Mindful Mondays: Billy Collins

Each Monday, I would like to share a reminder about the importance of being mindful.  These will come from literature, popular culture, music--anywhere one might get this sort of everyday life nudge.
Photo Credit: Juliet Van Otteren
Image Source: Poets.org

Today's Mindful Monday reminder comes from the popular American poet, former U.S. Poet Laureate, Billy Collins,  Much like E. E. Cummings (see "maggie and millie and molly and may") and Taylor Mali (see "How Falling in Love is Like Owning a Dog"), he is among my favorite poets. 

Collins' work is smart, witty, and fun.  He helps readers understand why poetry has been an essential part of human expression for thousands of years and he reminds me why I wanted to become a teacher.
This poem is accessible and undeniably about the (sudden) mindfulness that accompanies contemplation of mortality.
The First Night
 by Billy Collins, 1941 
          The worst thing about death must be
          the first night.
                    —Juan Ramón Jiménez

Before I opened you, Jiménez,
it never occurred to me that day and night
would continue to circle each other in the ring of death,

but now you have me wondering
if there will also be a sun and a moon
and will the dead gather to watch them rise and set

then repair, each soul alone,
to some ghastly equivalent of a bed.
Or will the first night be the only night,

a darkness for which we have no other name?
How feeble our vocabulary in the face of death,
How impossible to write it down.

This is where language will stop,
the horse we have ridden all our lives
rearing up at the edge of a dizzying cliff.

The word that was in the beginning
and the word that was made flesh—
those and all the other words will cease.

Even now, reading you on this trellised porch,
how can I describe a sun that will shine after death?
But it is enough to frighten me

into paying more attention to the world’s day-moon,
to sunlight bright on water
or fragmented in a grove of trees,

and to look more closely here at these small leaves,
these sentinel thorns,
whose employment it is to guard the rose.
Poem Source: Poets.org

From Ballistics by Billy Collins. 
Copyright © 2008 by Billy Collins. 
Reprinted by arrangement with The Random House Publishing Group.