Thinking of Billy Collins on My 66th Birthday/ poem by Matthew J. Spireng

As I’m leaving Bodacious Bagels and approaching
my car, I notice a man going in who looks a lot
like Billy Collins, enough like Billy Collins
that I consider going back in and asking him

if anyone else has ever told him he looks like
Billy Collins, but, given the state of poetry
in America, I think better of it. The man who
looks like Billy Collins may have no idea

who Billy Collins is. And wouldn’t I feel like
an old fool when he looked at me as if I was
an old fool. So I get in my car instead and
start it. On the radio, which is already on,

Billy Collins is just finishing a segment
of Writer’s Almanac. I mull over the coincidence
and think of Billy Collins’s poem about
the mouse in the wall carrying a strike-anywhere

match and remember the first time I read
one of his books—Picnic, Lightning—at a
Barnes & Noble while I was waiting for a friend
who’d dropped me off there to return. I read

the whole book through while waiting and bought it
and brought it home and read it through again.
Billy Collins can be a very funny man. I consider
whether the man who went into Bodacious Bagels

would find Billy Collins’s poetry a pleasure
to read. But then a news program comes on
talking about the blackout of August 14, 2003—
my 56th birthday—and I remember my birthday dinner

wound up being a bag of chips from a convenience store
because all the restaurants around were closed
because they had no electricity and I think how
the whole damned mess that day could have been caused

by a rodent, like the mouse in the wall in Billy Collins’s
poem, though it wasn’t. It was caused, instead, by a drooping
high tension line that sagged enough that it touched a tree
and shorted out, though nobody knew that then.


Matthew J. Spireng’s 2019 Sinclair Poetry Prize-winning book Good Work was published in 2020 by Evening Street Press.  An 11-time Pushcart Prize nominee, he is the author of two other full-length poetry books, What Focus Is and Out of Body, winner of the 2004 Bluestem Poetry Award, and five chapbooks. He was the winner of The MacGuffin’s 23rd Annual Poet Hunt Contest in 2018 and the 2015 Common Ground Review poetry contest. Website:

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