I Go Back To The House For A Book
I turn around on the gravel
by Billy Collins
and go back to the house for a book,
something to read at the doctor’s office,
and while I am inside, running the finger
of inquisition along a shelf,
another me that did not bother
to go back to the house for a book
heads out on his own,
rolls down the driveway,
and swings left toward town,
a ghost in his ghost car,
another knot in the string of time,
a good three minutes ahead of me —
a spacing that will now continue
for the rest of my life.
Isn’t this how we go about most of the day? One part of ourselves in last week, one part in a future conversation, one part stuck in 1982. Only the poets, and perhaps only Billy Collins, can put such heartache into an endearing story of lightness and familiarity.
Sometimes I think I see him
a few people in front of me on a line
or getting up from a table
to leave the restaurant just before I do,
slipping into his coat on the way out the door.
But there is no catching him,
no way to slow him down
and put us back in synch,
unless one day he decides to go back
to the house for something,
but I cannot imagine
for the life of me what that might be.
Pema Chodron calls this separation “splitting off” and describes how it takes us from peace to war:
Let’s say you’re having a conversation with someone. You’re one with the whole situation. You’re open and receptive and there and interested. Then there is a little shenpa pulling-away, a kind of uneasy feeling in the stomach—which we usually don’t notice—and then comes our big thought. We are suddenly verbalizing to ourselves, “How am I looking here? Did I just say something stupid? Am I too fat? That was a stupid thing to say, wasn’t it, and I am too fat….”
Some thought or other causes us to split off, and before we know it we’re completely self-absorbed. We’re probably not even hearing the words of the person we’re conversing with, because we have retreated into a bubble of self-absorption. That’s splitting off. That’s dividing in two.
He is out there always before me,
blazing my trail, invisible scout,
hound that pulls me along,
shade I am doomed to follow,
my perfect double,
only bumped an inch into the future,
and not nearly as well-versed as I
in the love poems of Ovid —
I who went back to the house
that fateful winter morning and got the book.
This “splitting off” from oneself is perhaps the most dangerous kind of separation, no? Feeling incomplete, compartmentalized, like a puzzle with a missing piece.
Or maybe it’s not the fact that we have different selves, different sides and facets, but the way we often disown those “other” parts of ourselves out of fear or shame.
Those are the moments I feel separation from myself as well as from those around me. It’s isolating and lonely.
What about you?
It’s National Poetry Month, lucky for me. Lots of poems in circulation, and you know how much I love poetry. Feel free to share a favorite… and be sure to ready Billy’s again and aloud. Nothing like feeling the words through your mouth.