Artist & Writer, San Francisco Bay Area

“Baby Listening” by Billy Collins

(poem by Billy Collins followed by a few of my thoughts)

According to the guest information directory,
baby listening is a service offered by this seaside hotel.
Baby listening–not a baby who happens to be listening
as I thought when I first checked in,
Leave the receiver off the hook,
the directory advises,
and your infant can be monitored by the staff,

though the staff, the entry continues,
cannot be held responsible for the well-being
of the baby in question.

Fair enough, someone to listen to the baby.
But the phrase did suggest a baby who is listening
lying there in the room next to mine
listening to my pen scratching against the page,
or a more advanced baby who has crawled
down the hallway of the hotel
and is pressing its tiny, curious ear against my door.
Lucky for some of us, 
poetry is a place where both are true at once,
where meaning only one thing at a time spells malfunction.
Poetry wants to have the baby who is listening at the door
as well as the baby who is being listened to,
quietly breathing by the nearby telephone.
And it also wants the baby 
who is making sounds of distress
into the curved receiver lying in the crib
while the girl at reception has just stepped out
to have a smoke with her boyfriend
in the dark by the great sway and wash of the North Sea.
Poetry wants that baby, too,
even a little more than it wants the others.
(I like the “sway and wash” and that it’s great. That I can feel it as I think it, because I am thinking about how those words are formed in my mouth.  I like the bit about the advanced baby, because it makes me think of a baby with a graduation cap on. I like to think of the babies listening in all their forms, and I really like that it reminds me of my first favorite poem that I came across by Billy Collins, because it also uses the word Tiny. I flipped open to that poem, after buying Sailing Alone Across the Room after hearing Billy Collins read it on the NBC Today Show. I was on bed rest, pregnant with my first baby, watching TV all. the. time. Actually, I wonder if he recited that poem, and then I read it? Or did I flip to it? Either way, I will post that one next.)
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