WROTE A POEM about seeking or searching, something about a gorilla he discovered while reading a book about architecture. It’s kind of about seeing details, finding something meaningful when you least expect it. I know I shouldn’t, but I see all of his poems like this, hidden deep metaphors below layers of sarcastically painted day-to-day prose in lines like poems. It’s like I’m waiting to be tricked so I watch out the window. But when he shows up, he’s here early with a bag of crisp apples and a good story. No trick it all – only treats. These are his poems to me. Especially the one called “Litany.” It’s just a long list of metaphors that begins “You are the bread and the knife.” I use it to teach metaphors. I’m so certain that it’s a break-up poem, I analyze each piece for end-of-relationship stuff like the “burning wheel of the sun” and the “blind woman’s tea cup.” He himself reads the poem to an audience online. You can watch him sneer at the onlookers who, like me, are searching for a stack of cloaked meanings carefully paper-clipped and ready to file in the mental drawer labeled “relational maladies and how to avoid them.” But his tone speaks to us decoding sleuth readers that it’s just a list. He says we are tying his poems to chairs, beating confessions out of them, half-truths that are just not there.

I suppose that’s how I see situations. Well meaning discoveries that feel serendipitous at first eventually disappoint when I cannot be the savior. I read in, leaning forward, hopeful that my presence will spark a life of wonder and joy that just wasn’t there before. Then they leave, or graduate, or expire, or exhaust, or turn away, and I remember that I am not the key, the token, the bread or the knife. I am perhaps one yellow brick on their token road to self actualization. I alone cannot change lives, heal hurts, clean water, solve hunger, tell others how to vote, decide how to vote at all, or give homes to all the homeless of Seattle let alone the world. I am only one, like that lone gorilla in a book about buildings.

Billy and I, both disgruntled by the lambs waiting to be slaughtered even though they see the silent scripture in their futures. He gets that mothers offer life to our lanyards. Churning over these turns of events, I go to the grocery store thinking monotony is better than meaninglessness. There are pumpkins in big bins outside the door, some for eating some for decoration. Sunflowers and apples and all things pumpkin spice flavored cover the shelves that not so long ago boasted summer things like melons. A man stands alone outside by the pumpkins opening a small, battered violin case. When I am finished with my shopping I step into the air, crisper than I remembered as I got out of my car before. “Tea for Two” the tune floats up through the the parking garage making tin cans talk. I walk fast then turn around. I scrounge for the measly change from my pumpkin purchases and set it into his open case with a whisp of “Thank you for the music.” He stops playing, smiles so wide his eyes close, bows in my direction holding the violin in place, and says “Bless you.”

Small tokens. A yellow brick in my road. My own life made beautiful by the man’s bow strings and blessings. Small things are not to be taken for granted, I remember. I go home thinking that tomorrow is another day and how Billy Collins must have made a ton of grocery runs like that one to have made such an impact on someone like me. The search continues for me, and who knows what will be waiting just under my nose tomorrow.


Stephanie Platter is a teacher, writer, film critic, and coffee lover who so appreciates crisp apples and good stories.


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