Billy Collins

Still Life with Clouds and Eyes on the Prize
February 20, 2023 Collins Billy

Still Life with Clouds



Many white ones
over a calm lake
on a very quiet day,


all strangely motionless
as if hanging from
long invisible wires,


or had once existed
in the painted sky
of an Italian landscape


which I could never afford,
but never mind.
One of the clouds just moved.




Eyes on the Prize

“If you do anything for just 20 minutes each day,
you will see results.”

Guide for Writers


If that really is the case,
then why am I not acknowledged
as an expert at looking out the window
at the oak tree that towers over the lawn
or at kicking its fallen acorns, given
my pensive hours circling the base of that tree
all those afternoons in late November?


I’m also getting good at observing
the flow of a river as it runs under a bridge,
holding a sharpened pencil
slightly above an empty piece of paper,
making oatmeal from scratch,
and wondering if I should get married again,
but where are the results?  What do I have to show?


It’s the jockeys, the javelin-throwers,
and the chess players who get acknowledged.
Most Valuable Player, Best Supporting Actress,
the Oscars, Emmys, the Heisman Trophy.
But where is the crystal with my name inscribed–
Best Afternoon Brooder, Ace Bed-Maker,
America’s Most Hesitant Driver, Shaver of the Year!

Billy Collins’ most recent book is Musical Tables. His poetry collections include Sailing Alone Around the Room: New and Selected Poems (2001); Picnic, Lightning (1998); and The Art of Drowning (1995). In October 2004, Collins was the inaugural recipient of the Poetry Foundation’s Mark Twain Award for humorous poetry. His other awards and honors include fellowships from the New York Foundation for the Arts, the National Endowment for the Arts, and the Guggenheim Foundation. He has served as a Literary Lion of the New York Public Library and is a distinguished professor of English at Lehman College, City University of New York, where he has taught for the past 40 years. He is also Senior Distinguished Fellow of the Winter Park Institute in Florida and, as of 2015, an MFA faculty member at the State University of New York at Stony Brook. In 2016, Collins was elected into The American Academy of Arts and Letters.