Billy Collins

(22 March 1941 - / New York City)

On Turning Ten


The whole idea of it makes me feel
like I'm coming down with something,
something worse than any stomach ache
or the headaches I get from reading in bad light--
a kind of measles of the spirit,
a mumps of the psyche,
a disfiguring chicken pox of the soul.

You tell me it is too early to be looking back,
but that is because you have forgotten
the perfect simplicity of being one
and the beautiful complexity introduced by two.
But I can lie on my bed and remember every digit.
At four I was an Arabian wizard.
I could make myself invisible
by drinking a glass of milk a certain way.
At seven I was a soldier, at nine a prince.

But now I am mostly at the window
watching the late afternoon light.
Back then it never fell so solemnly
against the side of my tree house,
and my bicycle never leaned against the garage
as it does today,
all the dark blue speed drained out of it.

This is the beginning of sadness, I say to myself,
as I walk through the universe in my sneakers.
It is time to say good-bye to my imaginary friends,
time to turn the first big number.

It seems only yesterday I used to believe
there was nothing under my skin but light.
If you cut me I could shine.
But now when I fall upon the sidewalks of life,
I skin my knees. I bleed.

Submitted: Monday, January 13, 2003

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  • Frank Avon (9/16/2014 1:17:00 AM)

    I'm not sure that Billy Collins has ever written the BIG POEM, the one (or two or three) that will place him up there with Robert Frost and T.S. Eliot and Sylvia Plath and Allen Ginsburg, and the like. However, Collins never publishes a bad poem - not once, to my knowledge. He writes poems that are polished, thoughtful, interesting, and at the same time accessible to the Common Reader. Hurrah for Collins! (Report) Reply

  • Jerri Elliott (2/24/2012 1:15:00 PM)

    I LLLOOOOVVVVEEEE THIS POEM! ! ! ! ! ! ! ! ! ! ! ! ! ! ! ! ! ! ! ! ! ! ! ! ! ! ! ! ! ! ! ! ! I have nothing bad to say! ! ! ! ! ! ! ! ! ! ! ! ! ! ! ! ! ! ! ! ! ! ! (Report) Reply

  • Jeremiah Cox (12/23/2011 6:01:00 PM)

    I must admit this is one helluvan idea. I wonder if it could have been written in the language of ten. Compare with Christmas Tree by e.e.cummings. (Report) Reply

  • Lesly Bauer (9/17/2009 10:21:00 PM)

    Hmmmm. 'I felt so ashamed to be 10 years old and afraid.43 isn't much different'. Feels like a poem coming on. ;) (Report) Reply

  • Morning Wolfe (8/30/2008 11:19:00 PM)

    This poem had me reminiscing about my 10th. It was 1975 and 'Jaws' had just come out. I had the coolest birthday ever - a pool party and everyone got rubber sharks as a party favor. I was afraid to get in the pool. I felt so ashamed to be 10 years old and afraid. 43 isn't much different. (Report) Reply

  • Mary Salai (6/18/2007 1:46:00 PM)

    This is a great poem to read to children, they get a huge kick out of this idea....looking back on your life when you are that young.... (Report) Reply

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