I was in my car a while ago and turned on the car radio to NPR. Prairie Home Companion was on, and I heard a familiar voice: Garrison Keillor was Guy Noir, of course, but the other distinctive voice was Billy Collins. I first heard Mr. Collins read his poetry on this same show a few years ago, when he was Poet Laureate of the United States. I loved his somewhat quirky poetry so much that I ordered his CD: "The Best Cigarette", a collection of his poems read by in his soft voice.
He read his new poem "The Revenant" (a revenant is one who has returned from death) on Prairie Home Companion. You can hear him read it on his new CD, "Billy Collins Live: A Performance at the Peter Norton Symphony Space".
Here's the thing. I just did a long post about Collins's poem "The Lanyard", which I first heard years ago and liked very much. When I went back to link to some of my other Collins posts, I found I had already done a post about "The Lanyard", thank you very much. And so another poem of his entitled "Forgetfulness" is probably most relevant here.
The Revenant by Billy Collins
I am the dog you put to sleep,
as you like to call the needle of oblivion,
come back to tell you this simple thing:
I never liked you--not one bit.
When I licked your face,
I thought of biting off your nose.
When I watched you toweling yourself dry,
I wanted to leap and unman you with a snap.
I resented the way you moved,
your lack of animal grace,
the way you would sit in a chair and eat,
a napkin on your lap, knife in your hand.
I would have run away,
but I was too weak, a trick you taught me
while I was learning to sit and heel,
and--greatest of insults--shake hands without a hand.
I admit the sight of the leash
would excite me
but only because it meant I was about
to smell things you had never touched.
You do not want to believe this,
but I have no reason to lie.
I hated the car, the rubber toys,
disliked your friends and, worse, your relatives.
The jingling of my tags drove me mad.
You always scratched me in the wrong place.
All I ever wanted from you
was food and fresh water in my metal bowls.
While you slept, I watched you breathe
as the moon rose in the sky.
It took all my strength
not to raise my head and howl.
Now I am free of the collar,
the yellow raincoat, monogrammed sweater,
the absurdity of your lawn,
and that is all you need to know about this place
except what you already supposed
and are glad it did not happen sooner--
that everyone here can read and write,
the dogs in poetry, the cats and the others in prose.
Illustration from Crawley Creatures