and once again, it's Monday morning

First Reader
by Billy Collins

I can see them standing politely on the wide pages
that I was still learning to turn,
Jane in a blue jumper, Dick with his crayon-brown hair,
playing with a ball or exploring the cosmos
of the backyard, unaware they are the first characters,
the boy and the girl who begin fiction.

Beyond the simple illustration of their neighborhood
the other protagonists were waiting in a huddle:
frightening Heathcliff, frightened Pip, Nick Adams
carrying a fishing rod, Emma Bovary riding into Rouen.

But I would read about the perfect boy and his sister
even before I would read about Adam and Eve, garden and gate,
and before I heard the name Gutenberg, the type
of their simple talk was moving into my focusing eyes.

It was always Saturday and he and she
were always pointing at something and shouting “Look!”
pointing at the dog, the bicycle, or at their father
as he pushed a hand mower over the lawn,
waving at aproned Mother framed in the kitchen doorway,
pointing toward the sky, pointing at each other.

They wanted us to look but we had looked already
and seen the shaded lawn, the wagon, the postman.
We had seen the dog, walked, watered and fed the animal,
and now it was time to discover the infinite, clicking
permutations of the alphabet’s small and capital letters.
Alphabetical ourselves in the rows of classroom desks,
we were forgetting how to look, learning how to read.


  1. Dear Distracted, thank you for Monday's blog entry! The words 'First Reader' and the repetition contained within the image of the page, for the briefest moment, took me back to that place when my eye level and perspective went no higher than that of a standard kitchen table. Strange feeling; both physiological and visceral at the same time.

  2. What a smashing pome! My first reading book was called The RED Reading Book, followed by the YELLO one and so on. We didn't have Dick and Jane, we had Peter and Jane of the Ladybird books - they also had a dog and were wont to point at stuff. Happy days!

  3. Ooops that should be YELLOW! BTW, it's a Bank Holiday here today YAY! But it's raining BOO!

  4. What a nice way to start the week. Eventhough it is already a quarter past three in the afternoon over here, reading what you write, allowed me to start this day again.
    Wish you a wonderful week.

  5. "Alphabetical ourselves in the rows of classroom desks,
    we were forgetting how to look, learning how to read."

    Isn't that the truth?

  6. Learning to read is of the utmost importance, as long as you don't FORGET to look!

  7. I am so fascinated by your wide and varied connection to poetry. Who needs a library...I have you to expand my narrow base!

  8. Yep, I remember them as peter and jane too, can't remember the name of the dog though, it was a red setter. By the time I was being forced to partake of their mundane world they had been re-designed and given jeans and plimpsoles (brilliant word).

  9. That's a really interesting thought. I like that.

  10. I agree with Gaston. Don't let reading blunt the looking. Descriptive words spin in my head whenever I "look". Best of both worlds.

  11. Forgetting how to look/learning how to read. I love Billy Collins!

  12. Lovely poem, tender and special, with memories and insights. Prrrrecious.

  13. I totally remember that book...loved how the classics are waiting in the huddle :)

  14. oh oh oh... Yeah i remember.. Peter and Jane and me sharing the hours with them.

  15. tres interessant bye a bientot chris


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