Four years ago today, Pete McLaughlin killed himself. Almost his exact age, living less than an hour from him, I never knew him or his work until, a week ago, putting some books in a Little Free Library, I found his book. This is the title poem.
I Wish I was Billy Collins
by Pete McLaughlin
I wish I was Billy Collins.
No, not George Clooney, just good old Billy C.
I bet Billy lives in some
charming upstate hamlet,
probably New York or Vermont.
His house is rustic and inviting
no gate, just a hand-painted peace sign out front
and a box that says "free rhubarb, take some"
a wrap-around proch and swing,
tasteful unpretentious curtains,
a happy chimney whispering out aromatic smoke,
and there's always an apple pie
cooling on the window sill.
And so here I come now--
Yes! It's me, fantasy Billy
smiling the smile of the successful
rolling up in my vintage
(but not gaudy)
'56 Chevrolet pickup
my dog Thoreau, a rescue of course, riding shotgun
manic chickens scattering crazily as I pull in.
I was in town, at the diner,
with Clem and Lefty and Cecil
sipping coffee and discussing
the high school football team's prospects.
It's fall--everything is beautiful.
My wife, who works with orphans,
has just come in from her pottery studio.
She kisses me and informs me
that my agent called and Harvard
wants to honor me again next month.
"Oh how tiresome," I say.
"I'd rather play horseshoes with Clem."
But I go anyway.
Some wealthy hedge-fund alum
whose literary daughter has all my books
dispatches his pilot to fetch me.
He glides into our cow pasture at the appointed hour.
We don't have cows anymore,
too much work.
But it's nice not having to drive to the airport.
I make my speech.
Everyone loves me.
At the reception afterward
some comely twenty-nine-year-old
her siren's hand lightly on my lapel
lets me know just how much
my work has meant to her. ...
but I'm used to this by now
so it's no trouble.
I'm such a great guy.
Back at my hotel suite
I toss off a quick
for the New Yorker
and sleep soundly as always.
I even wear pajamas.
My children all work for Oxfam
and are expert mountain climbers.
I never need Viagra
my eyes are 20/20
my teeth so sound
the dentist has me visit
only once a year.
But sometimes... on quiet evenings
when I'm tinkering with the Chevy
(I call her Sylvia, after Sylvia Plath)
the Red Sox game quietly on the radio
I find myself wishing I lived in Santa Cruz... yes
in a musty studio apartment
with a decrepit cat who barfs violently on the carpet at four a.m.
it's as though he's trying to turn himself inside out for Christ's sake
and neighbors whose high decibel, jack-hammer style love-making
comes and comes again hard through the cheap-ass half-inch sheetrock wall
penetrating even the protective pillow I press to my beleagered ears
and a voodoo smoke alarm with a freaking mind of its own
and a malevolent marauding murder of hoodlum crows
who seem to derive particular glee from shitting only on my car...
But that lasts about two seconds, tops
I shake my head, smiling sheepishly,
and I chuckle softly to my silly Billy self
switch off the light
and head upstairs to bed
to my extraordinary wife
and sleep like a fucking baby.
Last edited by Max Goodman; 04-18-2021 at 08:33 PM.
Reason: typo correction