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The Saturday poem: Tanager

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by Billy Collins

If only I had not listened to the piece
on the morning radio about the former asylum
whose inmates were kept busy
at wooden benches in a workshop
making leather collars and wristbands
that would later be used to restrain them.
And if only that had not reminded me,
as I stood facing the bathroom mirror,
of the new state prison whose bricks had been set
by prisoners trucked in from the old prison,
how sweet and free of static my walk
would have been along the upland trail.

Nothing to spoil the purity of the ascent –
the early sun, wafer-white,
breaking over the jagged crest of that ridge,
a bird with a bright-orange chest
flitting from branch to branch with its mate,
and a solitary coyote that stopped in its tracks
to regard me, then moved on.
Plus the cottonwood fluff snowing sideways
and after I stood still for a while,
the coyote appearing again in the distance
before vanishing in the scrub for good.
That’s the kind of walk it might have been.

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