“The Order of the Day” Billy Collins

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Coronavirus-Resistant Poetry


I woke up this morning to discover that the National Basketball Association has suspended its season and that Mr. and Mrs. Tom Hanks are infected by Covid-19. That plus Europe going into a Trump travel-ban bottle starting tomorrow. All this while I am reading the post-apocalyptic novel Station Eleven. It’s about life after a flu that wipes out 99% of the earth. Picking it up was either perfect or imperfect timing. I’m not sure yet.

Look. We’ve had scares before. Scares with letters and words like Ebola, SARS, avian flu, etc. But this time, like a very distant last time (some 102 years ago with the so-called Spanish Flu), it’s for real, no matter what the conspiracy theorists or Fox News crazies tell you. This time it seems we’re experiencing an actual innocence lost or, as Hamlet would have it, getting to know our mortal coils more intimately.

We are also experiencing, depending where we live, governmental competence or incompetence. From the Hanks article, I learned that Australia is a very good place to be during this crisis because, unlike the US of A, it took the coronavirus seriously from the start. For Hanks and wife, who happened to be in Australia, testing was available quickly and logically, as it is for all of that country’s citizens. Everyone knows where to go. Everyone knows what to do. And health care concerns are of no concern thanks to Oz’s national health coverage.

South Korea, too, seems to be turning a corner with its quick and efficient testing (even via drive-through set-ups!), whereas confusion seems to be the law of the land in America, which still doesn’t have enough tests out there to get any handle on how many citizens actually have the disease.

Yesterday we were singing Songs of Innocence, and today Songs of Experience. That’s right. In Blake-wise fashion, The Poison Tree is now shading our mental landscapes. So while we’re hunkered down in our own homes, no longer traveling, and no longer hugging or shaking hands with anyone, let’s go down memory lane and remember what we took for granted only a few weeks ago: days when we could joke about mortality by writing a light and humorous poem on life expectancy.

There’s no better man for that fading memory than St. Billy of Collins, of course. Here, during the disorder of our newfound days, is his poem “The Order of the Day.” I hope it brings you both cheer and nostalgia for the fading concepts of comfort and order!


The Order of the Day
Billy Collins

A morning after a week of rain
and the sun shot down through the branches
into the tall, bare windows.

The brindled cat rolled over on his back,
and I could hear you in the kitchen
grinding coffee beans into a powder.

Everything seemed especially vivid
because I knew we were all going to die,
first the cat, then you, then me,

then somewhat later the liquefied sun
was the order I was envisioning.
But then again, you never really know.

The cat had a fiercely healthy look,
his coat so bristling and electric
I wondered what you had been feeding him

and what you had been feeding me
as I turned a corner
and beheld you out there on the sunny deck

lost in exercise, running in place,
knees lifted high, skin glistening—
and that toothy, immortal-looking smile of yours.