Poetry Friday: “Honesty” – and Billy Collins’ early birthday

poetryfridaybutton-fulllMy friend and fellow writer/blogger Heidi Mordhorst reminded me last week that former U.S. Poet Laureate Billy Collins, will turn 76 on March 22, and told me she was planning on a big shindig today to celebrate a little early. She invited a number of us to share a Billy Collins poem – or Billy Collins-inspired poem – which is precisely what I’m doing.

Collins wrote a poem titled “The Golden Years,” which begins:

All I do these drawn-out days
is sit in my kitchen at Pheasant Ridge
where there are no pheasants to be seen
and last time I looked, no ridge.

The poem, which you can read in its entirety HERE, struck a chord with me, so I decided to write my own poem which expands upon some of what he writes about, but in a much different voice and context…


Someone once said
the definition of suburbia
is where they cut down all the trees
and then name streets after them.
Truth is, it’s worse than that.
Everything that was once
is dismissed, removed,
or chased away; trees are only
the beginning.

I knew a family
who lived on Deerhaven Road,
an oxymoron
for there were neither deer
nor was it a haven;
habitat destroyed, the animals
moved on. I’m guessing
they didn’t use the freshly-paved route
connecting a half-mile of houses
bearing their name.

Then there was Rattlesnake Hill which,
once it was suitably transformed
into every urbanite’s impression
of what rural life should be,
contained neither rattlesnake
nor hill.

This is why I much prefer the city
or the country to the soft,
doughy middle. Out in the boondocks
where the bears, deer, fox, and pheasants
have yet to be honored with pavement,
one can watch them wander across streets,
worn and dusty, into the neighbor’s
front yard. Likewise, in the city,
there are no turkeys, moose, or coyotes, and everyone
is fine with that; no one
has taken it upon themselves
to recognize the lack of wildlife
by naming a parkway after them.
City or country, there is no pretending
to be one thing or another; it is an honesty
with oneself, with nature, with the streets
that connect us.

– © 2017, Matt Forrest Esenwine, all rights reserved

Heidi is hosting Poetry Friday today, so you can visit the “All-Billy Birthday Extravanganza” – along with all of today’s Poetry Friday links and fun – on her blog, My Juicy Little Universe!


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31 thoughts on “Poetry Friday: “Honesty” – and Billy Collins’ early birthday

  1. Irene Latham

    Thanks for your poem, Matt, which I instantly wanted to argue with! Perhaps I will write a rebuttal poem? There is beauty in the “middle”…. Happy Poetry Friday!


    1. A rebuttal poem to a poem inspired by another poem….we could keep this going forever! And I agree, there IS beauty everywhere and in everything, if one knows where (and how) to look. But like the old saying goes, the only thing in the “middle of the road” is white lines and dead possum. 😉


  2. As one who grew up on Larch Road and never knew what a larch was, your point is well taken, Matt. Though at the same time, I had quite a few Maples, Oaks, and Apple trees who were my friends. Well done with the Billy Collins transformation!


  3. Wow, this is one of my very favorites of your poems, Matt. So true! We used to live in a cookie cutter home in Franklin Farm, where there was, obviously, no farm. Next door to Fox Run without foxes . . . death in suburbia.


    1. Thank you so much, Jama, I appreciate that. I wrote this from personal experience, too – these names were not made up! And I left out Fox Hollow, Pheasant Lane, and Chipmunk Falls (the latter of which, fortunately, still has plenty of chipmunks!).


  4. haitiruth

    I enjoyed your poem, with its Collins-esque voice. I’d love to see what you’d make of my neighborhood, smack dab in the city but with goats all around. Ruth, thereisnosuchthingasagodforsakentown.blogspot.com


  5. maryleehahn

    Nice! I especially like

    “Out in the boondocks
    where the bears, deer, fox, and pheasants
    have yet to be honored with pavement,”

    You nailed Collins’ voice…and yet, made it your own!


  6. I live near Muddy Branch Road, which does, at times, have some pretty muddy branches 🙂 🙂
    A while back we lived in Atlanta, which has dozens of roads named “Peachtree,” but precious few peach trees! How delicious it would be if it did…


  7. Wow, Matt! I agree that you’ve captured that Collins essence yet retained your own voice. Quite a feat! I currently live on Fisher Road outside a small town in Maine. I’m not sure if the name refers to the fishermen in the nearby bay, to the fishers that prowl the night and prey on unsuspecting pets or perhaps to some historic founding family. Whatever the answer, I’m definitely going to start paying more attention to road names!


  8. Matt, thanks for taking on the challenge, and congrats–I think this is one of your best. Personal and detailed and general and wise, all at the same time–you know, kind of like Billy. Glad you had fun with it! I’m having trouble getting to my “Golden Spine,” but the challenge is waiting for me when I can get my day job under control. Which is bloody never. *sigh* Regards from from “Marywood” Road!


  9. I live on Cochituate Rd nowhere near Cochituate Lake and no native Americans that I know of. It sounds hilarious when the GPS spits it out. We have chipmunks, field mice, owls, bluejays, coyotes, hawks, chickadees, cardinals, squirrels, voles, shrews, ground hogs and who knows what else will turn up. Near us, we have the saving grace of cities and suburbia alike — conservation land.


  10. Those last four lines do pack a wallop:
    City or country, there is no pretending
    to be one thing or another; it is an honesty
    with oneself, with nature, with the streets
    that connect us.
    — so true.


  11. I loved your response to the Collins’ poem. As a definite country dweller, we have a neighborhood full of coyotes, deer, raccoons, possums, foxes–as well as the more domesticated chickens, goats, horses, and cattle. Of course, our small town has even at times been invaded by the wildlife. There is no excitement like a deer crashing through the doors of the grocery store.


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