by blogasana on April 7, 2011

I Go Back To The House For A Book
by Billy Collins

I turn around on the gravel
and go back to the house for a book,
something to read at the doctor’s office,
and while I am inside, running the finger
of inquisition along a shelf,
another me that did not bother
to go back to the house for a book
heads out on his own,
rolls down the driveway,
and swings left toward town,
a ghost in his ghost car,
another knot in the string of time,
a good three minutes ahead of me —
a spacing that will now continue
for the rest of my life.


Isn’t this how we go about most of the day? One part of ourselves in last week, one part in a future conversation, one part stuck in 1982. Only the poets, and perhaps only Billy Collins, can put such heartache into an endearing story of lightness and familiarity.


Sometimes I think I see him
a few people in front of me on a line
or getting up from a table
to leave the restaurant just before I do,
slipping into his coat on the way out the door.
But there is no catching him,
no way to slow him down
and put us back in synch,
unless one day he decides to go back
to the house for something,
but I cannot imagine
for the life of me what that might be.


Pema Chodron calls this separation “splitting off” and describes how it takes us from peace to war:

Let’s say you’re having a conversation with someone. You’re one with the whole situation. You’re open and receptive and there and interested. Then there is a little shenpa pulling-away, a kind of uneasy feeling in the stomach—which we usually don’t notice—and then comes our big thought. We are suddenly verbalizing to ourselves, “How am I looking here? Did I just say something stupid? Am I too fat? That was a stupid thing to say, wasn’t it, and I am too fat….”

Some thought or other causes us to split off, and before we know it we’re completely self-absorbed. We’re probably not even hearing the words of the person we’re conversing with, because we have retreated into a bubble of self-absorption. That’s splitting off. That’s dividing in two.


He is out there always before me,
blazing my trail, invisible scout,
hound that pulls me along,
shade I am doomed to follow,
my perfect double,
only bumped an inch into the future,
and not nearly as well-versed as I
in the love poems of Ovid —
I who went back to the house
that fateful winter morning and got the book.


This “splitting off” from oneself is perhaps the most dangerous kind of separation, no? Feeling incomplete, compartmentalized, like a puzzle with a missing piece.

Or maybe it’s not the fact that we have different selves, different sides and facets, but the way we often disown those “other” parts of ourselves out of fear or shame.

Those are the moments I feel separation from myself as well as from those around me. It’s isolating and lonely.

What about you?


It’s National Poetry Month, lucky for me. Lots of poems in circulation, and you know how much I love poetry. Feel free to share a favorite… and be sure to ready Billy’s again and aloud. Nothing like feeling the words through your mouth.


{ 9 comments… read them below or add one }

Leili Learning Life April 8, 2011 at 1:19 am

Ahh, I had forgotten that bit from Pema Chodron. I remember it spoke so clearly to me about how vital it is to be in. the. moment.

I had a Billy Collins episode this morning while heading out the door for 6 am class. Go back inside to grab the tea I left on the counter? I did, because I figured a “me with tea” would be better. And now reflecting on the poem, perhaps I treated myself to a slightly happier existence in doing so.

Yes, I think that when the self splits off that it’s the worst sort of feeling. I can see that this worsens in times of change — which “selves” to keep? Recalling that quote from David Whyte’s wife, what happens when large parts of ourselves become unemployed?


blogasana April 8, 2011 at 1:50 am

Mmmm, so rich, Leili. Redefining and re-meeting ourselves = scary! (for me). “Me with tea” is better too =-))


madyoga April 8, 2011 at 4:16 am

Love this. Billy Collins is EVERYWHERE right now – did you hear he was on Talk of the Nation on NPR today? God bless National Poetry Month, I’m working on my memorization in it’s honor – nothing like memorizing a poem to help heal some of the splits in our souls:

Right now I’ve been saying Blake to myself – Introduction from Songs of Experience. I’ll spare you the whole length, but it ends:

Turn away no more
Why wilt though turn away?
The starry floor
The watery shore
Are given thee until the break of day


everydaylifestyles April 8, 2011 at 4:23 am

Excellent post thanks for sharing this. I enjoy reading your blog very much. Reading poems is something I truly enjoy. It’s very relaxing and soothing.

Raining Purple Rain – Haiku Poem


Amy April 8, 2011 at 4:29 am

In the worst time of my life, I think I felt completely disconnected from myself. I think it’s the worst sort of loneliness, to miss that “self.” I hope to never feel it again. Also, yay! for Billy Collins.


Cassidy Castleman April 8, 2011 at 7:19 am

Thanks for sharing this poem, I read it for the second time aloud like you suggested.

The sense of separation you describe is indeed isolating and lonely. I think one of lives greatest challenges is constantly striving towards a sense of integrity or wholeness.

Whenever our mind, body, heart and soul are united its like a fire within is ignited. In that moment we are completely present and we can begin to works towards a degree of unity with other people and ultimately the entire world around us.

Alas, how we long for these precious moments once they’ve passed!

Hooray for poetry month. I’m not ashamed to say that both of the poems performed in this TED talk, literally brought me to tears. They also inspired me to dig up and share some of my old poems, and also to write a few new ones. :)


blogasana April 8, 2011 at 3:47 pm

@mads – DANG – i didn’t know he was on npr. thank you for sharing blake. funny thing – i read a poem of his in class on weds… and another one on comparison, and then i saw your fb post about comparison. always connected, friend. <3

@edl – thanks for the comment! isn't haiku amazing… love the purple rain.

@amy – i feel ya, sista. i wonder if the natural reaction of never wanting to feel that again keeps me more protected…. ?? hmmm….

@cassidy – gorgeous description of that wholeness… such a sweet feeling. and geeeez…. thanks for the ted link — nothing like a few friday morning tears! amazing young woman. thanks for the comment!!


Tracy April 11, 2011 at 9:11 am

Billy Collins… his gentle heartache & humor so often mirror the realness of the human condition! What Cassidy was saying about wholeness is so true. More & more I find myself not being afraid of that isolation, and especially in terms of speaking and dealing with other. When I’m in alignment within myself, that expansive connection to self and others is pretty powerful. The trick seems to be no slipping up on one’s self. The whole living fearless thing, you know. ;o)


Nancy A April 11, 2011 at 4:56 pm

I am obsessed with Billy Collins and love how many students connect with his words when I read them in classes. These were lovely examples!!


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