“Breathless” by Billy Collins

"Cemetary City" by Mary Pierce from her post Jux Mary blogs
Cemetary City by Mary Pierce from her post “Juxtaposition.”
The multi-talented Mary blogs at A Wilderness of Words.

Some like the mountains, some like the seashore,
Jean-Paul Belmondo says
to the camera in the opening scene.

Some like to sleep face up,
some like to sleep on their stomachs,
I am thinking here in bed–

some take the shape of murder victims
flat on their backs all night,
others float face down on the dark waters.

Then there are those like me
who prefer to sleep on their sides,
knees brought up to the chest,

head resting on a crooked arm
and a soft fist touching the chin,
which is the way I would like to be buried,

curled up in a coffin
in a fresh pair of cotton pajamas,
a down pillow under my weighty head.

After a lifetime of watchfulness
and nervous vigilance,
I will be more than ready for sleep,

so never mind the dark suit,
the ridiculous tie
and the pale limp hands crossed on the chest.

Lower me down in my slumber,
tucked into myself
like the oldest fetus on earth,

and while the cows look over the stone wall
of the cemetery, let me rest here
in my earthy little bedroom,

my lashes glazed with ice,
the roots of trees inching nearer,
and no dreams to frighten me anymore.

“Breathless” by Billy Collins from The Trouble With Poetry and Other Poems (Random House, 2005)

* For Mary who takes my breath away, in the very best of ways. Thank you for the inspiration Mary!

7 thoughts on ““Breathless” by Billy Collins

  1. You’re are so sweet!! Thank you for the dedication! And I see why you thought the photo would be perfect!!! 🙂

    Billy Collins is one of my favorites. He has such a delicious sense of humor. I got to hear him read once, and somewhere around my messy house I have one of his books signed.

    I love the idea of being laid out in pajamas. I mean, why not? It’s a final rest – so why shouldn’t I sleep for eternity in the comfort of a warm flannel nightgown. Line my coffin with flannel sheets and give me a good pillow to lay my head upon. Oh, and I’m one who takes “the shape of murder victim” when I sleep.


    1. I’ve heard Collins has quite the sense of humor. I love how approachable he has made poetry for so many. I’m late to the bandwagon with his writings, so am making my way through his books, but I agree with his assessment on “The Trouble With Poetry”–it makes you want to write more. I need to crack that book open again–there was one poem so simple, yet stunning, that mentioned salt and pepper shakers… The name evades me, but it’s easy enough to find.

      You used the term breathless (thank you) which reminded me of this poem, and then your photo of the week was just the cherry on top.

      I didn’t stop to consider some may find this morbid–and if some did, I apologize. One day we’ll all go to sleep for good though…

      Me? I am more of a jackknife–half fetal, half straight out. Flannel sheets, yes!, or big fuzzy chenille throws, and maybe a book of poetry to go with the soft pillow. And close to a bookstore would be nice too. (Sorry, grave humor.)

      Sent from my iPhone



    2. Found that poem… It’s called “You, Reader” from the same book The Trouble With Poetry:

      You, Reader

      I wonder how you are going to feel
      when you find out
      that I wrote this instead of you,

      that it was I who got up early
      to sit in the kitchen
      and mention with a pen

      the rain-soaked windows,
      the ivy wall paper,
      and the goldfish circling in its bowl.

      Go ahead and turn aside,
      bite your lip and tear out the page,
      but, listen–it was just a matter of time

      before one of us happened
      to notice the unlit candles
      and the clock humming on the wall.

      Plus, nothing happened that morning–
      a song on the radio,
      a car whistling along the road outside–

      and I was only thinking
      about the shakers of salt and pepper
      that were standing side by side on a place mat.

      I wondered if they had become friends
      after all these years
      or if they were still strangers to one another

      like you and I
      who manage to be known and unknown
      to each other at the same time–

      me at this table with a bowl of pears,
      you leaning in a doorway somewhere
      near some blue hydrangeas, reading this.

      Liked by 1 person

  2. Charie

    Wow. As a lover of old cemeteries I’m blown away by the beauty of both the photo and the words. I guess because my somewhat battered body can’t find a comfortable position at night that I find this poem so peaceful and not at all morbid. Oh, and if i could, my choices: stomach/side hybrid, under bleached cotton sheets, in a shady country churchyard back home.


    1. Now *that* is a lovely word picture, Charie, thank you.

      I’m picturing those bleached cotton sheets on line dry with a soft country breeze causing them to rustle and flap in the wind.

      My grandmother always had crisp cotton sheets that smelled faintly of Clorox — thank you for transporting me back to my childhood.

      Mary Pierce is a phenomenal photographer (and writer!)–if you click the photo, it will take you to her blog post. She shared a nice story to go along with.

      Thanks for visiting and for commenting, so kind of you,


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