You are not the pine-scented air

Speaking of flipping through the current issue of Esquire, I came across some words in the ‘Man At His Best’ section, which is a must for culture scanning, BTW. The words sounded familiar and when I looked closer, I saw that they were from the first two stanzas of my favorite Billy Collins poem called LITANY:


You are the bread and the knife,
the crystal goblet and the wine.
You are the dew on the morning grass
and the burning wheel of the sun.
You are the white apron of the baker
and the marsh birds suddenly in flight.

However, you are not the wind in the orchard,
the plums on the counter,
or the house of cards.
And you are certainly not the pine-scented air.
There is just no way you are the pine-scented air.

It is possible that you are the fish under the bridge,
maybe even the pigeon on the general’s head,
but you are not even close
to being the field of cornflowers at dusk.

And a quick look in the mirror will show
that you are neither the boots in the corner
nor the boat asleep in its boathouse.

It might interest you to know,
speaking of the plentiful imagery of the world,
that I am the sound of rain on the roof.

I also happen to be the shooting star,
the evening paper blowing down an alley,
and the basket of chestnuts on the kitchen table.

I am also the moon in the trees
and the blind woman’s tea cup.
But don’t worry, I am not the bread and the knife.
You are still the bread and the knife.
You will always be the bread and the knife,
not to mention the crystal goblet and–somehow–
the wine.

Boy, that’s a great poem.

Every year I toy with not renewing my Esquire subscription. But for only $8 or so and with occasional gems like this, I can forgive the twelve pages of glossy full-page ads that hide the contents page and the photo spreads of wiry unshaven hipsters trying to convince me that the St. Petersburg look is what’s “in” this year. (You just *know* that their execs all wear the same Armani suits they’ve been wearing since the eighties, though their mag is always touting some new “in” look for the rest of us.) Yes it’s overly materialistic and a bit shallow, but Esquire is the most gentlemanly and cultured of the Men’s magazines. It’s a good way to keep in touch with what’s going on with the Type-A yuppie male these days.

Okay, coming clean, I have to admit just a tinge of envy. I call it shallow and materialistic, but reading Esquire is also my way of pressing my nose against the shop window in the privacy of my own home. Part of me wishes I could afford, or heck even fit into, half the stuff they showcase in each issue.

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