By Billy Collins
Sometimes the notes are ferocious,
skirmishes against the author
raging along the borders of every page
in tiny black script.
If I could just get my hands on you,
Kierkegaard, or Conor Cruise O'Brien,
they seem to say,
I would bolt the door and beat some logic into your head.
Other comments are more offhand, dismissive-
"Nonsense." "Please!" "HA!"-
that kind of thing.
I remember once looking up from my reading,
my thumb as a bookmark,
trying to imagine what the person must look like
who wrote "Don't be a ninny"
alongside a paragraph in The Life of Emily Dickinson.
Students are more modest
needing to leave only their splayed footprints
along the shore of the page.
One scrawls "Metaphor" next to a stanza of Hardy's.
Another notes the presence of "Irony"
fifty times outside the paragraphs of A Modest Proposal.
Or they are fans who cheer from the empty bleachers,
hands cupped around their mouths.
"Absolutely," they shout
to Duns Scotus and James Baldwin.
"Yes." "My man!" "Bull's-eye."
Check marks, exclamation points and asterisks
rain down along the sidelines.
And if you have managed to graduate from college
without ever having once written "Man vs. Nature"
in a margin, perhaps now
is the time to take one step forward.
We have all seized the white perimeter as our own
and reached for a pen if only to show
we did not just laze in an armchair turning pages;
we pressed a thought into the wayside,
planted an impression along the verge.
Even Irish monks in their cold scriptoria
jotted along the borders of the Gospel
brief asides about the pains of copying,
a bird singing near their window,
or the sunlight that illuminated their page-
anonymous men catching a ride into the future
on a vessel more lasting than themselves.
And you have not read Joshua Reynolds,
they say, until you have read him
enwrethed with Blake's furious scribbling.
But the one I think of most often,
the one that dangles from me like a locket,
was written in the copy of Catcher in the Rye
I borrowed from the local library
one slow, hot summer.
I was just beginning high school then,
reading books on a davenport in my parents' living room,
and I cannot tell you
how vastly my loneliness was deepened,
how poignant and amplified the world before me seemed,
when I found on one page
a few greasy looking smears
and next to them, written in soft pencil-
by a beautiful girl, I could tell,
whom I would never meet-
"Pardon the egg salad stains, but I'm in love."
niennacalmacil mentioned hearing Collins read a poem about highlighters. I'm not sure if it's this one, but I remembered he wrote one about note-taking and went looking for it.
It was apaulled's birthday, so I picked him up from work and we went out for Indian food together at lunchtime. It was slightly less mobbed than last time, perhaps a victim of the economy, because they had lowered lunch buffet prices by a dollar, which was very nice considering they hadn't taken anything off the buffet that we could tell! (I had tandoori, korma and curry chicken, some kind of spicy cauliflower and potatoes, dal makhani, paneer, some kind of crusty spicy potato, naan, and a bit of kheer -- I was too full for the gulab jamun.) Afterward I dropped him back at work and went to Target to get underwear and socks for the boys who keep growing and getting holes in theirs. And I stopped off to get a little birthday cake with lots of sugary icing, which is what he usually likes.
apaulled had brought home Howl's Moving Castle on DVD from the library, and though I know I watched it with someone when it first came out on DVD, I must have been distracted, because I had forgotten most of the details. It's probably my favorite Miyazaki film -- I relate to Sofi much more than Chihiro, I like the anti-war theme, and I appreciate that the Beauty and the Beast parallels in this one have so little to do with saving parents or being an obedient daughter. Also, the scenery is breathtaking, particularly the city scenes and the fantasy fields of flowers. I must remember to buy this one. Meanwhile, we had some excitement in the back window for much of the evening:
All three cats immediately positioned themselves to study its every move.
The mice, however, did not appear to notice the cats, and only scampered to hide when a squirrel arrived to nose at the seeds.
This just led to even more agitation, as the smaller cats attacked the window itself while the large blob puffed herself up and glared.
Regrettably, I was shooting with flash through glass since that was all I had time for, so I did not capture how adorable the mice were with their great big mouse eyes.