I received Billy’s new book, Ballistics, in the mail on Monday, waiting for me at the end of the day. I opened the cardboard box and the extra packaged air surrounding the text, keeping it safe from the buffeting of its travels with the postal service. That this extra bit of care was taken was appreciated.
A part of me — the part that deceives myself, daydreams and fantasizes — imagined that the book didn’t come from a warehouse in the midwest, in spite of the fact that I’d pre-ordered it months ago. Rather, I imagined that the book was sent from Collins himself, a note inside the cover: “Hope all’s well in Ogden. My best to Karyn.”
I looked. It wasn’t there.
I looked more, expecting (with the same delusional imagery as before) that although I’d received my book from Amazon.com just like the rest of the civilized world, perhaps I’d find a poem whose origins I could trace back to Billy’s visit in Ogden, with me. “Surface Tension” would be a great title, I think, tracing back to a running gag of our conversation. Or, “The Interrogator,” based on the interview process itself. I admitted this to Karyn, and she naturally asked if there was a poem in there about “The photographer.” That, to me, sounded more likely than any of my own visions, but even this, such a simple and obvious thing to include in the collection, didn’t exist.*
Nor did we expect it to. But . . . still . . .
Yet there was the one poem, “Lost.” Not a favorite poem, not even my favorite Collins poem. But as I paged through I recognized these lines about the coin. I’d seen these before, and they were there in front of me on a yellow notepad, scratched out and scribbled by the poet’s own hand. I’d seen the poem when it had just been born, heard it read for the first time, learned a bit about its conception and growth. And now here it is on page 45, all grown up.
*For the record I should note that he has a new photo of himself inside the jacket. It’s fine, but mediocre compared to the photos Karyn took of him. These and the interview should come out in a few weeks.