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Wednesday, June 25, 2014

Man Does Not Live By Cards Alone

 I'll admit that I don't really want to be "challenged" by art and literature.  I do want to be moved or at the very least entertained by it.  

I came across Billy Collins' poetry more or less by accident.  This was the very first of his poems that I ever read. 

Questions About Angels


Of all the questions you might want to ask
about angels, the only one you ever hear
is how many can dance on the head of a pin.

No curiosity about how they pass the eternal time
besides circling the Throne chanting in Latin
or delivering a crust of bread to a hermit on earth
or guiding a boy and girl across a rickety wooden bridge.

Do they fly through God's body and come out singing?
Do they swing like children from the hinges
of the spirit world saying their names backwards and forwards?
Do they sit alone in little gardens changing colors?

What about their sleeping habits, the fabric of their robes,
their diet of unfiltered divine light?
What goes on inside their luminous heads? Is there a wall
these tall presences can look over and see hell?

If an angel fell off a cloud, would he leave a hole
in a river and would the hole float along endlessly
filled with the silent letters of every angelic word?

If an angel delivered the mail, would he arrive
in a blinding rush of wings or would he just assume
the appearance of the regular mailman and
whistle up the driveway reading the postcards?

No, the medieval theologians control the court.
The only question you ever hear is about
the little dance floor on the head of a pin
where halos are meant to converge and drift invisibly.

It is designed to make us think in millions,
billions, to make us run out of numbers and collapse
into infinity, but perhaps the answer is simply one:
one female angel dancing alone in her stocking feet,
a small jazz combo working in the background.

She sways like a branch in the wind, her beautiful
eyes closed, and the tall thin bassist leans over
to glance at his watch because she has been dancing
forever, and now it is very late, even for musicians.

The author reading:

Billy Collins, “Questions About Angels” from Questions about Angels. Copyright © 1991 by Billy Collins. All rights are controlled by the University of Pittsburgh Press. Reprinted with the permission of the University of Pittsburgh Press,


  1. Interesting. I love the finale.

    I'm a Bukowski man, myself.

    1. I know of Bukowski but I've never read anything.

    2. Indulge yourself one day.
      I highly recommend him for high entertainment value, and low levels of high falutin' fantasy.
      You wouldn't send one of Bukowski's poems to your girl, unless you met her in a dive bar.


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