On Billy Collins, Thanksgiving, and Perspective

It’s beginning to overwhelm me–that time of the year when life becomes messier. Busier.  Events begin to pile up-events, dress rehearsals, parties, life.  And it’s the time of the year when we stop and pause to think about what we are grateful for because sometime during the year among all this messiness and busyness, we’ve forgotten.  Friends begin to stream November Thankfulness lists that are now lost between posts of hatred and political upset.  Right now, more negative than good seems to surround this month–this time of thankfulness.

Yesterday, sitting in a stuffy car, I caught a glimpse on YouTube of A Prairie Home Companion.  I stopped because one of my favorite poets read three of his poems on the program.  Nothing beats a good poet reading his own works.  You can view the reading here.


Thanksgiving by Billy Collins

The thing about the huge platter
of sliced celery, broccoli florets,
and baby tomatoes you had  arranged
to look like a turkey with its tail fanned out
was that all our guests were so intimidated
by the perfection of the design
no one dared disturb the symmetry
by removing so much as the nub of a carrot.

And the other thing about all that
was that it took only a few minutes
for the outline of the turkey to disappear
once the guests were encouraged to dig in,
so that no one else would have guessed
that this platter of scattered vegetables ever bore
the slightest resemblance to a turkey
or any other two- or four-legged animal.

It reminded me of the sand mandalas
so carefully designed by Tibetan monks
and then just as carefully destroyed
by lines scored across the diameter of the circle,
the variously colored sand then swept
into a pile and carried in a vessel
to the  nearest moving water and poured in–
a reminder of the impermanence of art and life.

Only, in the case of the vegetable turkey
such a reminder was never intended.
Or if it was, I was too busy slicing up
even more vivid lessons in impermanence
to notice. I mean the real turkey minus its head
and colorful feathers, and the ham
minus the pig minus its corkscrew tail
and minus the snout once happily slathered in mud.

I like Billy Collins a lot.  I love his subtle humor and his observations.  His innocuous message disguised in the everyday.

This week I’ve gotten caught up in the arrangement of my turkey.  I’ve been painstakingly creating a menu and Thanksgiving experience for my family that will soon become over run with concerns like “Will the mashed potatoes get cold while the turkey rests?”  We often make bigger deals of the table settings and menu than the actual experience of Thanksgiving. Our perfectly impermanent turkey laid out in front of us for our own demolishment.

This Thanksgiving, don’t think too deeply.  Enjoy.

Collins, Billy. “Thanksgiving.” The Rain in Portugal. New York: Random House, 2016. E-

I can’t recommend this book enough.  It simultaneously  makes me smile, laugh, and cry.


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