Sunday, March 12, 2006

Cowboys and Smashed Pancakes

In 1982, Brian and Rick travelled to San Francisco together on business and shared a hotel room together. After the end of a long day, they retired to their individual beds for the night. Almost asleep, Rick recounts Brian's last words of the evening: " You know, there could be an earthquake right now and this ceiling could fall down on us and smash us like a couple of pancakes."
Picnic, Lightning

It is possible to be struck by a meteor or a single-engine plane while reading in a chair at home. Pedestrians are flattened by safes falling from rooftops mostly within the panels of the comics, but still, we know it is possible, as well as the flash of summer lightning, the thermos toppling over, spilling out on the grass.

And we know the message can be delivered from within. The heart, no valentine, decides to quit after lunch, the power shut off like a switch, or a tiny dark ship is unmoored into the flow of the body's rivers, the brain a monastery, defenseless on the shore.

This is what I think about when I shovel compost into a wheelbarrow, and when I fill the long flower boxes, then press into rows the limp roots of red impatiens—the instant hand of Death always ready to burst forth from the sleeve of his voluminous cloak. Then the soil is full of marvels, bits of leaf like flakes off a fresco, red-brown pine needles, a beetle quick to burrow back under the loam.

Then the wheelbarrow is a wilder blue, the clouds a brighter white, and all I hear is the rasp of the steel edge against a round stone, the small plants singing with lifted faces, and the click of the sundial as one hour sweeps into the next.

—Billy Collins, from Picnic, Lightning, University of Pittsburgh Press (March 1998)

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