Billy Collins Poems On Turning Ten Essay

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.

Billy Collins

"Birthday Cake" by The Shifted Librarian is licensed under CC BY-NC-SA 2.0

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,[1]

a disfiguring[2] chicken pox of the soul.Q1

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.Q2

But now I am mostly at the window

watching the late afternoon light.

Back then it never fell so solemnly[3]

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.Q3

“On Turning Ten” from The Art of Drowning, © 1995, University of Pittsburgh Press. Reprinted with permission, all rights reserved.

  1. Disfigure(verb): to spoil or damage the appearance of something
  2. Solemn(adjective): serious; not cheerful
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