August 6, 2010

Figgy the Singing Squirrel

I wish I could be funny in my poetry, but I tend to take myself way too seriously. The funny factor is probably what I admire most about Billy Collins's poetry. I just found this poem in the Spring 2010 issue of Poetry East.

Palermo

It was foolish of us to leave our room.
The empty plaza was shimmering.
The clock looked ready to melt.

The heat was a mallet striking a ball
and sending it bouncing into the nettles of summer.
Even the bees had knocked off for the day.

The only thing moving besides us
(and we had since stopped under an awning)
was a squirrel who was darting this way and that

as if he were having second thoughts
about crossing the street,
his head and tail twitching with indecision.

You were looking in a shop window
but I was watching the squirrel
who now rose up on his hind legs,

and after pausing to look in all directions,
began to sing in a beautiful voice
a melancholy aria about life and death,

his forepaws clutched against his chest,
his face full of longing and hope,
as the sun beat down

on the roofs and awnings of the city,
and the earth continued to turn
and hold in position the moon

which would appear later that night
as we sat in a cafe
and I stood up on the table

with the encouragement of the owner
and sang for you and others
the song the squirrel had taught me how to sing.
---------

It's the clutched forepaws that get me every time. The furry squirrel face full of longing and hope. Oh, how it makes me giggle. It also reminded me of one of my first dates with R, in Oakland, California. We picnicked in the park on a Sunday afternoon and spied a squirrel sizing us up. As the squirrel scurried closer and rose up on his hind legs we couldn't help but notice that he had the most abnormally large testicles. Like figs. Really, it was obscene, and I think I may have blushed. I'm not even sure how he could make his way through the park with that burden. It would explain why he was on the ground and not leaping among the branches.

So when I read "Palermo," I was, in fact, imagining our old friend Figgy singing his heart out. It makes the poem that much more delightful.

Oh, and just so's ya knows: there are many excellent poems in this issue of Poetry East, so you should go ahead and get yourself a copy.

1 comment:

Suzanne said...

I am nit sure that I will ever look at a squirrel again without imagining longing and hope. And I will chuckle -- or at least grin. Many thanks to you, Billy, and Figgy.