Poetry Monday: “Water Table,” by Billy Collins

It is raining outside and I am thinking of this poem by Billy Collins, former Poet Laureate of the United States who is well-known for his accessible and deeply grounded poetry.

Water Table
by Billy Collins

It is on dry sunny days like this one that I find myself
thinking about the enormous body of water
that lies under this house,
cool, unseen reservoir,
silent except for the sounds of dripping
and the incalculable shifting
of all the heavy darkness that it holds.

This is the water that our well was dug to sip
and lift to where we live,
water drawn up and falling on our bare shoulders,
water filling the inlets of our mouths,
water in a pot on the stove.

The house is nothing now but a blueprint of pipes,
a network of faucets, nozzles, and spigots,
and even outdoors where light pierces the air
and clouds fly over the canopies of trees,
my thoughts flow underground
trying to imagine the cavernous scene.

Surely it is no pool with a colored ball
floating on the blue surface.
No grotto where a king would have
his guests rowed around in swan-shaped boats.
Between the dark lakes where the dark rivers flow
there is no ferry waiting on the shore of rock
and no man holding a long oar,
ready to take your last coin.
This is the real earth and the real water it contains.

But some nights, I must tell you,
I go down there after everyone has fallen asleep.
I swim back and forth in the echoing blackness.
I sing a love song as well as I can,
lost for a while in the home of the rain.

“Water Table” by Billy Collins, from The Art of Drowning


2 responses to “Poetry Monday: “Water Table,” by Billy Collins

  1. Karmen November 2, 2011 at 3:46 pm

    Very nice. I was able to attend a couple of events at BYU with Billy Collins last year and he was as nice and down to earth as his poetry feels. Lovely person.

  2. bettyjo November 3, 2011 at 10:01 am

    I love this poem. Thanks.

    We don’t have any magic grotto of water beneath us. I know this cuz the house well
    runs pretty shallow come July. I am, however, pretty sure there is a HUGE Metropolis of gopher and ground squirrel neighborhoods down there below our feet. I expect they probably have
    neighborhood schools, grocery stores, daycare centers and multi-family dwellings deep underground where freezing temperatures never sink. A Huge Metropolis of tunnels constructed
    over many decades by many critters. Heck, I bet there are even stretches of toll
    road where some grumpy troll ground squirrel sits and demands a fee to pass. Probably
    a whole cheek full of my chickenfeed.

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