July 23, 2012 On Turning Ten

Dear Readers,

Most of the poetry your humble guest editor reads these days is of the nursery rhyme variety, so you will forgive me if I have selected a simple poem that takes childhood as its subject.

There is another, more important reason for selecting “On Turning Ten” by Billy Collins: I have a very dear memory of sharing it with a friend, the very friend whose wedding this past weekend led me here to my Gmail and my keyboard this morning.

Much like a summer pop song, for me this poem’s appeal lies almost entirely with the “hook” at the end. What are your thoughts? Does the poem earn those beautiful final sentences?

Billy Collins needs no introduction, and I will only remind you that this selection comes from his fourth book of poetry, Picnic, Lightning, the title of which deserves a Lifetime Achievement Award in book naming.


On Turning Ten

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.

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