A Sense of Place


If things had happened differently,
Maine or upper Michigan
might have given me a sense of place–

a topic that now consumes 87%
of all commentary on American literature.

I might have run naked by a bayou
or been beaten near a shrouded cove on a coastline.

Arizona could have raised me.
Even New York's Westchester County
with its stone walls scurrying up into the woods
could have been the spot to drop a couple of roots.

But as it is, the only thing that gives me
a sense of place is this upholstered chair
with its dark brown covers,
angled into a room near a corner window.

I am the native son of only this wingback seat
standing dutifully on four squat legs,
its two arms open in welcome,

illuminated by a swan-neck lamp
and accompanied by a dog-like hassock,
the closest thing a chair has to a pet.

This is my landscape–
a tobacco-colored room,
the ceiling with its river-like crack,
the pond of a mirror on one wall
a pen and ink drawing of a snarling fish on another.

And behind me, a long porch
from which the sky may be viewed,
sometimes stippled with high clouds,
and crossed now and then by a passing bird–
little courier with someplace to go–

other days crowded with thunderheads,
the light turning an alarming green,
the air stirred by the nostrils of apocalyptic horses,
and me slumped in my chair, my back to it all.


Billy Collins, Poetry, The Poetry Foundation, July, 2005.