You can take the A train to Harlem, said Duke Ellington,
although no one plays much jazz there
If you are looking for Bobby Fischer you take the E or F
to Washington Sq. Park where the chess hustlers
are still playing, even today, in the snow.
But I’m looking for the poet Billy Collins
so I need to take the 4 up Lexington Ave
into the Bronx, where I read that he teaches.
I get out at the station and cross 195th Street, 196th,
getting up in the count. Do they ever run out of streets?
There is a newsstand. I should get something for Billy.
I decide that he is probably a peanut M&M
kind of guy. Not plain, and not Snickers.
Definitely not Skittles.
I show the man behind the window a picture of Billy
from the back flap of Billy’s book, and ask
if he’s ever seen him.
He probably doesn’t understand English
but seems to know what I’m saying
and he shakes his head “no.”
Then I show him a picture of a statue of Virgil
on the back of my copy of the Aeneid.
He smiles, laughs, and shakes his head “no”.
I do the same with the picture of Billy
at the Lehman College security desk.
They are unhappy with this so I leave.
It would be a four hour train ride to Boston, then
30 mins on the Red Line from South Station
to Harvard Square, then 10 mins walking if I recall
to the American Academy of Arts and Sciences
where Billy is a Fellow.
Maybe they know where Billy is.
Instead I step into a deli, where they have
rows of food on steam trays and you load up
with whatever you want and pay by the pound.
I buy some scrambled eggs and hash browns,
pay, and find a table where I can sit
and think about Billy.
Billy is always talking to salt and pepper shakers
and teasing out magic from them.
But the deli only has those little paper packets.
I play with the packets, toss them up
and they land on the table like yarrow stalks
that I might read like the I-Ching. But no.
A storm is building, I should make my way home.
I shake out the contents of a packet on the table
like snow maybe, or de-icer.
I touch some of it with the tip of my finger
and bring it to my tongue.