this fraction of the whole...

Billy Collins


It was getting late in the year,
the sky had been low and overcast for days,
and I was drinking tea in a glassy room
with a woman without children,
a gate through which no one had entered the world.

She was turning the pages of an expensive book
on a coffee table, even though we were drinking tea,
a book of colorful paintings—
a landscape, a portrait, a still life,
a field, a face, a pear and a knife, all turning on the table.

Men had entered there but no girl or boy
had come out, I was thinking oddly
as she stopped at a page of clouds
aloft in a pale sky, tinged with red and gold.
This one is my favorite, she said,

even though it was only a detail, a corner
of a larger painting which she had never seen.
Nor did she want to see the countryside below
or the portrayal of some myth
in order for the billowing clouds to seem complete.

This was enough, this fraction of the whole,
just as the leafy scene in the windows was enough
now that the light was growing dim,
as was she enough, perfectly by herself
in her place in the enormous mural of the world.

          — from Verse Daily,
                orginally appeared in Crazyhorse


Collins does have special gifts for the ordinary – as with this poem that somehow finds transformation. Even the tiny bits of this poem have life. Fresh, real. Nothing about his work ever strikes me as artificial or out of step. His poems never try to be something other than what they are.

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